Timeline: History of a company town
on November 19, 2014
Richmond’s relationship with Chevron Corporation hasn’t always been so contentious.
For much of the 20th century, after Chevron’s earliest predecessor, the Pacific Coast Oil Company, first bought a tract of land on Richmond’s shores in 1901, the company and the town grew together – if not hand in hand, then at least peacefully and cognizant of their mutual benefit.
The two world wars were especially productive times for both the refinery and Richmond, as wartime production levels fueled a transforming, thriving, increasingly diverse city. Between the wars, the refinery modeled a job-sharing program that kept workers employed during the worst of the Great Depression.
But when World War II ended, a decades-long population decline began; those who stayed, many of whom were African-American transplants from the South, were relegated to segregated parts of the city with few economic opportunities.
While industries left the city and downtown Richmond languished, the refinery at the top of the hill enjoyed unprecedented financial success. Chevron’s Richmond research facility continued to develop new methods of producing a more diverse line of products, with less apparent regard for the impact on its surrounding community.
Meanwhile, the multi-billion dollar parent corporation made highly visible mergers to acquire more holdings, cut deals valued in the tens of billions of dollars, and used its enormous influence to shape Richmond city politics in ways that benefited the corporation.
By the latter half of the 20th century, the refinery’s fate had diverged from that of the city it had helped to grow. For many residents of the city, contention became inevitable.
Click through to experience Richmond’s history with Chevron in an interactive timeline:
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