Politics and World Oil Economics: An Account of the International Oil Industry in Its Political Environment

By J. E. Hartshorn | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
Pricing: I. The American Market

I n 1960, you could buy a gallon of regular-grade gasoline at any service station in the United States for about 30 cents, which included about 9 cents of state and federal taxes: the average retail price excluding tax, in that year, was 21.47 cents. Forty years before it would have cost a motorist about the same, with practically no tax at all: the price excluding tax was 29.74 cents a gallon. In Britain, regular grade petrol cost 4 s. 10½d. an imperial gallon (which is a fifth over an American gallon) in 1960, including 2 s. 6 d. tax; in 1920, this spirit (which like the 1920 gasoline in the United States would have been a distinctly lower-grade product) cost about 4 s. a gallon, including only 3 d. tax. Those prices relate to the main petroleum product of the 'gasoline era', which hardly dates back beyond the First World War. As to the raw material, crude oil sold in the United States averaged about 94 cents a barrel (of 42 U.S. gallons) in 1880; $1.19 a barrel in 1900; $3.07 a barrel in 1960. (Here again, over the years, the quality of the many crudes whose prices make up the average will have changed considerably.)

Comparisons over the forty years of the gasoline era are perhaps rather unduly favourable for the prices of crude oil and what has become the main product made from it; the base date was a year of pretty high prices. Oil prices had risen sharply immediately following the First World War reflecting an apparent shortage (they did the same, after some years of price controls, immediately following the second). Reckoned against general wholesale or retail price indices, indices for petroleum and its products have risen somewhat less since 1947 than those of the other things a dollar could buy, but in the inter-war period often stood much higher and never came down as far. Comparison with some other fuels is perhaps more meaningful. Bituminous coal in the United States cost $1.25 a ton in 1880; $1.04 a ton in 1900; $1.12 a ton in 1910; $3.75 a ton in 1920; $1.91 a ton in

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