Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark
A neon reminder of its petroleum heritage remains high above Dallas.
Preserved atop a former oil company headquarters building, now a luxury hotel, rotates a neon sign with twin flying red horses (one on each side).
The Mobil Oil Company’s Pegasus trademark was once the most distinguishing feature of the Dallas skyline.
Pegasus remains among the most recognized corporate symbols in American petroleum history.
When the Magnolia Petroleum Building opened in 1922, it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. With 29 floors and seven elevators, the skyscraper towered over the nearby Adolphus Hotel, built in 1913.
A local reporter described the Magnolia as “a great peg driven into the ground holding Dallas in its place.” In 1925, when Standard Oil of New York (Socony) acquired Magnolia Petroleum Company, the Dallas headquarters building was included. Nine years later Pegasus would land on the roof.
The flying red horses began their journey in 1911, when a Vacuum Oil Company subsidiary in Cape Town, South Africa, first trademarked the Pegasus logo.
Based in Rochester, N.Y., Vacuum Oil had built a successful petroleum lubricants business around an 1869 patent by its founder, Hiram Everest, long before gasoline was even a branded product. At first, a stylized red gargoyle advertised the company.
The Pegasus trademark would prove to be a more enduring image. In Greek mythology, Pegasus – a winged horse – carried thunderbolts for Zeus.
By 1931, growth of the automobile industry had expanded the Vacuum Oil product lineup to include Pegasus Motor Spirits, Mobiloil and Mobilegas. When Standard Oil of New York and Vacuum Oil combined to form Socony-Vacuum Oil, the new company adopted the red Pegasus trademark.
It took a year to build the rotating 35-foot by 40-foot Pegasus sign. It first beamed its red neon glow in 1934, welcoming the first annual meeting to be held in Dallas by the American Petroleum Institute.
For decades the emblem slowly rotated above the growing city as corporate consolidations and mergers changed Socony-Vacuum ownership.
In 1955 the name of the company changed to Socony Mobil Oil; in 1966 it was simplified to Mobil Oil.
A neon Pegasus displayed at the 1939 New York World’s Fair found its way to a Mobil gas station in Casa Linda, Texas, and later to the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History & Culture - where it’s on exhibit today.
In 1974 the petroleum icon’s motor ground to a halt. Mobile Oil moved out of the Magnolia building three years later and sold the aging skyscraper and glowing but unmoving sign to the city of Dallas.
Twenty-years later, Pegasus’ neon lights finally went out.
As a Denver-based developer restored and transformed the deteriorating Magnolia building into a luxurious 330 room hotel in the late 1990s, a group of patrons and corporate partners joined in to bring the broken and rusty Pegasus sign back to life. They raised more than $600,000 for the project.
Project Pegasus targeted New Year’s Eve of 1999 and dawn of the new millennium to reintroduce Dallas citizens to their petroleum heritage landmark. Restoration of the 8,000-pound sign proved challenging.
The derrick-like tower structure was reparable and the old mechanical rotation system could be updated with new technology. But time and weather had damaged the porcelain coated steel signage and neon tubing. New 16-gauge steel panels had to be cut, using the originals as templates.
Only two facilities in the United States were large enough to accommodate baking the emblematic red porcelain onto the new panels; fortunately, both were in Dallas.
More than 1,000 feet of new neon tubing was required to trace the familiar outlines as craftsmen and technicians remained faithful to the original.
The efforts of all were rewarded at midnight on December 31, 1999, when fireworks and millennium celebrations welcomed Pegasus back to the Dallas skyline, where it remains today.
Mobil Oil merged with Exxon in 1999, creating today’s ExxonMobil, headquartered in Irving, Texas.
Designed by Sir Alfred Bossom of England, the Magnolia building is considered a “modified classical design” by architects. The restored elevator lobby features a gold leaf decorative plaster. The elevator doors are engraved with the Pegasus logo.
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