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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

Oil company which since 1907 has traded in partnership with Royal Dutch. Shell derives ultimately from a small shop opened in 1833 by Marcus Samuel (1798–1870) in the East End of London. He dealt in curios and oriental sea shells. The latter became so popular in Victorian households that he began organizing transport from the Far East, and it was this trading link which provided the basis for future growth. In 1890 his son, also Marcus Samuel (1858–1927), decided that there was a large market for paraffin in the Far East which he could supply by bulk transport from Russian oil terminals on the Black Sea.

The Suez authorities had until then refused all applications to transport oil through the canal, but Samuel had a tanker designed which met their safety regulations. The Murex passed through the canal in 1892 with 4000 tons of Russian paraffin en route for Singapore and Bangkok. By 1897 the transport of oil was so much the largest part of Samuel's business that he set up a new specialist company; and for its name he used the original basis of the family fortune, the shell. The following year he began successfully drilling for oil in the east, in Borneo.

Meanwhile Royal Dutch had been formed in 1890 to exploit an oil well in Sumatra. During the 1890s the two companies were in competition, but they were also threatened by the much larger US firm, Standard Oil. They decided to merge their interests while retaining separate identities.
By World War I Shell had acquired oil wells in two areas – the Middle East and Venezuela – which were to become of great importance. From 1959 it was involved in developing the vast natural gas field at Groningen in the Netherlands. And from the 1970s the company was active in the North Sea oil fields, the discovery in 1971 of the largest UK source, the Brent field, being a major development.

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