Collectors Want Phillips’ “76” Balls

Honest to Pete, we’ll try to avoid double entendres in reporting this story.


As a result of numerous mergers, takeovers, buyouts, IPOs, and other Wall Street manipulations, ConocoPhillips, one of the nation’s largest refiners and petroleum product distributors, has ended up with a trio of brand-loyalty-inspiring retail logos, representing Conoco, Phillips 66, and Union 76.


Union 76’s logo and gas station sign, beginning in 1967, was a blue-white-and-orange eight-foot diameter ball, looking sort of like a giant pool-table ball, designed to catch the eye of passing motorists. Before selling off its retail logo, the Union Oil Co., a.k.a. Unocal, was headquartered in San Francisco , so it was mostly a familiar West Coast brand.


Phillips 66, once headquartered in Oklahoma athwart U. S. Highway Route 66 (“Get Your Kicks On…”), maintains its black, red, and white symbol of US 66 highway signage ( U.S. route signs are black on white for those of you who never venture onto “blue highways”). Phillips 66 signs were mostly seen in the mid-part of the country.


But the new marketing geniuses at ConocoPhillips, headquartered in Houston, decided that the Union sign needed modernization, so they began a program to scrap the big round balls, the Wall Street Journal reported this weekend.


Immediately collectors and museum curators of kitsch, such as the Museum of Neon Art in Los Angeles , began protesting this destruction of our nation’s heritage. ConocoPhillips spurned the objections, fearing the cheapening of a valuable trademark, and set about junking the signs. It was akin to bulldozing, say, all the old motel courts which used to line national highways before the Interstate Era, today much prized by cultural scholars. According to Wikipedia, in the film Jurassic Park a T-Rex knocks a 76 service station sign over, causing it to roll down the roadway where it nearly crushes a vintage Pontiac GTO. This is Kulture you just can’t ignore.


A Web site,, was launched and generated some 3000 signatures on a petition to the oil giant to rescind its new marketing scheme, or at least protect its ball signs from the wrecking ball.


Wisely, ConocoPhillips read the tea leaves of public protest and relented, making its balls available to various museums, including both Neon and the Smithsonian.

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