In 1911, Standard Oil was broken up into 34 companies, some of which were named "Standard Oil" and had the rights to that brand in certain states (the other companies had no territorial rights). Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) ("Jersey Standard") had the rights in that state, plus in Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and the District of Columbia. By 1941, it had also acquired the rights in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Louisiana. In those states, it marketed its products under the brand "Esso", the phonetic pronunciation of the letters "S" and "O".
It also used the Esso brand in New York and the six New England states, where the Standard Oil Company of New York (Socony - Vacuum, later Socony - Mobil) had the rights, but did not object to the New Jersey company's use of the trademark (the two companies did not merge until November 1999). However, in the other states, the other Standard Oil companies objected and, via a 1937 U.S. federal court injunction, forced Jersey Standard to use other brand names. In most states the company used the trademark Enco ("Energy Company"), and in a few "Humble".
The other Standard companies likewise were "Standard" or some variant on that in their home states, and another brand name in other states. Esso ranked 31st among United States corporations in the value of World War II production contracts.
During the years of racial segregation in the United States, certain Esso franchises gave out The Negro Motorist Green Book: An International Travel Guide. In 1973, Standard Oil of New Jersey renamed itself as the Exxon Corporation, and adopted that trademark throughout the country. It maintained the rights to "Standard" and "Esso" in the states where it held those rights, by a token effort, by selling "Esso Diesel" in those states at stations that sell diesel fuel, thus preventing the trademark from being declared abandoned.
It retained the "Esso" brand in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands until 2008, when it sold its stations there to Total S.A.
The Enco brand name was used on locations in the Midwest until 1977 when they were sold to Cheker Oil Co. (now part of Marathon Petroleum subsidiary Speedway LLC); Exxon continues to have a presence in southern Ohio today (as it does throughout much of Appalachia in general), though Mobil is the company's primary brand in the Midwest.
In 2016, ExxonMobil successfully asked a U.S. federal court to lift the 1930s trademark injunction that banned it from using the Esso brand in certain states. By this time, as a result of numerous mergers and rebranding, the remaining Standard Oil companies that previously objected to the Esso name had been acquired by BP. ExxonMobil cited trademark surveys in which there was no longer possible confusion with the Esso name as it was more than seven decades before. BP also had no objection to lift the ban. ExxonMobil did not specify whether they would now open new stations in the U.S. under the Esso name; they were primarily concerned about the additional expenses of having separate marketing, letterheads, packaging, and other materials that omit "Esso".
In 1888, the Anglo American Oil company opened its head office in London, which eventually became a part of Esso. In August 1998, Tesco announced a partnership with Esso, opening chains of Tesco Express stores located within forecourts, which continues today. In February 2000, the two companies were opening one new store a month, creating 4,000 jobs.
Esso Blue was the brand name of Esso's paraffin oil (kerosene) for domestic heaters in countries such as the United Kingdom. Their television advertising song from the 1950s, through to the 1970s, was the famous "Bom, Bom, Bom, Bom, Esso Blue!" One campaign used the well-known song tune of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" cleverly reworded as: "They asked me how I knew, it was Esso Blue, I of course replied, with lower grades one buys, smoke gets in your eyes. The non-smoking paraffin". The track was released as a flexi disk which was given away free in hardware stores.
In the 1930s Esso acquired Cleveland, an independent company based in North East England. The name comes from the fact that the founder and principal shareholder, Norman Davis, spent some of World War I with his brother Manuel in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland's products included a benzole blend and an alcohol blend called "Discol". The Esso and Cleveland names continued in use until 1973, when the Cleveland filling stations were re-branded as Esso.
Esso traded in Northern Ireland up until the early 2000s. Their forecourts were re-branded as Maxol and some remained private.
45 of Euro Garages' forecourts were bought from Esso in 2013, and are operated under the Esso brand. They plan to roll out partner brands such as Starbucks and Spar, replacing the Esso branded shops.
Shop and Drive is an Esso branded convenience store operated in some stations, although many of their locations have franchised shops such as Nisa.
In Canada, the Esso brand is used on stations operated by Imperial Oil, which is 69.8% owned by ExxonMobil. Esso also provides aviation fuel services at 80 airport locations in Canada (Aviation and Avitat).
In Australia, Esso is an affiliate of ExxonMobil, it operates oil and gas production. Its retail petrol stations were acquired by Mobil Australia in 1990.
Esso is ExxonMobil's primary gasoline brand worldwide except in Australia, Guam, Nigeria and New Zealand, where the Mobil brand is used exclusively. In Colombia and Egypt, both the Esso and Mobil brands are used. (Mobil is ExxonMobil's primary retail gasoline brand in California, Florida, New York, New England, the Great Lakes and the Midwest. Exxon is the primary brand in the rest of the United States, with the highest concentration of retail outlets located in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas and in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern states.)
In the 1960s, campaigns featuring heavy spending in different mass media channels became more prominent. Esso spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a brand awareness campaign built around the simple and alliterative theme Put a Tiger in Your Tank. Psychologist Ernest Dichter and DDB Worldwide copywriter Sandy Sulcer learned that motorists desired both power and play while driving, and chose the tiger as an easy-to-remember symbol to communicate those feelings. The North American and later European campaign featured extensive television and radio and magazine ads, including photos with tiger tails supposedly emerging from car gas tanks, promotional events featuring real tigers, billboards, and in Europe station pump hoses "wrapped in tiger stripes" as well as pop music songs. Tiger imagery can still be seen on the pumps of successor firm ExxonMobil.