125 YEARS OF CASTROL – LUBRICANTS FOR FIRST HEAVY STEAM ENGINES TO SPACECRAFTS

January 21, 2024

The firm Castrol, formerly CC Waterfield & Co. was founded in Cheapside, London, in March 1899 by a British entrepreneur C.C. Wakefield. Castrol initiated the sale of lubricants for trains and heavy machinery. In the 1960s, NASA selected Castrol as a supplier for its space program’s needs. An amazing journey.
Charles Cheers Wakefield was born in Cheshire, UK, and was educated at the Liverpool Institute.
Wakefield patented the Wakefield lubricator for steam engines in the 1890s. In 1899 he left a job at Vacuum Oil and founded the Wakefield Oil Company selling lubricants.
Some steam locomotives were fitted with one or more Wakefield mechanical lubricators. These were normally mounted on the locomotive footplate alongside the boiler, in a position where a mechanical linkage could be made with some point on the locomotive’s valve gear or another moving part.
Early in the new century, the company started developing lubricants for automobile and aeroplane engines, which needed oils that were runny enough to work from cold at start-up and thick enough to keep working at very high temperatures. Wakefield researchers found that adding a measure of castor oil, a vegetable oil made from castor beans, did the trick nicely. They called the new product Castrol.
Having developed a new kind of motor oil, C.C. Wakefield now pioneered a new way to raise awareness of the product with potential customers. Wakefield’s interest in competition and performance had led him to the idea of sponsorship.
The Castrol name was advertised on banners and flags at aviation competitions, car and motorbike races, and speed record attempts. A mobile competitions department, pictured, provided support to these intrepid drivers and pilots.
When a Castrol sponsored racer or record breaker won, advertisements would herald the victory, letting the public know that the winner had ‘done it with Castrol’. During the 1920’s and 30’s, the land speed record was broken 23 times – 18 with Castrol in the engine.
By 1960, the name of the motor oil had eclipsed the company’s name itself so “CC Wakefield & Company” became “Castrol Limited”. In 1966, Castrol was acquired by company Burmah Oil, which was renamed “Burmah-Castrol”. Burmah-Castrol was purchased by London-based multinational BP in 2000. Burmah-Castrol had 18,000 employees worldwide, with operations in 55 countries.
Castrol has remained as a subsidiary of BP.
Castrol’s Braycote lubricant was developed for NASA at pretty much the start of the space programme in the 60s and to this day it is used to keep the Mars Rover roving and the International Space Station in its 17,000 mph (27,400 km/h) orbit around our planet.
(Source: Castrol/Wikipedia – Image: Castrol)