Historic Company Damaged In Fire

July 13, 2011 Updated Jul 13, 2011 at 7:07 PM EDT

By WKBW News

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Historic Company Damaged In Fire

July 13, 2011 Updated Jul 13, 2011 at 7:07 PM EDT

BUFFALO, NY ( WKBW ) A devastating fire struck the Niagara Lubricant Company on Chandler Street in Buffalo Wednesday.

At the time of this posting, Buffalo Firefighters continue to battle the fire that went to four alarms.

Firefighters are using different methods to fight the smoky fire due to the chemicals stored inside the building.

According to the website for the company (www.niagaralubricant.com) the company has a long and successful history in Western New York.

Here is the information on the company from their website:
Niagara Lubricant Company Inc., a Buffalo, NY base manufacturer and packager of lubricating oils, greases, industrial oils and tire care products has been serving Western New York and the World since 1923. Our facility in the Black Rock section of Buffalo has the capabilities to package various items from one ounce tubes to large scale production totes.

Our History
In April of 1923, three lubricant salesmen, Ferris Wentworth, Joe Wilson and Charlie Sutton decided to start their own lubricant company. In a rented garage behind Dodd's Dairy across from the War Memorial Stadium (once home of the Buffalo Bills, Buffalo Bisons and used as the New York Knights home field during the filming of the movie "The Natural") the Niagara Lubricant Company was born. Ferris' wife Norma, became an active member of the company during the 1920's and kept the books for the emerging company. Despite Ferris' failing sight, the company continued to grow and prosper under Ferris' leadership.

In 1928, the partners purchased property on Manitoba Street in the Clinton Bailey Market area of Buffalo. The building was former NB Fails Oil Company, which was a Gulf Oil facility. Initially, Niagara Lubricant Company was a distributor for Hivis Oil, but Ferris, Joe and Charlie decided to become an independent. The trio began to purchase oil directly from the Sonneborn Refinery in Petrolia, PA and created the private label Nia-Penn Motor Oil.

The Depression was a difficult time for the company both financially and personally. The Nia-Penn label kept the company going, but these years also saw the departure of Joe Wilson from Niagara Lubricant. However, despite these trials, Niagara Lubricant continued to gain a place in the Buffalo marketplace.

As the Depression era came to an end, Niagara Lubricant was able to resume it's initial growth pace of the 1920's. Ferris, now blind, was appointed Commissioner For The Blind by then New York State Governor Thomas Dewey. Ferris worked diligently as both Commissioner and Niagara Lubricant President, and he well known and loved by all. The company prospered during the World War II years, but in 1945, Charlie Sutton departed the company to open his own firm in Lockport, NY.

Ferris' death in 1948 shook the company. However, with a child to provide for, Ferris' wife, Norma took over the company. Assisted by salesman Norm Downing, plant manager Ed Kramer and driver Ed Doster, Norma was able to guide the company through the difficult transition. The company continued to grow and in 1953, Norma's son-in-law, Leon Smith, Jr. joined the company. The 1950's saw sales growth and Ed Doster become the plant manager.

In 1965, Niagara Lubricant purchased the Davis-Egar Oil Company and become a Lubriplate distributor. Long time salesman Norm Downing passed away in 1966. The company hired Don Mallow to lead the sales force and expand the company. Norma, due to failing health retired from Niagara Lubricant in the early 1970's, leaving Leon Smith, Jr. as company president.

The oil crisis of the early 1970's was a boom era for Niagara Lubricant. Niagara Lubricant now was distributor of the Shell, Mobil and Texaco brands of oils. Sales topped the million mark for the first time in this era and continued to grow. Much of the credit goes to people like, Leon Smith, Jr., his son Leon III, Don Mallow, Roger Napier and Bob Napier to name but a few as well as the in house staff.

The 1980's saw a downturn in the fortunes of Buffalo's great manufacturing facilities. Long time manufacturing concerns either shuttered their operations and relocated them elsewhere, leaving Buffalo and other cities in the Great Lakes area with a "Rust Belt Economy". This economic downturn had an effect on companies like Niagara Lubricant, but they weathered the economy and 1985 purchased the assets of the E.G.. Fischer Oil Company and it's Quaker State distributorship. The company also purchased the former Quaker State grease making facility on Chandler Street in the Black Rock section of Buffalo. This facility at one time housed the Enterprise Oil Company which later joined 18 other companies in forming Quaker State Oil Company in the 1920's. After some plant modifications, the company consolidated all operations at the Chandler Street site.

The 1990's saw Leon Jr., retire after 38 years with company, turning the reins over to his son Leon III. Leon III and Vice President Tom Mcleod worked together to oversee the company's difficult transformation from a distributor based concern to a manufacturing concern. Thus Niagara Lubricant was returning to roots that Leon III's grandfather Ferris Wentworth had sought by becoming an independent. Niagara Lubricant made major investments in equipment which enabled the company to expand into the tire care products industry and increase it's private label manufacturing and packaging capabilities.

Today, Niagara Lubricant continues to expand it's manufacturing operations, and has truly joined the global market. Niagara Lubricant manufactured products are used across the United States and Canada as well as Europe, South America, Africa and the Middle East. Niagara Lubricant takes pride in it's catchphrase "Serving Western New York and the World Since 1923" and looks forward to future.

History of Niagara Lubricant was compiled by Lisa Smith