The Historical Journal


The British Government and the Oil Companies 1912–1924: the Search for an Oil Policy*

G. Gareth Jonesa1

a1 Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

The overwhelming majority of studies of the relationship between the British government and private industry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are, in reality, merely studies of the government's policy towards industry. The attitude of private industry towards the government has been almost entirely neglected, and this has inevitably led to a distorted understanding of the relationship as a whole. It is, for example, hardly ever made explicit in the extensive literature on the growth of state intervention in the British economy that in the decades before 1914 the assault on laissez-faire was pardy led by private industry itself. This development was most noticeable overseas, where the British government became involved in commerce and trade largely in response to requests for diplomatic support from British firms faced with growing competition from continental and American commercial interests, often supported by their respective governments.


* I would like to thank Shell for their generosity in allowing me access to their archives, the Social Science Research Council for its financial support, and Mr R. C. Trebilcock and Captain S. W. Roskill for their continual help and encouragement.