Bill Smith will always be remembered by many as a quiet, generous friend - an able leader with extraordinary foresight.
Bill Smith acquired control of Kewanee Oil Company through his great grandfather, Colonel Joseph D. Potts, who with five colleagues associated with the Pennsylvania Railroad, founded the company in 1871. He joined the active management just after World War II in which he served as a pilot and First Lieutenant in the United States Army Air Force. In 1948, at the age of 28, Bill Smith was elected Kewanee’s fifth president, and in 1973, Chairman of the Board.
Kewanee began as the Enterprise Transit Company and operations were in oil transport; but it later concentrated on exploration and production. In November 1908, the Board of Directors of the Enterprise Transit Company created The Kewanee Oil and Gas Company to conduct its oil and gas operations, primarily in the State of Illinois. The Directors were meeting in a town called Kewanee; hence the name of the company. It means “prairie hen” in Winnebago, the language of the Indians once indigenous to that area.
Bill Smith took control and responsibility for growing a company in a developing and competitive industry. He pursued an ambitious program to acquire oil and gas properties. Foreign operations and exploration were started in Canada and the Caribbean. Eventually, Kewanee would drill and produce hydrocarbons in many of the major onshore and offshore petroleum basins around the world as a major independent oil and gas company. Related operations were expanded through the acquisition of Mathiasen Tanker Industries, Inc., a tankering company hauling Alaska crude oil to the Gulf of Mexico.
Kewanee specialized in secondary recovery processes, predominantly waterflooding, to obtain additional oil from older wells. A particularly successful waterflooding operation was completed in Osage County, Oklahoma. Bill Smith’s ingenuity and leadership skills reaped many rewards and honors but he always retained special pride in one — he was inducted into the Osage Tribe of Indians as an Honorary Chief of the Deer Clan.
By 1975, Kewanee achieved gross revenues in excess of $357,000,000 through various acquisitions, including the Harshaw Chemical Company, the purchase of a majority interest in the Sound Refining Company and the acquisition of the Millmaster Onyx Corporation, a specialty chemical company.
Privately, Bill Smith was a man with varied interests — photography, ship model building, and sailing. He was an expert in all three. At the time of his death, he was sponsoring the rebuilding of the brig, The Unicorn; a 145-foot square rigged sailing vessel which went on to participate in the “Tall Ships” race (finishing 5th, best U.S. entry) and Op Sail on July 4th, 1976, New York Harbor.
In 1951, Bill Smith established The W. W Smith Foundation. Each year, he contributed a substantial number of Kewanee shares to the Foundation. For more than twenty years, the Foundation quietly supported the charitable needs of the Philadelphia community in a significant way.
The Foundation was liquidated by merger into the Philadelphia Maritime Museum in 1973 (now known as The Independence Seaport Museum). Bill Smith was president from 1972 to 1976 and helped to establish it as a Bicentennial landmark. The Museum today is a valuable asset to the City of Philadelphia. He also personally provided funds to purchase the Gazela Primeiro, a Portuguese barkentine now known as Gazela Philadelphia.
Bill Smith will always be remembered by many as a quiet, generous friend — an able leader with extraordinary foresight. He died at the age of 56. In his will, he created The W. W Smith Charitable Trust to carry on his work.