You never know where old photographs will lead. I established yesterday that we were heading to Bahrain with Donald Schnabel in 1957. The only reason I knew this was because Donald had written brief captions on his slides. Along with writing "Bahrain Feb 57" he repeatedly wrote "Thornburg" which meant nothing to me. Within moments of doing a search for "Thornburg Bahrain" I found that Donald was the guest, or at least visited with, Max Thornburg and his wife Leila on their private island, Umm as Sabaan. I have two rather blurred photos from this visit with the Thornburg's.

Click on images to see them larger.

Max Thornburg was very involved with the Middle East and helped create some of what the world is having to deal with now. You can't think of those countries without thinking of oil and turmoil. Max Thornburg was involved in both.
Max Weston Thornburg (October 10, 1892 – September 21, 1962) was an American petroleum executive and government adviser. He was a petroleum adviser to the United States Department of State and a senior oil executive for the Standard Oil of California (SOCAL) and California-Texas Oil Company, Ltd. (Caltex) in the Middle East including Bahrain and Iran. He was a special assistant to the Undersecretary of State from 1941 to 1943 during World War II.

Thornburg was born in Long Beach, California to Eva Louise (née Holbrook) and Charles Hix Thornburg. He married Leila Baldwin Berry on March 30, 1918 in Lynchburg, Virginia. Leila's father, Rufus Albert Berry, was in the real estate business and also the postmaster in Berkeley, California.

Thornburg received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1917, and then a Bachelor of Science (1921), and a degree in chemical engineering (1933), both from UC Berkeley. He also did post-graduate work at the University of Grenoble in 1919. He served in the United States Army from 1917 to 1920, stationed at Camp Lewis, Washington,[5] and in France. He was discharged with the rank of captain.

In June 1936 the Standard Oil Company of California (SOCAL; later Chevron) and the Texas Corporation (Texaco) formed a new entity called California-Texas Oil Company, Ltd. (CALTEX), to market and distribute the crude oil produced by SOCAL east of the Suez Canal and the refined products produced at their new refinery being built on Bahrain Island. Thornburg was named a vice-president of the new entity, CALTEX. James Andrew Moffett, II., was named the chairman, as well as a director, and Howard M. Herron was president.

In the 1930s, the ruler of Bahrain gave the island of Umm as Sabaan as a gift to Thornburg. Later he was a vice president of Bahrain Petroleum Co., Ltd (BAPCO).

Thornburg was named as a "special consultant on international petroleum matters," by Secretary of State Cordell Hull, in August 1941, to serve under Harold L. Ickes, Secretary of the Interior and defense oil coordinator. Thornburg was to keep Ickes informed of the international aspects and problems of petroleum, which was crucial to the war effort both overseas and domestically to keep supplies flowing.

Thornburg died in Santa Monica, California at age 69. He was survived by his wife, Leila (née Berry) Thornburg (September 21, 1893 – October 13, 1969. They had three children, Roann (1919-1983), Priscilla (1922-1988), and Russell (1927-1989). (SOURCE: Wikipedia)
To read an in-depth article about Max Thornburg read The Catalyst of Nationalization: Max Thornburg and the Failure of Private Sector Developmentalism in Iran, 1947-1951 by Linda Wills Qaimmaqami. It's quite interesting to read in light of where we are today so it's worth downloading.

Searching for photos of Max Thornburg brought up only one shot of him with his wife and children. Sadly the link to the actual photo seemed to be dead. However, I did find this video from the July 9, 1951 CBS episode of the Longines Chronoscope show. Max Thornburg is introduced as "the war time petroleum advisor to the Department of State and expert on middle eastern affairs." It's fascinating.


  1. Interesting dude. I wonder if Donald worked for Standard Oil - I seem to think/recall he started there.

  2. Max and Leila are my Great Grand Uncle and Aunt. The photos you were looking for of Max and his children were probably mine. I'd love to see what photographs you have concerning the Thornburgs!

    Thanks for your interesting post!

    1. As I recall, these were the only good shots I had of them. I posted a series of shots that were taken in Bahrain with the man, Donald G. Schnabel, visited. There are a few others taken on your aunt and uncle's island. Click on the Thornburg label at the end of the post.

      Happy you found this post. I was hoping a family member might see these shots.

    2. Hey Elisabeth! This is Maral . I am writing a PhD thesis on social history of oil in Iran and was writing about nationalization these days. I was looking for some more info on Max Thornburg and I ended up here! It would be great if you can get in touch with me, maybe you can let me know whether there are some personal archive of Thornburg from his mission to Iran. at least you can provide me with a decent photo of him to use in my book maybe :) looking forward to hearing from you, I am based in Amsterdam and studying at leiden university. here is my email: mje@iisg.nl. cheers!

    3. My father and mother, Roger Kennedy from Britain and Mary Herrmann Kennedy, from Scarsdale New York, lived in Bahrain. My father was the Doctor for the Bahrain Oil Company. He lived there from 1937-42 and my mother from Sept 1939 - May 1941.
      I have some letters from both of them and they talk about Max and Leila a little. In the very first letter that my father wrote to my mother, he says Leila suggested he write to her. I have a feeling that Max and Leila knew my Mother's parents - Charles and Sarah Herrmann. Charles Herrmann was a Vice Presdent and a Director of The Texas Company but he died in 1922, so I do not know how Leila knew my mother and or my grandmother. Oh how I wish I had asked more questions.
      If you have any questions for me my email is:
      judycharbonneau@hotmail.com. I Iive in Canada.