Total is a massive French oil company, considered one of the six "supermajor" oil companies in the world today. It's businesses cover the entire spectrum of oil and natural gas related activities, from exploration and extraction, to transportation, refining, and sales and marketing to end users. It is also involved in oil and oil product trading, and the large-scale manufacture of petrochemicals.
The company was founded shortly after World War I at the behest of French Prime Minister Raymond Poincaré, who feared another war with Germany and wanted France to have better control over its oil supplies. Accordingly, Poincaré's associate Ernest Mercier, rounded up a group of about 90 banks and businesses and founded the "French Petroleum Company" in 1924. The new company was granted the 23.75% share of the Turkish Petroleum Company (renamed the Iraq Petroleum Company) formerly held by Germany's Deutsche Bank, which was awarded to France as part of German war reparations determined at the the San Remo Conference.
In 1991, the company changed its name to Total to obscure its Frenchness and thus hopefully become more appealing to foreign investors and customers. As part of the larger consolidation of the oil industry in the 1990s, Total ascended to "supermajor" status by merging with two other French oil companies, Petrofina and Elf Aquitaine. This briefly led the company to refer to itself with the incredibly unwieldy name "TotalFinaElf," before better sense prevailed and the company reverted back to being just "Total" in 2003.
As of 2010, Total had over 96,000 employees conducting operations in more than 130 nations.