Gas stations have long been a familiar sight on American roadways, serving as crucial pit stops for motorists on their journeys.
However, the gas stations we encounter today bear little resemblance to their early counterparts from the 1920s and 1940s.
In this article, we delve into the past through a captivating collection of old photos, providing a fascinating glimpse into the appearance and atmosphere of gas stations in the United States during these transformative decades.
During the early 1920s, gas stations were still in their infancy, evolving alongside the burgeoning automobile industry.
Unregulated and modest in scale, these stations comprised small buildings and a single pump. As unassuming as they were, they played a vital role in providing essential services to motorists. Tire repairs, lubrication, and the sale of oil, batteries, and tires were among the primary offerings.
The architectural styles varied, ranging from quaint wooden structures to more utilitarian designs, but all exuded a sense of practicality and functionality.
These early gas stations often blended into the surrounding landscapes, showcasing an organic integration with their communities.
As the automobile industry continued to flourish, gas stations underwent significant changes in the 1940s. The influence of modernization and streamlined design became evident, with the emergence of more recognizable gas station motifs.
Art Deco elements, vibrant signage, and eye-catching canopies adorned the stations, reflecting the spirit of innovation and progress.
The first known filling station was the city pharmacy in Wiesloch, Germany, where Bertha Benz refilled the tank of the first automobile on its maiden trip from Mannheim to Pforzheim back in 1888.
Shortly thereafter other pharmacies sold gasoline as a side business. Since 2008 the Bertha Benz Memorial Route commemorates this event.
The world’s first purpose-built gas station was constructed in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1905 at 420 South Theresa Avenue.
The second station was constructed in 1907 by Standard Oil of California (now Chevron) in Seattle, Washington, at what is now Pier 32. Reighard’s Gas Station in Altoona, Pennsylvania claims that it dates from 1909 and is the oldest existing filling station in the United States.
Early on, they were known to motorists as “filling stations”. These filling stations were known to wash your windows for free.
The first “drive-in” filling station, Gulf Refining Company, opened to the motoring public in Pittsburgh on December 1, 1913, at Baum Boulevard and St Clair’s Street.
Prior to this, automobile drivers pulled into almost any general or hardware store, or even blacksmith shops in order to fill up their tanks.
On its first day, the station sold 30 US gallons (110 L) of gasoline at 27 cents per gallon (7 cents per liter). This was also the first architect-designed station and the first to distribute free road maps.
The majority of filling stations are built in a similar manner, with most of the fueling installation underground, pump machines in the forecourt, and a point of service inside a building.
Fuel is usually offloaded from a tanker truck into each tank by gravity through a separate capped opening located on the station’s perimeter. Fuel from the tanks travels to the dispenser pumps through underground pipes.
Older stations tend to use a separate pipe for every kind of available fuel and for every dispenser. Newer stations may employ a single pipe for every dispenser.
This pipe houses a number of smaller pipes for the individual fuel types. Fuel tanks, dispenser and nozzles used to fill car tanks employ vapor recovery systems, which prevents releases of vapor into the atmosphere with a system of pipes.
In the past, filling stations in the United States offered a choice between full service and self service. Before 1970, full service was the norm, and self-service was rare.
Today, few stations advertise or provide full service. Full service stations are more common in wealthy and upscale areas. The cost of full service is usually assessed as a fixed amount per US gallon.
The first self-service station in the United States was in Los Angeles, opened in 1947 by Frank Urich. In Canada, the first self-service station opened in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1949. It was operated by the independent company Henderson Thriftway Petroleum, owned by Bill Henderson.
In New Jersey, filling stations offer only full service (and mini service); attendants there are required to pump gasoline for customers. Customers, in fact, are prohibited by law from pumping their own gasoline.
(Photo credit: Library of Congress / Pinterest / Flickr / Wikimedia Commons).