We do it every day, fill up the car with gas or diesel. But it might be worthwhile looking at gas stations themselves. Many are owned by the big names such as Shell and Gulf, and fair number of the smaller names have gone under.
What we commonly call a “gas station” in the US is more technically called a “Filling Station” as the idea was to supply automobiles with whatever sort of fuel or lubricant they needed—be it gas or deasil, oil, and yes, Propane.
They became known a little later as service stations when they were combined with small mechanic shops to provide basic tire and engine repair functions. Later still, the service portion was remodelled to include snacks and beverages, which came at a high mark-up because they were convenient. This was, of course, called a convenience store.
A Little About Gas Station Design
Filling stations typically offer one of three types of service to their customers: full service, minimum service or self-service.
Full service An attendant or gas jockey operates the pumps, often wipes the windshield, and sometimes checks the vehicle’s oil level and tire pressure, then collects payment and perhaps a small tip.
Minimum service An attendant operates the pumps. This is often required due to legislation that prohibits customers from operating the pumps.
Self service The customer performs all required service. Signs informing the customer of filling procedures and cautions are displayed on each pump. Customers can still enter a store or go to a booth to give payment to a person.
Unmanned Using cardlock (or pay-at-the-pump) system, these are completely unstaffed.
The First Gas Stations
The first filling station in the US (and also the world) was built in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1905 at 420 South Theresa Avenue. (The 2nd was in Seattle, WA. BTW). You could get your hands-on fuel prior to that, but it was an add-on to an existing business—like a dry goods or general store. When Henry Ford made the automobile a middle-class purchase the need for a boutique store became obvious. By 1909 a third station was built in Altoona, Pennsylvania. But none of these stations would have looked quite right to the modern eye.
The first “drive-in” station came December 1, 1913 when Gulf Refining Company built it in Pittsburgh, PA.
Historic Gas Stations
In America, when you think gas, you probably think of Texas. There’s an obvious reason why, the oil boon from the start to the middle of the 20th century. The Oil Boom moved Texas from a rural state with lots of ranches to a largely industrial state where petroleum dependent manufacturing could be near the source. Texans depend so much on gas for daily living- so much so that they are known as the “oil patch community” and many of the towns located throughout the state are known as “oil towns.”
Additionally, several oil patch museums are located within the State which are no doubt worth seeking out for anyone with an interest in how Texas became so prosperous. Here are a few examples of Lone-Star States historic gas stations.
The Old Sinclair Station was built in 1933, an interesting part of the façade are the wood-sash windows (metal ones are much more common nowadays). It exemplifies Spanish Colonial architecture service stations which at one time could be found all over the US. These have become increasingly rare, unfortunately.
The Schauer Filling Station, completed in 1929, can be found in Houston. It consists of a blue bungalow with a wide veranda (where the gas pumps used to be). The building has fallen on hard times, described in 2013 as being in a ruinous condition. Scavengers have been salvaging parts off without asking. It has since been listed as a national historic site, which will hopefully attract someone willing to restore the building, or at least prevent further pilfering.
The Jenkins-Harvey Super Service Station and Factory was also built in 1929 and has an Art Deco style with various foliage designs. It was built by local architect James P. Baugh and funded by local businessman Samuel A Lindsey. The gas pumps were removed in the 1980s but it is still in relatively good conditions, probably due to how much concrete is in its construction.
The Phillips 66 gas station in McClean, Texas has a gabled roof and has a general Tudor revival style, as well as a front chimney. Unfortunately, this specific one was completely remodeled in 1991 but still bears some of its old style.
Gas Station Memorabilia
Not only do gas stations themselves offer an interesting history but sometimes it’s the logos, mascots or other paraphernalia associated with them. Sinclair Gas was associated with a green dinosaur for instance called Dino which can still be found throughout the US. Other mascots included a figure looking at a flame wearing white with the message “Happy Motoring” on their top (Esso), a beaver with a red hat (Buc-ee’s, which also run convenience stores and fast food restaurants) and a blue X with a long nose (Idex; the mascot’s name is Idekkun). There are too many mascots to mention them all here, but generally speaking they are all quite colorful in order to get drivers attention.