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The history of the beginning of the drive-in filling station era is a bit gray. Early dispensing was done in various ways. Filling and measuring depended on the capacity of cans, buckets, drums which were used at first, then on to portable rotary pumps and on to actual gauges, graduated columns and meters.
Also early sales of gasoline were carried out as sidelines by hardware merchandisers, drug stores, general stores, liveries and by curbside vendors and even by salesmen pushing the gasoline around in carts equipped with hoses. As the demand grew, brand names began to be highly visible and oil companies built fancy accommodations (the spic and span gasoline station) to serve their trademark gasoline to the motorists. The new pumps were modern-looking devices in their day and by having the oil company logo on the crown they were attractions in themselves.
A few gasoline filling stations across the country opened for business around 1906-1907, but dispensing at that time was still done mostly by buckets and funnels. Some stations advanced into metered or graduated measures soon after 1911. Gilbert & Barker, a firm which manufactured storage tanks, brought out a line of curb pumps with measuring devices in 1911 (Hidy & Hidy, 1955), and the Beman Auto Oil Can Co. of Meadville, Pennsylvania, was already selling their New Improved Automatic Tank by that year.
Standard Oil of California is said to have been the first to claim a filling station which they opened in 1907 in Seattle, Washington. No doubt this claim can be disputed but, to be fair, one has to define exactly what is meant by a filling station. In the early Seattle stations a thirteen-gallon filling tank was fed from the main storage tanks and the measuring into the patron’s tank was accomplished by a glass gauge on the filling tank (Hidy & Hidy, 1955).
Giddens (1955) noted that Standard of Indiana opened a pump station for automobiles in Minneapolis in 1911, but the gasoline was pumped into cans and then poured into the vehicle’s tank. Imperial Oil had a service station in Vancouver, Canada, in 1908 (Hidy & Hidy, 1955). Standard also opened a curbside station having a rotary pump in Rockford, Illinois, in 1914.
Northwest Pennsylvania, being the region of America’s first oil belt, got off to an early start in the sale of gasoline to motorists.
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