DALLAS, Nov 30, 2013/ — As ubiquitous as the traffic light, the modern gas station is celebrating its centennial tomorrow, 100 years hence when Gulf Refining Company opened the nation’s first drive-up service station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, designed and built specifically to sell fuel.
While fueling stations existed before 1913 — after all, Karl Benz is credited with inventing the first gasoline-powered automobile in 1885 — fueling was far from convenient a century ago. Early fueling sites were a patchwork collection of pharmacies or even ramshackle sheds and blacksmiths’ shops where fuel was usually dispensed from a container, as opposed to being directly pumped into a vehicle’s tank.
On December 1, 1913, the first ever gas station dedicated to selling fuel opened and sold 30 gallons of gasoline — less than one percent of the daily sales volume of a fueling station today.
And of course gas prices have changed. Despite the higher posted prices of today, gasoline is a relative bargain. Back on December 1, 1913, gas cost 27 cents a gallon — which equates to $6.39 per gallon in today’s dollars.
Customers at that first station would not recognize today’s fueling outlets. Gasoline retailing has evolved from full-service attendants with crisp, white uniforms to modern, state-of-the-art convenience stores offering self-service gasoline (except for New Jersey and Oregon where self-serve is prohibited).
“That first gas station did much more than define fueling for the next century — it redefined retail and ushered in the era of convenience,” said Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives for the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS). “The emphasis was squarely on service — and speed of that service, concepts that are even more important today.”
When Gulf opened that original service station in 1913, there were approximately 500,000 vehicles navigating almost exclusively dirt or gravel roads. Today, there are more than 250 million vehicles traveling on the nation’s 3.98 million miles of paved roadways.
In addition, today’s gas stations sell far more than auto-related products like motor oils, lubricants and batteries, and are known as much for their in-store snacks, drinks and food — such as the latest trend of “gas station gourmet” outlets — as for their fueling.
A video that looks at 100 years of fueling can be accessed at www.nacstv.com/100years. An information sheet detailing the history of fueling can be found at www.nacsonline.com/gasprices.