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Media post: The Evolution of Gas Pumping


Most of the states in the U.S used to have fire laws that disallowed “untrained personnel” from dispensing flammable fluids. Governments were worried about accidents happening due to letting people pump their own gas into their cars. This meant gasoline being dispensed at fill-up stations by their staff. Here’s the story.

Early days

The first filling stations began to come about around 1909. From the start, an attendant filled up the gas tank for the driver because of fire safety codes. The logistics of buying gas began to change as curbside hand-cranked pumps (which we’ll elaborate on very soon) turned into the boxy, stationary versions still used today. Attendants at gas stations also did more than just pump gas. They performed other complimentary services, like washing windshields and checking tire pressure and oil levels. For a while the city of Ford Wayne, Indiana was practically the world’s capital of gas-pump manufacturing.


The number of gasoline outlets started to soar as more and more United States residents purchased cars. Now, early gas pumps were operated via a hand crank. This crank has a “clock face” dial installed to let the consumer know how much gas had been pumped into the tank. By 1933, 170,000 gasoline stations existed, and that number was about 231,000 by 1940 according to the experts at CDJR Mopar Parts, a local Mopar Parts seller.

Then Self-Serve Came

Then in 1947, Frank Urich, a businessman working within the local fire codes, opened the first self-service gas station in California.  This was a huge attraction, because it may have seemed impossible to put into place, but it was saving money. Gas was selling for 20 cents  each gallon back then but because of self-service, customers only paid 15 cents. While some stations switched to this type of self-service gasoline, the idea didn’t really catch on with many retailers at the time. The large oil companies kept competing with one another through unique giveaways.

And more stuff came…

John Roscoe, who owned a gas station in Colorado, at first didn’t want to support remote access self-service gasoline.  Then, one day, Roscoe remembers, a man named Herb Timms visited with a box he had created that would allow a worker in the store to dispense gasoline at the pumps outside. In June of 1964, at a Westminster, Colorado, location, Roscoe activated the first U.S. remote access self-service gas pumps. Now, this was very interesting, because selling gasoline was never the same after that.

It was not long before everybody in the gasoline business wanted in but for remote self-service gasoline to expand, regulatory changes had to happen. Unfortunately, at the time, several state laws had provisions that forbade self-serve dispensers at service stations. However, the great majority of states (Oregon and New Jersey never did) changed the fire codes to let self-service dispensers be present in their states.

Today, of course, self-serve gasoline stations may be found throughout the land (except in Oregon and New Jersey) and it is a convenience that we take for granted. We hope that you’ve found this article to be informative, and that you have liked learning about how the process of gas pumping has evolved!

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