While researching today’s anniversary date, I got sidetracked into searching through my snapshot and photo albums for one of my first artistic, photographic attempts. I was unable to locate the picture. The sight of the place is still etched in my memories.
The tiny, abandoned gasoline station was just south of the small village of Pilger, Nebraska. The odd structure stood all alone at the west side of the highway. It was styled like some sort of oriental shrine. My family often passed by the place on our way to the gravel-pit lake where we went boating and water skiing. One day, I asked dad to stop at the side of the road so I could take a picture of the little filling station. The result was a carefully composed, in-focus black and white photograph that I was very proud of. The quaint little landmark building was demolished many years ago.
Today is the anniversary of the grand opening of the world’s first drive-in gasoline station specifically designed for motorists. It was located at the corner of Baum Boulevard and Saint Clair Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The historicity of the event is somewhat contested.
Before internal combustion powered motor vehicles were common, gasoline was sold as a side product at general stores, hardware stores, and pharmacies. The pumps were located curbside in front of the businesses. The most viable challenge to the December 1913 claim was for a gasoline business that started in 1905 at Saint Louis, Missouri. A second start-up was two years later in Seattle, Washington.
There is a technicality that disqualifies them from the title of first drive through filling station. That is, these early stations were converted from existing buildings. These were places that were old shacks and outbuildings that used jury-rigged barrels and old water heaters to hold and dispense motor fuels. The first dispensing facilities were slower, sloppier, and a lot of fuel was spilled during fill-ups.
It was when the Gulf Oil Corporation built and then opened their drive-in filling station in Pittsburgh, that made it the first bonafide business of its type. That was the very first gasoline station that was architecturally designed, purposed, and constructed for the specific use as a drive-through gasoline station.
The Pittsburgh Gulf station replaced an old re-purposed shack that had dispensed gasoline as a sideline. The new station provided a more attractive, safer way to sell fuel and motor oil. The filling station offered free air for tires and water for radiators. It eventually offered free highway maps to motorists. It was also one of the first to be staffed around the clock.
On opening day in 1913, the Pittsburgh station sold 30 gallons of gasoline at a cost of 27-cents per gallon. Then, on its first Saturday, 350 gallons of fuel were sold that day.