History Of The Gas Pump

John Pizzo
Welcome to another issue of Classic Car Round-Up. For this month I will shed some light on the gas pump and its history.
The gas pump has been around for decades. Its creator was a man named Sylvanus F. Bowser.
In the 1880s before the advent of automobiles, gas was used in lights. Most lighting came from kerosene lamps, but some companies made lamps that burned gasoline.
The owners of these lamps purchased gasoline and kerosene from the local general store. General store owners kept the products in barrels inside the store and dispensed the liquids into containers usually supplied by the purchaser.
In 1883, S.F. Bowser had no dreams of inventing something for pumping gasoline or for use in a general store. He was just tired of drawing water from a well on cold mornings.
His idea was for a pump that would draw the water to the surface. The pump didn’t work for long lifts, but when applied to short lifts the pump was a success.
Bowser began making kerosene pumps and around 1890 he advertised a pump for gasoline. As the automobile revolution was still some ten years in the future, this gasoline pump was for lighting purposes and kerosene was still far outselling gasoline.
The automobile came slowly on the scene at the turn of the twentieth century. Automobile owners purchased gasoline from general stores and as sales went up others businesses such as blacksmiths and even drug stores began selling fuel.
In metropolitan areas, the rich were putting automobiles in the carriage house. Early gas pump companies such as Bowser, Tokheim, and Western, produced an “outfit.” This consisted of a tank that was put in the ground, close to the surface, with a small hand pump attached directly to the tank.
This pump was referred to as a Private Garage Pump. Generally there were no meters on these pumps as everything was done by sight and there was no need to measure the amount of gasoline dispensed.
General stores and the repair garages that soon began to show up recognized the need for a better way to dispense gas and around 1905, the pump companies began to offer a pump that was attached to a large tank out in front of the business.
These pumps were about four feet tall, hand cranked, and called “Curb Pumps.” Like a lot of collectors I do not like the term Pre visible, as it is a general term and is sometimes used to cover any pump that just looks old.
Between 1905 and 1910 the curb pump was improved. Meters were put on the pumps to measure the amount of fuel dispensed insured by using a measuring can.
Hoses were attached to the pumps so the gas could be pumped directly into the car’s gas tank. Insurance companies and local governments soon saw the curb locations as a hazard. Many local governments passed ordinances prohibiting curb pumps and then there was a need for something new.
I will end it here for this month. So if you liked the first part of this article and are at the end of your subscription this is a great reason to renew and continue supporting a fantastic magazine.

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