History Of The Gas Pump

John Pizzo
Here is the second installment of the gas pumps article I hope it was informative and gave some insight to the development of the gas pump and its origin.
National Petroleum News recognized in 1925 the Automobile Gasoline Company of St. Louis, Missouri as the creator of the first drive-in gasoline station.
Later in 1949, NPN again paid tribute to the St. Louis station when a plaque was placed on the original building. While some will disagree with this being the first gas station, it was the first to offer gas on an off street location. No pump was used to dispense the gas just a hose from a tall tank.
Shortly after that oil companies were planning and building off-street locations and even as early as 1915, National Petroleum News ran contests for the best looking gas stations.
Around 1912 pump companies started enclosing these curb pumps in cabinets. Some were tall and elaborate and some were just two swinging doors that enclosed the top half of the curb pump.
Changes in the gas pumps came about around 1920 and these changes probably had the large pump companies confused as to which direction to take.
First was the invention of the visible pump. Placing a glass cylinder above the pump, and pumping the gasoline up into this cylinder allowed the auto owner to see the amount of gasoline he was purchasing.
The pump companies were also experimenting with the addition of a clock style meter on the outside of the cabinet pump, electric motors attached to the pumps to eliminate hand pumping.
The first reaction to the visible pumps was to offer a visible attachment for existing curb pumps. Around 1923, the large companies started offering a true visible pump. The meter proved to be successful, and with improvements became the clock pumps of the 1930s.
In areas where electricity was available, the motor driven pumps were also successful, but in areas without electricity, hand pumps were still necessary. Hand operated visible and computer pumps were last made in 1950.
The late 1920s saw fewer visible pumps and the introduction of more meter pumps. By 1930, clock meter pumps were being made by almost every pump company.
Each year brought a better idea on how to make the meter. Some had two hands, one for gallons, one for parts of gallons.
Another called the Cash Computer had plugged in price inserts with different gears on the backside. Some of the best-looking clock meter pumps were the two-meter Cash Recorder pumps, one for gallons and one for price. Everything changed in 1934 with the invention of the Computer meter, by the Wayne Pump Company.
Wayne licensed the Computer to the Veeder-Root Company who made the same basic unit into the 1980s.
The mid- 1930s also brought about big changes in the market and the future of many gas pump companies. With the offset of the depression around 1932, many small companies began to merge or just disappear. To illustrate the point, of the five St. Louis pump companies that were in business in 1925, all were gone by 1932. Four just disappeared, and only one merged with another company.
By late 1930s, all the remaining companies were using the computer. A few tried to invent their own version of the computer, but because of patent infringements, they were all stopped by Veeder-Root. Pumps also became much more streamlined, with flat doors and flat sides.
During World War II, the U.S. Government limited production of gas pumps because of the need for metal and a permit was necessary to purchase one.
When the war ended, the pump companies pulled out the dies of the last pumps they made during the late 1930s and early 1940s and again started production. Wayne even made their visible pump for one more year.
Engineers were put to work designing pumps more in line with the late 1940. Cars were being lowered and it was hard to see the spinning numbers on the old tall pumps. In 1947 and 1948 every company in the pump business introduced a low-profile pump. Some collectors call these pumps 50s style pumps but most were introduced in the 1940s.
In the late 1950s, stainless steel and remote pumps were in fashion. Pumps were again lowered in height with the introduction of a 48” pump and were made with more stainless and less painted surfaces. Oil companies were opening large stations and the remote operated pump was being used.
The 1950s also saw the closing of three more large gas pump companies, Martin & Schwartz, National, and the Dayton Pump Company.
The biggest innovation of the 1960s was the blend pump. Wayne introduced the pumps and Sunoco was first to use them and then almost every pump company came out with a blend pump and many oil companies used them.
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