The modern gasoline pump is a familiar and, often, regular sight today. However, during the time when gasoline was sold at local hardware or general stores, the gas pump provided a more straightforward, safer, and quicker method for people to get fuel. Those early gas pumps, although crude, made getting gas a breeze. Back then, you would only need two things: a steel canister to hold the gas, and a steady hand to prevent dangerous spillage.
Whereas modern gasoline pumps feature simple and utilitarian designs, its early variants were often designed to be bold; to catch and hold your attention. Besides, there might not be another one for miles. The early gas pumps unique and eye-catching design is one reason why collectors today see the value in collecting this symbol of the age of invention that fueled the roaring 20’s. How did the gas pump come about and how do you find the right ones to add to your collection?
Birth of the Gas Pump
In a barn in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a man by the name of Sylvanus F. Bowser would invent the first ever gasoline pump. It was September 5, 1885, several months before Karl Benz’ developed the first gas-powered automobile and a good 23 years before the Ford Model T. Yes, the gas pump preceded the automobile.
Before the invention of the automobile, the demand for gasoline was very low, if not nonexistent. A byproduct of kerosene production, gasoline was often discarded while folks used kerosene for lamps, candles, cooking, and heating oil. It was not until automobiles took off that many would start seeing the value of gasoline.
At that time, you’d have to pay your grocery or hardware store a visit to buy fuel. You also had to bring your own canister with which to contain the gas. The storekeeper would than ladle gasoline from the store’s barrel into your canister. The first gas pump would then be eventually known as a filling station. Obviously, this method was sometimes messy and wasteful. It was also incredibly risky and dangerous.
Over 130 years ago, S. Bowser sought out to address the risks of the above method and found success. He built and eventually patented, a pump that could pull gas from a storage container and deliver it safely into a gas canister. By 1893, Bowser’s pump becomes popularly known as a ”filling station.” Bowser would eventually sell the pump to pioneering automobile-repair garages. Meanwhile, the word “bowser” is slowly becoming the generic term for the standard gas pump.
As automobiles rose in popularity, S. Bowser would then improve on his original design. He called the new design, Bowser Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage Pump. This improved taller version sported air vents for safety, a mechanism to deliver a specific amount of gas, and finally a hose to deliver the gasoline straight into an automobiles fuel tank. As the number of owned cars soared through the 1900’s, the number of gas pumps and filling stations also grew exponentially.
If you’re one to collect vintage and antique petroliana memorabilia, a vintage gas pump in mint condition we’ll be one of the buys you can’t miss.
Types of Gas Pumps
In contrast to the boxy, often pragmatic, design of modern gas pumps, early gas pumps were painted bright and eye-catching colors from vibrant reds to almost-glowing lime green. Gas companies designed them In such a way that customers would be moved to choose the player’s filling station over the many other gas companies on the market during the 1900’s. Gas pumps could also come out in different styles and designs. However, they all started with the visible gas pump.
Visible gas pumps
One of the earliest gas pump designs featured a clear glass case that would let one see the fuel flowing through the pump. To be sure, the clear glass was more a functional feature than an aesthetic one. Being sold dirty or diluted fuel was a major problem back then. Thus, seeing the fuel firsthand assured customers of the quality and cleanness of the gas they were purchasing. Otherwise, dirty gasoline could permanently damage their automobile.
The visible gas pumps also featured the much-loved gas pump globes, typically placed on the very top of the pump.
Improving on visible gas pumps was the electric pump. Instead of a transparent glass case, this new pump model typically featured a large dial high on its face. The clock-like dial would indicate the amount of gas consumed. Of course, folks still wanted a guarantee. Thus, manufacturers added small clear glass cylinders for consumers to get a glimpse of the fuel they were purchasing. The small glass cylinders were often integrated into the hose.
Computer gas pump
Since the electric pump only indicated the consumed amount of gas, customers still had to calculate their total costs. This situation changed when modern computerized gas pumps were put to use in the 1930’s. In a few more decades, the gas pump would be further modernized with the look very similar to how we know it today.
Choosing your Antique Gas Pump
Choosing the right gas pump can be daunting, especially when one is just starting out on their petroliana collection. You’ll need to look into the factors below to ensure that you make the best choice. The wrong choice could leave you with a fake antique or one that is beyond restoration. On the other hand, antique gas pumps in the right condition can be worth many times more than what it was originally sold for.
If you aren’t familiar with them yet, try to read up on the many gas companies present during the 19-teens. Some brands will be rarer and more valuable than others. Mobilgas, Red Indian, and Shell are among the most popular.
Color and Design
A gas pumps color can be a good indicator of its age (e.g., gas pumps with minimal color are typically from the 1910’s). Moreover, intricate and ornate coloring and designs will often mean a rarer, more valuable pump.
As with any antique, a gas pumps age and the details of its period will significantly influence its overall value.
Is it in mint condition? Otherwise, can the gas pump be restored? Choosing a gas pump in mint condition or one that requires minimal restoration are your best options.
Knowing the rarity of a gas pump will require a lot of research and digging. Thankfully, spotting rare items is a developed skill. Continue reading up on petroliana and be sure to learn from veteran collectors and gas pump auctioneers when you can.
Many would place the value of antique gas pumps equivalent to their potential price tags. For most collectors, however, these fabulous finds are as priceless as the memories they bring.