Dec. 1, 2013, marks the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first drive-in service station – and it was located in Pittsburgh.
In 1913, Ford Motor Company was manufacturing a new Model T car every three minutes. But, there was only a patchwork system of places to fuel the vehicles. Enter the Gulf Refining Co. service station. The small brick pagoda-style building was opened Pittsburgh in December 1913 at the corner of Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street, about five miles away from Downtown.
Today, the site (now a parking lot) is marked by an historical marker which reads: “At this site in Dec. 1913, Gulf Refining Co. opened the first drive-in facility designed and built to provide gasoline, oils, & lubricants to the motoring public. Its success led to construction of thousands of gas stations by different oil companies across the nation.”
The one-stop-shop station also offered tube and tire installation, free water and air in addition to crankcase services and commercial road maps. On opening day, a Tuesday, the Gulf station sold 30 gallons of gasoline at 27 cents a gallon; sales skyrocketed on its first Saturday, selling 350 gallons of gas.
“We’re proud of the part that Pittsburgh played in making it easier for people to travel from one destination to another,” said Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitPITTSBURGH. “Then and now, the gas station plays a pivotal role in the tourism industry by providing the opportunity to travel to places that would be unreachable without automobile access.”
“This first station in 1913 revolutionized everything we would see in the next 100 years. It set up the idea of free maps and how the stores and industry would grow,” said Jeff Lenard, vice president of the National Association of Convenience Stores. “Today, convenience stores sell 80 percent of the gas purchased.”
With the holiday travel season approaching, the next time you stop at a service station for a fill up, you can thank Gulf Refining Co. for taking a chance and changing the face of travel for the nation – and making yet another “first” to put under Pittsburgh’s belt.