Petroleum Collectibles Monthly

The Gas Pump Showcase by Scott Anderson - The Historical Development of the Gas Pump, October 2002

Scott Anderson

Greetings fellow PCM subscribers and gas pump enthusiasts! This is the first in a series of articles exploring the world of vintage gasoline pumps. Before we begin our journey, I would like to congratulate and thank Scott Benjamin and Wayne Henderson for all of their hard work in developing and providing our hobby with such an outstanding forum. I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the magazine, by bringing you interesting and informative insight into the history and evolution of the gasoline pump in America.
In this series of articles, we will explore the historical development of the gasoline pump chronologically over the last century. From curbside to collector, future topics will include: the origin and growth of different gas pump manufacturers, cosmetic and functional changes in gas pumps, pump manufacturer and oil company affiliations, restoration tips and parts availability, collector desirability and appraisal issues, and the future outlook for the gas pump collecting hobby.
In addition to providing you with historical information, I will also answer your specific collector questions as they relate to your gas pump restoration or your general interest. Old pumps, new pumps, unrestored pumps, restored pumps, plain pumps, fancy pumps, common pumps, rare pumps, clean pumps, rusty pumps, cheap pumps, expensive pumps, pre-visible pumps, visible pumps, clockface pumps, electric pumps, art deco pumps, foreign pumps, pumps and parts from A-Z; all pumps are fair game for discussion in this segment called "Let's Talk Pumps!"
Please submit your questions and photographs to me via fax, e-mail or U.S. Mail at the addresses shown at the end of this article. I will attempt to answer all questions received and choose a couple for publication in each issue. In an effort to bring more attention to gas pump collecting, we strongly encourage you to send more photographs of your unusual gas pumps and gas pump restorations to me for possible inclusion in the "Gas Pump Showcase" or "Braglines" section the magazine.
Next, I will be including a gas pump trivia question at the end of each article that directly pertains to gas pump identification, appraisals, general history, or restoration. I will use the same system that Scott and Wayne have already used successfully in previous PCM general trivia contests. Under the system, all of the winners' names will be thrown in a hat and one name will be drawn as the official winner at the end of each month. I will attempt to keep the monthly trivia questions challenging, but not too technical, so that more collectors will be encouraged to participate. Each monthly winner will receive a $25.00 gift certificate good towards the purchase of any item from my Scotty's Garage/Time Passages, Ltd. restoration catalog (both online and print). The first gas pumps trivia question appears at the end of this article. Good luck to everyone!
Before I begin to discuss the origins of the gasoline pump in America, I would like to give you some background on how and why I began collecting and restoring antique gasoline pumps. Twenty-six years ago, in 1976, I obtained my first vintage gas pump, a Rush Model K, 10 gallon, hand crank visible pump. This pump was given to me when I was 18 years old by a family friend who was going to haul it to the dump. I had no idea at the time that this gift would change my life forever. Already having a great interest in general advertising antiques, I became instantly intrigued by the design and function of this old relic.
My interest soon turned to fascination about the origins and existence of additional old pumps yet to be discovered. Before I knew it, I was buying, selling, collecting, and restoring old pumps on a part time basis, while working my way through college. By 1980, I had collected hundreds of old gas pumps, globes, signs, and related gas station items. By 1982, I was collecting historical gas pump literature and vintage gas station photographs. Soon I was restoring pumps full time, as well as making and selling replacement parts for other collectors through a mail order catalog. My interest in gas pumps and gas station history soon became a passion and in 1986, I wrote the book "Check The Oil", A Pictorial History of the American Filling Station. Apparently the timing was right and the next thing I knew, over 30,000 copies of the book had been sold between 1986-1996. During this period, the popularity of the petroliana hobby seemed to explode and today this trend is continuing.
There are now several great books available on all facets of the petroleum collectibles hobby, many businesses competing for the restoration dollar, and countless new collectors coming into the hobby every day. As a natural by-product of this growth, our hobby and industry has become much more specialized. While some collectors and dealers are involved in all kinds of petroleum collectibles, many individuals specialize in only one area such as cans, or globes, or signs. While I enjoy all of the above, I had to focus my attention in primarily one area...vintage gasoline pumps. It's really hard to believe that I have been restoring gas pumps and studying gas pump history for 26 years. Hopefully, I can pass on some of what I have learned to other gas pump enthusiasts and you, the PCM reader.
Now, let's take a look at the origin of the first gasoline pump as it relates to the kerosene illuminating industry, and the invention of the automobile prior to 1900. While the internal combustion engine was invented in 1875, the first true gasoline powered "horseless carriage" was produced in 1890 by PanHard-Levassor, a French carriage company. The first American gasoline-powered motor vehicle was introduced by Frank and Charles Duryea in 1893. Henry Ford's first model A would not appear until 1903.
Prior to the invention of the automobile, gasoline was primarily seen as a useless by product of the kerosene refining process. Gasoline had been used on a limited basis for burning in some stoves and lamps, but kerosene, also known as coal oil, was the primary ingredient needed to fuel the lighting fixtures of the day. Kerosene and gasoline could be purchased at the local general store from barrels that dispensed the product into one-gallon cans or a container furnished by the customer. This method of kerosene and gasoline storage and delivery soon proved to be messy and dangerous.
Around 1883, a young man by the name of Sylvanius F. Bowser came up with an idea to draw water from a well using a wooden plunger. In 1885, he applied this idea to a kerosene pump attached to a wooden barrel and founded S.F. Bowser Pump Company. The unit was self contained and included the storage barrel, the plunger, a hand lever, and an upright faucet lever. This pumping unit was a huge success and soon became known as a "Filling Station". By 1890, he had adapted this unit to pump gasoline in addition to kerosene for the lighting industry and the first true gas pump was born. S.F. Bowser continued to refine, improve, and sell his new indoor "Filling Stations" to general stores and the first automobile repair garages beginning in 1893.
Between the years 1893 and 1905, early motorists often filled automobile fuel tanks using the "drum and measure" method. Gasoline, stored in bulk steel drums, would be gravity fed into five-gallon measuring cans then poured directly through funnels into the automobile fuel tank. The funnel was lined with a heavy rag or chamois in order to strain sediment that might damage the engine or hurt performance. This process was time consuming, inaccurate, and quite dangerous.
It would not be until 1905 that Bowser would develop the first outdoor "Filling Station" pump that could dispense kerosene or gasoline. The Bowser Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage pump consisted of a square metal tank enclosed in a secure wooden cabinet. The cabinet was equipped with forced suction pump operated by hand stroke lever action. This pump was also equipped with pre-determined quantity stops, air vents, and a hose attachment that allowed gasoline to be dispensed directly into the automobile fuel tank.
While Bowser was developing his Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage pump and tank, a young man by the name of John J. Tokheim of Cedar Rapids, Iowa was busy developing a gasoline pumping system of his own. Tokheim had been following the success of the Bowser system and he had some ideas for improvements relating to the potential for increased retail gasoline sales and safer gasoline storage. Tokheim had actually patented the world's first self-measuring, "visible" gasoline pump in 1901 and by 1903 had adapted his pump to dispense gasoline through a hose attachment directly into the automobile fuel tank.
In the next month's issue of PCM, I will devote the entire "Gas Pump Showcase" article to an in depth look at inventor John J. Tokheim, the Tokheim Dome Oil Pump of 1901 and his many other contributions to the development of the gasoline pump in America. As a preview to next month's article, take a look at some of the photos of the first Tokheim product illustrations never before seen by the public. Also, shown in this issue are some of the earliest pumps manufactured by such companies as Bowser, Gilbert & Barker, and Wayne. We will be taking an in depth look at the development of all of these companies in future issues.

Gas pump Trivia Question # 1

Name the only U.S. city where three major gas pump manufacturers all located their corporate headquarters between 1885 and 1918. Also, name the three manufacturers and order in which they were located in that city. Come on guys, this question is too easy! Should I make them more challenging in future articles?

Contact Information:
Scott Anderson
Scotty's Garage & Time Passages, Ltd.
P. O. Box 65596
West Des Moines, IA 50265
Telephone 1-515-223-5105
Fax 1-515-223-5149

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