Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fill 'Er Up! a Century Ago Today, the World's First Drive-In Gas Station Opened in Pittsburgh at the Intersection of Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street in East Liberty

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fill 'Er Up! a Century Ago Today, the World's First Drive-In Gas Station Opened in Pittsburgh at the Intersection of Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street in East Liberty

Article excerpt

Filling a car with gasoline was different 100 years ago.

A driver had to hop off the seat, the gas tank was underneath -- it needed gravity's help to reach the carburetor because the fuel pump wouldn't be invented for another 15 years. Check the fuel level with a dipstick, since there was no fuel gauge. And someone needed to start cranking the gas because it wasn't going to pump itself.

A century ago today, the world's first drive-in gas station opened in Pittsburgh at the intersection of Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street in East Liberty. And though it hardly resembles current gas stations, it was a big step forward to promoting gasoline as the fuel of choice for automobiles.

At the time, the station opened without much fanfare and was viewed as a minor achievement, said Brian Butko, director of publishing at the Sen. John Heinz Regional History Center in the Strip District and author of two books about the Lincoln Highway.

"The equivalent is if there's something new on a Web browser or Facebook changes today," he said.

That's because there were already gas stations around, even if they were primitive. People had converted old shacks into gas stations and they used water heaters and barrels to store and dispense fuel. Motorists also could buy gas directly from pharmacists and blacksmiths.

"They were all jury-rigged," said Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives at the National Association of Convenience Stores in Alexandria, Va. "They were places that happened to sell gas, but they weren't designed to sell gas. What happened in Pittsburgh, that was the first gas station that was designed to sell gas."

The Gulf Oil station looked like a pagoda with pumps on each side of the building. It replaced an old shack that also had dispensed gas.

The location made sense, Mr. Butko said. Baum Boulevard was -- and in many ways still is -- Pittsburgh's "automobile row," and Gulf Oil's headquarters was in Pittsburgh. The oil industry had a long history in the area as it is not far from Titusville, site of one of the country's first oil wells and home to a large oil rush in the 1850s and 1860s.

And Baum Boulevard had been dedicated as part of the Lincoln Highway on Oct. …

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