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ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- This summer, the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental highway for automobiles across the United States, turned 100 years old, and fittingly, so will the modern gas station on Sunday.
In light of the fact that millions of drivers are expected to fill up this Thanksgiving Day weekend, NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, marked the centennial celebration with a brief history of the modern gas station.
Prior to 1913, fueling up was not very convenient for motorists. Early gas "stations" included pharmacies, blacksmiths' shops or random sheds offering fuel dispensed from a container. Everything changed 100 years ago when Gulf Refining Co. built the nation's first drive-up service station -- designed specifically to sell fuel -- in Pittsburgh. The station opened on Dec. 1, 1913 and sold 30 gallons of gasoline or less than 1 percent of the daily sales volume of a fueling station today.
The cost of fuel in 1913 was a steep 27 cents per gallon, which is the equivalent of $6.39 per gallon today. There were also only 500,000 cars traveling dirt and gravel roads, as opposed to 250 million cars today navigating 3.98 million miles of paved roadways, NACS reported.
By 1960, convenience stores began entering the gasoline retailing business as self-serve gasoline bans were lifted and new technologies were introduced. Today, there are more than 150,000 retail fueling sites in the United States, according to Nielsen TDLinx data.
“That first gas station did much more than define fueling for the next century — it redefined retail and ushered in the era of convenience,” said Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives for NACS. “The emphasis was squarely on service and speed of that service -- concepts that are even more important today.”
Watch NACS' video, "Fill 'Er Up!: 100 Years of Fueling," to learn more about the events that have shaped the convenience and fuel retail industry for the last century.