The golden era for full-service stations came during the Fifties. Interstate highways were constructed across the US, including I-95 through Jacksonville. Cars as big as whales set sail on the new roadway system. These large-finned vehicles, with teams of horses under the hood, guzzled gas.
In theory, a gas station attendant always stood ready to provide first-rate service to his customers. Besides pumping the gas, full service meant washing the windshield, checking the oil & water, inspecting the fan belt, and measuring the pressure in tires. When business was slow, attendants might brush out the car’s carpet too. Other perks included free maps, calendars, balloons, mileage calculators, and sets of drinking glasses, maybe featuring the US presidents. Stations also sold tires & accessories like batteries and seat covers.
Here’s the stereotype for a station attendant during the full-service heyday: A smiling professional in a crisp, white uniform would greet each customer by name and then quickly & efficiently tend to each a car’s needs. He would’ve been sort of like a cleaned-up Gomer or Goober from The Andy Griffith Show. However, reality often didn’t measure up to the ideal. Many disinterested teens frequently worked as attendants, for example.
END OF A SERVICE ERA — The salad days of full service gas stations came to an end after the 1950s. The stations suffered competition from auto parts stores, brake & muffler shops, and transmission services. In addition, car parts were increasingly built to last longer.
Other problems beset full service stations. During the early Seventies, OPEC’s oil crisis led to a rise in the popularity of smaller cars, which guzzled less gas. Stricter environmental regulations, moreover, forced filling stations to invest in double-walled gas tanks and other costly precautions. Further problems resulted from the tight job markets of the late ‘70s & early ‘80s. Economic conditions made it tougher to attract employees to sweaty, low paying jobs service jobs in the outdoors. Finally, full service stations also fell victim to self-service pumps, including those at convenience stores.
Nowadays, gas stations are little more than fueling pumps attached to giant junk food dispensers. (Interestingly, the first places that sold gas were pharmacies, as a side business.)
More on gas stations from Wikipedia: “The increase in automobile ownership after Henry Ford started to sell automobiles that the middle class could afford resulted in a greater demand for filling stations. The world’s first purpose built gas station was constructed in St. Louis, Missouri in 1905 at 420 S. Theresa Avenue. The second gas station was constructed in 1907 by Standard Oil of California (now Chevron) in Seattle, Washington at what is now Pier 32. Reighard’s Gas Station in Altoona, Pennsylvania claims that it dates from 1909 and is the oldest existing gas station in the United States.Early on, they were known to motorists as “filling stations”. The first “drive-in” filling station, Gulf Refining Company, opened to the motoring public in Pittsburgh in 1913. Prior to this, automobile drivers pulled into almost any general or hardware store, or even blacksmith shops in order to fill up their tanks. On its first day, the station sold 30 gallons of gasoline at 27 cents per gallon. This was also the first architect-designed station and the first to distribute free road maps. The first alternative fuel station was opened in San Diego, California by Pearson Fuels in 2003.”
~written by Glenn Emery