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What Gas Stations Were Like In 1957

Motorious logo Motorious 11/8/2019 Steven Symes

This vintage documentary is fascinating.

Today we take getting fuel for our vehicles for granted. Gas stations are everywhere, so you don’t really get range anxiety like people did back in the day. But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, the documentary below from 1957 shows just what a foreign concept they were to a good portion of the US populace. We certainly have come a long way.

Despite Ford, Chevrolet, and other automakers getting cars to the masses, plenty of people in the 1950s were unsure of how to properly use gas stations. Sure, some were new drivers, but it was also a time when people who had just used mass transit were buying cars, thanks to the booming US economy.

Some of the things explained in this video just seem like common sense, indicating there were a lot of people who didn’t know the first thing about how gasoline got to the station, how gas pumps work, or even how to interact with the gas station attendant.

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Also notable is the fact you had to specify to the attendant how much gas you wanted in your tank. Automatic shutoff valves weren’t featured on pumps, so you had to know the car fuel tank capacity to get it close to completely full. Of course, gas was incredibly cheap back then, with a price of $0.34 a gallon listed on the pump in the video, so filling up wasn’t a financial burden.

Attendants back then checked the tire pressure plus water and oil levels each time you filled up. We’re spoiled today with cars which don’t need quite as close attention, but that’s made many people so lazy they literally never check the fluid levels. Of course, those of us who drive classic vehicles and high-performance models do watch all the levels like a hawk, so this concept isn’t foreign.

We might feel a little smug after watching this video because of how much more sophisticated and knowledgeable we are in modern times. However, it’s sobering to remember that just last year Oregon passed a law to allow citizens to pump their own gas. When that law was moving through the state legislature, some Oregonians were coming unglued, declaring there would be all kinds of public safety disasters if anyone other than a station attendant were to operate the pumps. And in New Jersey it’s still the law that a certified attendant must put gas in vehicles. Somehow, people in every other state seem to manage.

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