Petroliana, collectibles related
to gas stations or the petroleum industry, “is what helped our country
to become mobile, to be able to get
out on the roads, and enjoy this great
country,” said Glenn Zirkle, with the
Historical Museum of Early Oil Days
at WSCO Petroleum in Portland, Oregon. By remembering and preserving the past, retailers can develop a
better appreciation of the present.
And what better time to indulge in
fuel-related nostalgia than this month,
December, which marks the 100th anniversary of the first drive up service
station in the United States — a Gulf
station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
specifically designed to sell fuels and
other related products.
Other gas stations existed before
1913: In 1905, Automobile Gasoline
Co., a subsidiary of Shell of California,
opened what some people consider
to be the first U.S. filling station in St.
Louis. Others suggest that the first gas
station was opened in Seattle in 1907.
But there is no dispute over the oldest U.S. gas station still open to serve
customers. Reighard’s gas station in
Altoona, Pennsylvania, has been in operation since 1909.
An Emotional Connection
For many collectors of petroliana, interest in old gasoline pumps, gas station
signs and long-forgotten oil brands was
sparked because of their jobs in the fuel
retailing industry. Italian Guido Fisogni,
who started collecting petroliana nearly
half a century ago, was working for a fuel
retailing distribution company when he
picked up his first antique gas pump.
“I was supposed to dismantle this old
gas pump, but when I saw it, I realized
it was an archeological piece, one that
needed to be preserved, not destroyed,”
he said. His collection grew to encompass 8,000 pieces, including 150 gasoline pumps ranging in age from 1892 to
1981, all completely restored and functioning, although none dispense fuel.
Thirteen years ago, the Guinness Book
of World Records certified Fisogni as
having the world’s biggest collection of
For Zirkle, petroliana collecting
evolved out of his love of antiques
and his emotional connection to the
history of WSCO Petroleum. “Many
of us developed an interest in the old
pumps, signs and other memorabilia
of the past because we exist in an industry that is typically family owned.
We have pictures, memories and sometimes even the actual equipment that
was used by our grandparents to conduct business,” he said.
One such piece Zirkle saved was an
old, 1910s visible gas pump from the
company’s early days that was going to
be thrown away. “I just couldn’t let that
happen, so I took it home one evening
after everyone had left, restored it and
presented it to the founder of our com-
full-service meant your windshield was cleaned by an
attendant? For a growing number of collectors, items
that recall the early days of gasoline stations provide a
snapshot of the past and a reminder of the important
role gas stations played — and continue to play — in the
communities they serve.