Humble Oil Gasoline Pump, 1925-1933
Fill 'er up!
by Tom Wancho, Exhibit Planner
During the early decades of the 20th century, automobiles became a fixture on Texas roads, and with them came roadside gas stations.
The Houston-based Humble Oil opened its first gas station in 1919. By the mid-1920s, Humble service stations crisscrossed the state from Corpus Christi to Amarillo, from Tyler to Midland. In addition to selling gasoline, Humble offered motor oils and greases as well. Their station attendants cleaned car windows with nary a streak, checked the oil, topped off the radiator if needed, and pumped your gas—all without a tip or even the hint of asking for one.
Gas pumps such as this one were common during the 1920s and 1930s. Drivers requested a certain number of gallons. The attendant cranked a lever that brought gasoline up through the pump’s base and into the glass cylinder on top. When the gas reached the number of gallons requested inside the cylinder, the pumping commenced and the fuel drained through a hose into the auto’s gas tank. It was an inexact science because the attendant sometimes had to eye the requested amount of gas in the cylinder from below. Some cylinders (like this one) had numbers representing gallons painted on them while others did not.
In addition to pumping gas, this Humble pump did double duty as a billboard. The crown atop the glass cylinder lit up at night, beckoning to passing motorists running low on fuel while also advertising the gasoline’s manufacturer. The pumps themselves were painted in bright, visible colors making them easier to spot during daytime driving hours.
But before you start longing for this bygone era of automobile service, you might be surprised to learn that gas prices, when adjusted for inflation, were higher in the 1920s and 30s than they are today. The price of gasoline in 1920 was 30 cents per gallon, or $3.50 today. And throughout the Great Depression of the 1930s, gas still ranged from 18 cents to 20 cents per gallon, over $3.00 a gallon today.
The Humble Oil Company changed its name to Exxon in 1973.
Witte Museum, San Antonio
Time Period: 1866 - 1936
This artifact is not on view.