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If holidays begin on the journey to the destination then you’d better keep your car full!

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

Drive-in gas stations weren’t just about fuel: They helped create the American driving culture.


People have always had a need to travel, be it to explore and discover new lands or for our own enjoyment. Gas stations have always played a crucial role when travelling by road and have long been a familiar sight on American roadways, serving as crucial pit stops for motorists on their journeys.

The first drive-in service station opened in Pennsylvania in 1913. American motorists had been able to pump their own gas at filling stations since 1905, but those were little more than a pump at the curbside. Before that, motorists bought gasoline in cans from places like pharmacies and blacksmith shops and filled up themselves.

However, the gas stations we encounter today bear little resemblance to their early counterparts from the 1920s and 1940s.


This is how they looked like:



San Francisco, 1919. Shorpy Archive.

Washington, D.C., 1920. "Penn Oil Company, Massachusetts Avenue and North Capitol". National Photo Company Collection glass negative. Shorpy Archive


Prince George's County, Maryland, circa 1920. "Hyattsville Automobile Co." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. Shorpy Archive.

Washington, D.C., circa 1920. "Penn Oil, Q Street, Georgetown." National Photo Company Collection glass negative, Library of Congress. Shorpy Archive.

Washington, D.C., 1920. Shorpy Archive.

Washington, D.C., 1920. Shorpy Archive.

"Dome Oil Co., Takoma Park." In Maryland in 1921, a gritty diorama of the Petroleum Age. National Photo Company glass negative. Shorpy Archive.

"Crowell's Garage, New York and Florida Aves." Detailed view of a Washington, D.C., service station circa 1921. National Photo glass negative. Shorpy Archive.

Washington, D.C., circa 1924. "Lord Baltimore Filling Station No. 6, Connecticut Avenue and Ordway Street N.W." National Photo glass negative. Shorpy Archive.

Jeff’s Texaco, Newburgh, New York Area, August 22, 1924. (Photo by Steve Hagy Collection.)


"Havoline Oil Company", 1924. National Photo Company Collection glass negative, Library of Congress. Shorpy Archive

"Texaco Co., Sullivan & Helan station", 1925. Shorpy Archive.

San Francisco, 1925. Shorpy Archive.

Washington, D.C. "Texas Company, Benning Service Station." George H. James, proprietor, 1925. National Photo Company glass negative. Shorpy archive.

Washington, D.C. "Texas Company. Payne & Twomey, 1925." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. Shorpy Archive.

"Texas Company, Sixth Street SW." 1925. National Photo Company Collection glass negative, Library of Congress. Shorpy Archive.

Washington, D.C., circa 1926. "Minute Service Station, Georgia Avenue N.W." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. Shorpy Archive.

"Dome Oil Co., Takoma Park." In Maryland in 1921, a gritty diorama of the Petroleum Age. National Photo Company glass negative. Shorpy Archive.

"Service station, First Street and Maryland Avenue." View of the Capital Gasoline Station in Washington, D.C., 1922. National Photo Company Collection glass negative. Shorpy Archive.

"Texas Co., Third Street & Florida Avenue N.E." 1925. National Photo Company Collection glass negative. Shorpy Archive.

Filling station. Reedsville, Preston County, West Virginia, 1935. Shorpy Archive.

"Crossroads store at Sprott, Alabama." 8x10 inch acetate negative by Walker Evans for the Resettlement Administration, 1936. Shorpy Archive.

Gas station in Washington, D.C., 1937. Shorpy Archive.

Sheridan County, Montana. 1937. Shorpy Archive.

Mix, Louisiana, 1938. Shorpy Archive.

"Store, La Forge, Missouri", 1938. Shorpy Archive.

Greenbelt, Maryland. 1938. Shorpy Archive.

Gas station at Little Creek, Delaware, 1938. Shorpy Archive.

"Gas station. Edcouch, Texas." 1939. Shorpy Archive.

Gordonton, North Carolina, 1939. Shorpy Archive.

Chicot, Arkansas, 1939. Shorpy Archive.

Granville County, N.C. , 1939. Shorpy Archive.

The Gulf Hotel building (and lighthouse) in Miami Beach, 1939.

Jackson, Mississippi Delta, 1939. Shorpy Archive.

Savannah, Georgia, 1939. Shorpy Archive.

Bardstown, Kentucky, 1940. Sharpy Archive.

Granville County, North Carolina, 1940. Shorpy Archive.

Gas station and store in Concho, Arizona. 1940. Shorpy Archive.

Pie Town, New Mexico, 1940. Shorpy Archive.

Gas station along Highway U.S. 50. Winchester, Virginia. 1940. Shorpy Archive.


Gas station at night. Dubuque, Iowa. 1940. Shorpy Archive.

Woonsocket, Rhode Island, 1940. Shorpy Archive.

Sharon, Vermont, 1941. Sharpy Archive.

Tunbridge, Vermont, 1941. Sharpy Archive.

Hinesburg, Vermont, 1941. Shorpy Archive.

Siloam, Greene County, Georgia, 1941. Shorpy Archive.

Cambridge, Dorchester County, Maryland, 1941. Shorpy Archive.

illing station and store across the street from the FSA labor camp. Caldwell, Idaho, 1941. Shorpy Archive.

Burns City, Indiana, 1941. Shorpy Archive.

Grocery store on main street of Ranchester in the Big Horn Mountains, Wyoming. 1941. Shorpy Archive.

Mechanicsville, Maryland, 1942. Shorpy Archive.

Tracy, California. Gasoline filling station. 1942. Shorpy Archive.

Gothenburg, Nebraska. Gas station and grain elevator. 1942. Shorpy Archive.

Shannon County, Missouri, 1942. Shorpy Archive.

Hollywood, California. Gasoline filling station at night, 1942. Shorpy Archive.

Louisville, Kentucky, 1943. Shorpy Archive.

Gilmore Oil’s Gas-A-Teria, One of the First Self Serve Gas Stations in Los Angeles, 1948.

Gilmore Oil’s Gas-A-Teria, One of the First Self Serve Gas Stations in Los Angeles, 1948


Despite the talk about the future of electric vehicles, the gas station remains an essential business across America and all over the world. Not only do they provide a fuel source for vehicles, most have convenience stores offering drinks, snacks, and basic food items like sandwiches and pizza slices. In the smallest communities, gas stations are also social gathering spots where the locals can meet up for coffee or a light breakfast. The business is too important to expect gas stations to go out of business for the next couple decades.



Catchy gas station slogans

  • Get gas and go, go, go

  • Fuel up, fire up, rev up

  • Fuel up & feel the heat

  • The energy will keep you going

  • Running high with every drop

  • The soul that keeps your engine running

  • The spirit that keeps you running

  • The fuel of your dreams

  • Drive a stallion

  • That powerful drive of your dreams

  • The energy that lasts

  • Your engine’s reliable partner













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