Which came first the car or the gasoline station?

As I ponder a trip to Montpelier in my LEAF and know that getting a little extra juice while I’m there could make the return trip less stressful I wondered, “Which came first, the car or the gasoline station?”  So I did two things. First I asked my father-in-law who grew up in rural Florida (Brooksville, Fl. “seat of Hernando county and home of the tangerine”) what he could recall and then I went to my good friend Google.

Without hesitation my father-in-law said, “the car.” He recalled going to the general store to get gasoline in a glass container to fill the car. So much for safety. He then realized what they had were Molotov cocktails. He also remembered siphoning gas when he and his buddies didn’t have the money for gasoline, but those stories could take us down a whole other journey.

My friend Google provided me with this:

The history of the gas station
By Ira Rosofsky

In 1900, there were 20 million horses and only 4,000 cars in the United States. Where there are gas stations today, stables and blacksmith shops stood.

In its early days, the oil industry existed to manufacture kerosene, a fuel for lamps. Gasoline was a waste by-product of this process -something usually thrown away.
Early motorists, looking for this abundant waste product, went to their local general store or kerosene refinery and filled up a bucket from a barrel of gasoline. This practice was not exactly convenient or safe.

The need for cheap and plentiful gasoline grew as the need for kerosene fell with the rise of electric lighting. In 1905, about 25,000 cars were manufactured in the United States, and Sylvanus F. Bowser perfected a pump that would take gas out of a barrel and fill a car’s tank. The world’s first “filling stations” started opening that same year.

Typically, a general store would place a pump out front on the sidewalk.
Soon, cars were snaking up and down Main Street, blocking the movement of pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages.

This problem grew much worse by 1910, when there were 500,000 cars looking for gas and blocking traffic while doing it.

A new type of filling station began to appear – the drive-in. Sometimes covered by a canvas awning, the pump would be located on a lot off the street, and maybe the pump would even stand next to a store that sold auto supplies and food – a business similar to the gas station we know today.


In the US there are about 42,000 EVs on the road. The number of charging stations is changing daily. Some sites reference 10,000 (http://electricdrive.org/index.php?ht=d/Items/cat_id/27093/pid/27098/sortby/date/direction//paginateItems/5/paginateItemsPage/1/) others suggest 6,300 (http://www.nissanusa.com/leaf-electric-car/ev-charging-stations). The 10,000 number seems to be a link to all alternative fueling stations including natural gas, propane, etc. As of July 2012, according to DOE, there were approximately 4,200 charging stations. So whatever the number it appears that history can provide some good insight into the deployment of new technology and its ancillary businesses.

Updated 8/25/2012



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