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Gas Station may have been invented in Seattle in 1907. Essay 2093 : Printer-Friendly Format

In 1907, John McLean builds what some say is the world's first gasoline service station at Holgate Street and Western Avenue in Seattle.

Not all agree on this distinction. A historian for the Shell Oil Co. maintained that Shell subsidiary, Automobile Gasoline Co., offered drive-through refueling services in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1905.

John McLean, head of sales in Washington for Standard Oil Company of California, purchased property adjacent to the Standard main depot and with engineer Henry Harris constructed a pipe from the main storage tank to a 30-gallon, six-foot-high galvanized tank. On the tank was a glass gauge and a valve with a hose so that the gasoline could be pumped directly into vehicles. Motorists typically purchased gasoline for their cars in wooden boxes containing two five-gallon cans from a general store or a livery stable in the same way that they bought kerosene for their lamps. The cans were filled from a storage tank on the premises and because the size of the refillable cans was known, there was no need for a measuring device on the tank.

Before 1890, gasoline was considered a waste byproduct of the oil refining process and it was used as a fuel at the refinery. By 1910, because of the development of the automobile, gasoline sales exceeded those of kerosene and other illuminating fuels. By 1913, there were 19,497 automobiles in Washington.

A plaque honoring the "world's first gas station" is located (January 2000) at Seattle's Waterfront Park.

Adam Woog, Sexless Oysters and Self-Tipping Hats: 100 Years of Inventions in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 1991), 156-157; Ron Chernow, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller (New York: Random House, 1998), 101, 556; "Money To Be Made: The Oil Marketing Story," National Petroleum News, February 1969, pp. 114-115.
Note: This essay was revised on July 20, 2001.

Travel through time (chronological order):
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Related Topics: Roads & Rails | Science & Technology | Firsts |

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
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Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You

This essay made possible by:
Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)

Standard Oil Company's Service Station in Seattle, 1907
Courtesy UW Special Collections

Auto stage leaving for Brewster, Okanogan, ca. 1910
Photo by Frank Matsura, Courtesy WSU (Neg. No. 35-31-09)

Standard Oil distribution plant, Harbor Island, Seattle, 1916
Courtesy MOHAI (Image No. 83.10.10,307)

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