A History of Self-Service Gas Stations

A History of Self-Service Gas Stations

Most people don't think twice about stopping at a gas station to refuel their vehicle. When you are running low on gas, you stop at your local gas station and fill up your tank. If anything is on your mind, it will either be how much more expensive gas seems to be this year or being thankful that the gas station has invested in gas pump repair and there are no dreaded 'out of order' bags on the dispensers! However, it wasn't always like this, as it used to be illegal to pump your own gas! In fact, In New Jersey, it still is!

Let's talk about the history of self-service in gas stations and why it makes gas pump repair even more important for your location.

The First Drive-In Gas Station

It is widely agreed that the first drive-in gas station was a Gulf service station in Pittsburgh, PA, that opened in December 1913. Situated on the corner of Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street, the pagoda-style facility was not much different from what we think of when picturing a modern gas station. It was purpose-built to offer air, water, crankcase servicing, and tire/tube installation. It provided shelter from the elements, and the attendants were ready and waiting to refuel or service vehicles as they drove in.

Fun Fact! This gas station was also where the very first commercial roadmaps were sold in the United States!

A Growing Number of Gas Stations

As more Americans began to purchase cars and travel more, new gas stations began to pop up all over the country. Where there were previously curbside or portable gas pumps, there were instead dedicated gas stations similar to what we are used to today. By 1929, there were over 143,000 gas stations in the United States, and most of them were owned by major oil companies. At all of the gas stations, an attendant would be on hand to fill the tank with gas, wash the windshield and check oil and tire pressure. With an attendant on hand, it was easy for them to spot any potential problems with the dispensers and take steps to fix them, negating the need for third-party gas pump repair for most gas stations.

Moving to Self Service

In 1947, Frank Ulrich opened the first self-service gas station in Los Angeles. The dispensers were operated using a mechanical computer which the attendant would manually reset to zero in between customers, take payment and hand out change. The big difference was that, for the first time, customers had to pump their own gas! The gas station was marketed using the slogan 'Save five cents, serve yourself. Why pay more?'. The concept was a success as the owner only needed a single attendant rather than a team of employees, saving him money. He was able to pass some of those savings on to customers by charging less for gas. Seeing the success, other gas stations began to take note and tried the model for themselves.

Remote Access Self-Service

In 1964, inventor Herb Timms designed a new system allowing an attendant inside the gas station building to activate the fuel dispensers outside. This was the first step in gas stations and convenience stores going hand in hand like they do today! Stores would suddenly have the option of selling gas without an additional cost in labor. Expansion of this system was slow, primarily due to restrictions in most states that forbid customers from pumping their own gas due to fire safety. However, by 1981 All but New Jersey and Oregon changed their laws to allow self-service gas dispensers. Even following these changes, it was still slow progress in terms of the adoption of self-service pumps since the equipment was costly. It also brought in a need for qualified gas pump repair since the equipment was more complex. It was well into the 1990s before self-service gas stations became the norm.

In 1973, a gas station right here in Texas, Abilene, to be exact, invented the first pay-at-pump technology. This became extremely popular, with 13% of convenience stores offering this option by 1994. Just eight years later, that number jumped to 80%! Today, it is more or less expected that you will be able to pay at the pump. It's almost unthinkable for most gas station customers that they would be unable to pump gas themselves and then pay for it right at the pump. Many of our gas pump repair service calls relate to ensuring these services stay available to consumers at all times!

The Exception to The Rule

As noted, two states - New Jersey and Oregon held out on making self-service gas legal. However, in 2015 the law was changed in Oregon to allow some rural gas stations to allow self-service outside of usual business hours to avoid drivers being stranded if they ran short of gas. That could be about to change since a self-service gas bill was passed by the Oregon Senate and House of Representatives on June 21, 2023, and now awaits Governor Tina Kotek's signature for final approval. This leaves New Jersey as the only state where you cannot legally pump your own gas.

We Keep You Pumping!


PumpTex, Inc. was founded in 1997 in the back of a garage with the dream of bringing a new level of customer service to the retail petroleum service industry. Over the years, we have grown to become a valuable resource to our customers. Many consider us to be the first responders of the retail petroleum service industry!


888-906-PUMP (7867)

We are Committed to Your Success!

It's time to bring a new level of customer service to the retail petroleum service industry.

  • Customer Support & Guidance
    Customer Support & Guidance

    We search for the “WOW” moment in each and every customer interaction. Our team is known in the industry to have the best customer service and follow-up in our industry.

  • Customer Support & Guidance
    Partnership With Our Clients

    As a team, we also work intelligently to provide a valuable and tailored experience to each of our customers. We derive a great sense of pride from engaging our customers in a professional relationship.

  • Customer Support & Guidance
    Innovative Technologies Guidance

    Any client, vendor or media provider interacting with PumpTex discerns that our unique culture and operating practices separate us from our competitors and are drawn to our way of doing business.

  • Customer Support & Guidance
    Real-Time Solutions

    We offer real-time solutions to the problems our clients experience. Being a resource to our customers and becoming their eyes and ears in the field enables them to maximize uptime and profits.

Contact Us Now

We Keep You Pumping!