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The modern gasoline pump is a familiar and, often, regular sight today. However, during the time when gasoline was sold at local hardware or general stores, the gas pump provided a more straightforward, safer, and quicker method for people to get fuel. Those early retro gas pumps, although crude, made getting gas a breeze. Back then, you would only need two things: a steel canister to hold the gas, and a steady hand to prevent dangerous spillage.

Whereas modern gasoline pumps feature simple and utilitarian designs, its early variants were often designed to be bold; to catch and hold your attention. Besides, there might not be another one for miles. The early pumps unique and eye-catching design is one reason why collectors today see the value in collecting this symbol of the age of invention that fueled the roaring 20’s. How did the gas pump come about and how do you find the right ones to add to your collection?

Vintage Gas Pumps – A History

In a barn in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a man by the name of Sylvanus F. Bowser would invent the first ever gasoline pump. It was September 5, 1885, several months before Karl Benz’ developed the first gas-powered automobile and a good 23 years before the Ford Model T. Yes, the gas pump preceded the automobile.

Before the invention of the automobile, the demand for gasoline was very low, if not nonexistent. A byproduct of kerosene production, gasoline was often discarded while folks used kerosene for lamps, candles, cooking, and heating oil. It was not until automobiles took off that many would start seeing the value of gasoline.

At that time, you’d have to pay your grocery or hardware store a visit to buy fuel. You also had to bring your own canister with which to contain the gasoline. The shop keeper would than ladle gasoline from the store’s barrel into your canister. The first gas pump would then be eventually known as a filling station. Obviously, this method was sometimes messy and wasteful. It was also incredibly risky and dangerous.

Over 130 years ago, S. Bowser sought out to address the risks of the above method and found success. He built and eventually patented a pump that could pull gasoline from a storage container and deliver it safely into a gasoline canister. By 1893, Bowser’s pump becomes popularly known as a ”filling station.” Bowser would eventually sell the pump to pioneering automobile-repair garages. Meanwhile, the word “bowser” is slowly becoming the generic term for the standard gas pump.

As automobiles rose in popularity, S. Bowser would then improve on his original design. He called the new design, Bowser Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage Pump. This improved taller version sported air vents for safety, a mechanism to deliver a specific amount of gasoline, and finally a hose to deliver the gasoline straight into an automobiles fuel tank. As the number of owned cars soared through the 1900’s, the number of gas pumps and filling stations also grew exponentially.

If you’re one to collect vintage and antique petroliana memorabilia, a vintage gas pump in mint condition we’ll be one of the buys you can’t miss.

Types of old Gas Pumps

In contrast to the boxy, often pragmatic, design of modern pumps, early pumps were painted bright and eye-catching colors from vibrant reds to almost-glowing lime green. Gasoline companies designed them in such a way that customers would be moved to choose their shop filling station over the many other gasoline companies on the market during the 1900’s. Gas pumps could also come out in different styles and designs. However, they all started with the visible gas pump.

Visible Gas Pump

One of the earliest gas pump designs featured a clear glass case that would let one see the fuel flowing through the pump. To be sure, the clear glass was more a functional feature than an aesthetic one. A shop selling dirty or diluted fuel was a major problem back then. Thus, seeing the fuel firsthand assured customers of the quality and cleanness of the fuel they were purchasing. Otherwise, dirty gasoline could permanently damage their automobile. The visible pump also featured the much-loved gas globes, typically placed on the very top of the pump.

Electric Gas Pump

Improving on visible retro gas pumps was the electric pump. Instead of a transparent glass case, this new pump model typically featured a large dial high on its face. The clock-like dial would indicate the amount of gasoline consumed. Of course, folks still wanted a guarantee. Thus, manufacturers added small clear glass cylinders for consumers to get a glimpse of the fuel they were purchasing. The small glass cylinders were often integrated into the hose.

Computer Gas Pump

Since the electric pump only indicated the consumed amount of gasoline, shop customers still had to calculate their total costs. This situation changed when modern computerized pumps were put into shop to use in the 1930’s. In a few more decades, the gasoline pump would be further modernized with the full size look very similar to how we know it today.

Gas Pumps for sale

Although the prices of vintage gas pumps fluctuate all the time, one thing always remains constant: their collectability. Their are many resources to start searching, today, such as ebay, local auctions, online forums, and meetup links. The collecting community is going strong. New, exciting finds are made all the time.

The variety of ages, designs, and brands are part of what make gas pumps so collectible. However, all of those factors also make them hard to restore. There are dozens of brands of gas pumps. These have transformed over time as manufacturing standards and processes change and visual trends and designs evolve. Even two pumps made in the same year by the same company can look completely different because of their paint scheme and any gas globes attached to the top.

There are no rules as to what makes a piece collectible or not – it’s all up to your individual tastes! Whether you’re interested in merely keeping a piece of history in your home or den to impress your guests, hang in your garage, shop or business, or reselling them for extra cash, there’s no right or wrong way to collect gasoline pumps.

Antique Gas Pump for Sale

Choosing the right gas pump can be daunting, especially when one is just starting out on their petroliana collection. You’ll need to look into the factors below to ensure that you make the best choice. The wrong choice could leave you with a fake antique or one that is beyond restoration. On the other hand, antique gas pumps in the right condition can be worth many times more than what it was originally purchased for. It will also need to be shipped, so you also need to consider shipping costs.


If you aren’t familiar with them yet, try to view and read up on the many petroleum companies present during the 19-teens. Some brands will be rarer and more valuable than others. Mobilgas, Red Indian, and Shell are among the most popular.

Color and Design

A pumps color can be a good indicator of its age (e.g., gasoline pumps with minimal color are typically from the 1910’s). Moreover, intricate and ornate coloring and designs will often mean a rarer, more valuable pump.


As with any antique, a pumps age and the details of its period will significantly influence its overall value.

Is It in mint condition? Otherwise, can it be restored? Choosing a pump in mint condition or one that requires minimal restoration are your best options.


Knowing the rarity of a pump will require a lot of research and digging. Thankfully, spotting rare items is a developed skill. Continue reading up on petroliana and be sure to learn from veteran collectors when you can.

Many would place the value of antique gas pumps equivalent to their potential price tags. For most collectors, however, these fabulous finds are as priceless as the memories they bring.

Good hunting!

What are old gas pumps called?

Old gas pumps are often called antique or vintage gas pumps, or sometimes referred to as petrol pumps or fuel dispensers from a bygone era.

How much is a gas pump worth?

The value of a gas pump can vary widely depending on factors such as its age, condition, rarity, and historical significance. Some antique gas pumps can sell for a few hundred dollars, while others may fetch tens of thousands of dollars or more at auction.

How did antique gas pumps work?

Antique gas pumps typically operated using a manually cranked pump or an electric motor to draw gasoline from an underground storage tank and dispense it into a vehicle’s fuel tank. Many vintage gas pumps also featured glass globes or cylinders on top that displayed the brand and type of fuel being sold, as well as decorative elements such as Art Deco or streamline design features.

How heavy is a vintage gas pump?

The weight of a vintage gas pump can vary depending on the specific model and materials used in its construction. Many antique gas pumps were made of metal and could weigh several hundred pounds or more. Some of the larger and more elaborate models could weigh over 1,000 pounds.

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