America has always loved its cars. Hitting the open road is a symbol of the freedom that this country was founded on. Almost as iconic as the automobile are the gas stations which keep them running. The American landscape is dotted with thousands of gas stations in every size, shape, and style imaginable.
Gas stations are more than just a place to fill up the tank, though. They offer weary travelers a chance to stretch their legs, use the bathroom, grab a cold drink, and have a chat with the locals. Gas stations are also a unique part of the landscape, and many use creative signs or novelty attractions to draw in customers.
There is a reason that some people collect gas station memorabilia. The gas station has a rich history in this country, and it is a classic symbol of Americana. Read on to learn how the gas station became such a familiar place.
Owners of the first automobiles relied on gas tanks and drums to fill up their tanks. Gasoline was not as in-demand as it is today, so there was no need for dedicated gas stations. Most people bought their gas at hardware stores, general stores, and even from door to door salesmen.
As demand for gasoline grew, oil companies began to create signature brands and advertise their unique features. They also built the first filling stations and equipped them with modern pumps. In order to draw in customers, they put their name and logo on large signs so that drivers could easily find their favorite brand.
Gas Station Designs
Gas station owners soon realized that the station could be an attraction in and of itself. In the early 1920s, one owner built a station in Pennsylvania styled after an Oriental pagoda. The building caused a sensation, and even people without cars traveled to see it.
In another famous example, a station was built in an octagon shape with a pyramidal roof. Attached to the top of the roof was a massive red light bulb that was visible from miles away. Motorists were drawn to the station day and night because there was no way to miss it.
As more and more stations popped up and competition for customers became fierce, gas station owners realizes that the look of the station was a powerful way to attract drivers. Architect Robert Venturi called gas stations “decorated sheds,” meaning that the building itself was not meant to be beautiful but simply to serve as a backdrop for the gas station sign, the most visible feature of most stations.
Past and Present
The technology and levels of service offered at gas stations have changed a lot over the years, but the basic design has remained remarkably consistent. Today’s stations still rely on large, highly visible signs to tell customers where the station is and what is available there.
Throughout the colorful history of the gas station, the importance of the sign has remained a constant. Today’s station owners now rely on bright, bold, colorful LED signs that can be quickly changed and even display full motion graphics. The look is different, but the principle is the same: get the customer’s attention, and they are more likely to stop at your station.
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