When Frank Ulrich opened the first successful self-service gasoline station in Los Angeles back in 1947, he probably couldn’t imagine the uproar that it would cause. By eliminating the high cost of paying attendants to fill your tank, he was able to pass the savings on to his customers. His slogan was “Save five cents, serve yourself. Why pay more?” With a gallon of gas costing less than 20-cents in 1947, saving a nickel was a big deal.
Word of his success began to spread across the country and soon others began to copy Ulrich’s model. One of these men was Irving Reingold. He opened a 24-pump self-service station on Route 17 in Hackensack, New Jersey. Everyone else was selling gas at an agreed-upon 21.8-cents per gallon, while Reingold was able to undercut them at 18.9-cents.
Soon cars were lining up for cheaper gas, but the other dealers were very unhappy with the competition. Using the pretext of fire safety, the New Jersey Gasoline Retailers Association convinced the state legislature to ban self-service gasoline stations, a law that is still on the books today.
John Dressler, president of the association at the time stated, “The only motive behind the bill was the safety of the public because from experience we learned that the handling of gasoline is a potential hazard.”
A July 3, 1948 story in Connecticut’s Sunday Herald interviewed Bridgeport gasoline dealers and all were in agreement that self-service gasoline was probably never going to happen in their state.
Larry Keller, proprietor of Pop’s Gulf Station said. “Our business would suffer from 30 to 60 days, but after that time the novelty would wear off and people would come back for service.”
James Duva, owner of Duva’s Service Station added, “the whole city would be endangered if every Tom, Dick, and Harry operated the pumps.”
Red Dial, of Dial’s Sunoco station, was in total agreement. “Customers don’t save money anyway with the self-service idea. They save a few cents on the gas and spend dollars on cleaning their clothes which they dirtied while checking their own oil, or on repairs of the cars which the service attendant could have pointed out and fixed earlier.”
I did a quick check on Google Maps for the locations of these three dealers. Today only one is still a gas station and it is – you guessed it – self-service.