One thing I always remember is that nearly all of those early stations had a display rack of road maps next to the cash register. They used to be free to the customers, and there was always a bundle of them under the counter to restock the rack. All of the local stations gave away road maps in those days, While still free when I came along in the late 1960's, they were not nearly as colorful or as detailed as the early maps.
In the early days the oil companies tried to establish brand loyalty by offering a number of free services. Beginning in the 1920's oil companies started posting road maps on the wall of their stations. They would provide weekly updates of road conditions and detours. Because road signs were neither common or standardized in those early years, traveling even over to the next county was an adventure, especially if you were not familiar with the local roads and routes. Weather also played a big factor because few roads were paved in those early days. Gravel was considered a luxury.
Often times the local sheriff would help identify impassable roads and roads under construction. When customers saw the sheriff getting gas at a certain station and providing the road condition updates it made the information credible. It was also good for that brand of gasoline. After all... who needed dependable quality gasoline more than the Sheriff?
In the mid 1930's CONOCO began offering "trip planning" for their loyal customers even going so far, as to provide personalized booklets of maps, and travel information, including suggested stops and suggested routes, with all of the CONOCO stations identified along the planned route. Many other oil companies soon followed suit. You could write a letter to the company tell them where you wanted to go and when and they would plan you trip figure out your route and the miles you would travel, put it in book form and send it to you at no charge.
One example I have in my collection provided for a CONOCO customer in 1939 that details a complete trip around the USA with stops at the New York World's Fair, and the Golden Gate Exhibition. The personalized booklet contained over 200 pages and highlighted all of the best roads and motor courts. In all, the customer's route covered 10,799 miles with a suggested driving time of 39 days.
By the mid 1930's...full service was the rule of the day with "service station attendants" wearing white uniforms complete with five star pointed hats displaying the company logo. They greeted you on the driveway and offered to check the oil, and wash your windshield, at every fill up at no extra charge. Service with a smile. In addition, most service stations had a "mechanic on duty" who did oil changes, install new tires, and engine tune-up work.
By the end of the 1970's, the free maps were disappearing as were the free trip route service. That was soon followed by the introduction of the "self-serve" gas station with just one attendant on duty to collect money, and with cars more reliable and requiring less maintenance, the "mechanic on duty" also disappeared. The full service "service station" was becoming a "thing of the past". I am glad I got to at least experience some of what a "full service, service station was like in my younger days.
One thing I do as a result of those early years, is collect, road maps and travel guides from the 1920's through the 1960's. When I travel if my time allows, I use those old road maps from the 1940's and 1950's as a guide. They identify the old routes, through old small towns. Many of those old maps also identify the exact location of the early gas stations. I prefer to think of those maps as treasure maps. If you also collect the oil company signs and related advertising from gas stations, these old maps become treasure hunt maps. They will lead you right to the location of the old service stations. Many are long gone but I have got lucky on occasion and found a building still there and still untouched after all of these years. It's like walking into a time warp!
So... if you see me out and about in some strange locale and you say to yourself "what in the word is he doing out here in the middle of nowhere"...now you know.
More Oil Company Trivia...The Teapot Dome Scandal
The Teapot Dome scandal was a bribery incident that took place in the United States from 1921 to 1922, during the administration of President Warren G. Harding. Secretary of the Interior Albert Bacon Fall had leased Navy petroleum reserves at Teapot Dome in Wyoming and two other locations in California to private oil companies at low rates without competitive bidding. In 1922 and 1923, the leases became the subject of a sensational investigation by Senator Thomas J. Walsh. Fall was later convicted of accepting bribes from the oil companies and became the first Cabinet member to go to prison. No person was ever convicted of paying a bribe, however.
In the early 20th century, the U.S. Navy largely converted from coal to fuel oil. To ensure that the Navy would always have enough fuel available, several oil-producing areas were designated as Naval Oil Reserves by President Taft. In 1921, President Harding issued an executive order that transferred control of Teapot Dome Oil Field in Natrona County, Wyoming and the Elk Hills and Buena Vista Oil Fields in Kern County California from the Navy Department to the Department of the Interior. This was not implemented until 1922, when Interior Secretary Fall persuaded Navy Secretary Edwin C. Denby to transfer control.
Later in 1922, Albert Fall leased the oil production rights at Teapot Dome to Harry F. Sinclair of Mammoth Oil, a subsidiary of Sinclair Oil Corporation. He also leased the Elk Hills reserve to Edward L. Doheny of Pan American Petroleum and Transport Company. Both leases were issued without competitive bidding. This manner of leasing was legal under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920.
The lease terms were very favorable to the oil companies, which secretly made Fall a rich man. Fall had received a no-interest loan from Doheny of $100,000 (about $1.33 million today) in November 1921. He received other gifts from Doheny and Sinclair totaling about $404,000 (about $5.36 million today. It was this money changing hands that was illegal, not the leases. Fall attempted to keep his actions secret, but the sudden improvement in his standard of living was suspect.
In April 1922, a Wyoming oil operator wrote to Senator John B. Kendrick, angered that Sinclair had been given a contract to the lands in a secret deal. Kendrick did not respond, but two days later on April 15, he introduced a resolution calling for an investigation of the deal. Republican Senator Robert M. La Follette, Sr. of Wisconsin led an investigation by the Senate Committee on Public Lands. At first, La Follette believed Fall was innocent. However, his suspicions deepened after his own office in the Senate Office Building was ransacked.
Democrat Thomas J. Walsh of Montana, the most junior minority member, led a lengthy inquiry. For two years, Walsh pushed forward while Fall stepped backward, covering his tracks as he went. No evidence of wrongdoing was initially uncovered as the leases were legal enough, but records kept disappearing mysteriously. Fall had made the leases appear legitimate, but his acceptance of the money was his undoing. By 1924, the remaining unanswered question was how Fall had become so rich so quickly and easily.
Money from the bribes had gone to Fall's cattle ranch and investments in his business. Finally, as the investigation was winding down with Fall apparently innocent, Walsh uncovered a piece of evidence Fall had forgotten to cover up: Doheny's $100,000 loan to Fall.
This discovery broke the scandal open. Civil and criminal suits related to the scandal continued throughout the 1920s. In 1927 the Supreme Court ruled that the oil leases had been corruptly (fraudulently) obtained. The Court invalidated the Elk Hills lease in February 1927 and the Teapot Dome lease in October. Both reserves were returned to the Navy.
In 1929, Albert Fall was found guilty of accepting bribes from Doheny. Conversely, in 1930, Edward L. Doheny was acquitted of paying bribes to Fall. Further, Doheny's corporation foreclosed on Fall's home in Tularosa Basin, New Mexico, because of "unpaid loans" which turned out to be that same $100,000 bribe. Sinclair served six months in jail on a charge of jury tampering.
Although Fall was to blame for this scandal, Harding's reputation was sullied because of his involvement with the wrong people. Evidence proving Fall's guilt only arose after Harding's death in 1923.
Another significant outcome was the Supreme Court's ruling in McGrain v. Daugherty (1927) which, for the first time, explicitly established that Congress had the power to compel testimony. In February 2015, the Department of Energy sold the oil field for $45 million to Stranded Oil Resources Corp. after extracting 22 million barrels of oil over the years.