LINCOLN HIGHWAY NEWS IS A BLOG BY BRIAN BUTKO
On December 1, 1913, the Lincoln Highway had only celebrated its dedication a month earlier when the world’s first architect-designed drive-in gas station opened along the new coast-to-coast road in Pittsburgh.
Gasoline had been sold for years at hardware stores and other businesses serving the burgeoning auto industry. There were also places selling only gasoline, even drive-in stations.
But the fuel was often kept in barrels and poured from large cans. And unlike those existing buildings or informal shacks, Gulf Oil had an architect design the new building to efficiently and elegantly pump gas and provide other services. In fact, the following year, the station would start giving away the first free oil company road maps.
The station featured a canopy to shield motorists from weather, new Bowser hand-cranked pumps, large incandescent-lit signs, attendants on duty day and night, and the checking of fluids — all new to the industry.
The station was on Baum Boulevard (the Lincoln Highway) at St. Clair Street. Baum was quickly becoming Pitsburgh’s “automobile row” (common in all cities), filling with garages, tire shops, and car dealers — even the local auto club. Baum already served the carriage trade so this was a natural outgrowth. That itself made sense since Baum connected the city to the mansions being built to the east along on Penn Avenue in Point Breeze — also the Lincoln Highway.
An informal station was already operating on the site when landowner James Mellon contracted the new station. The Mellon family was Gulf’s first and foremost investors, intertwining their Mellon Bank and Gulf Oil for decades. Gulf was an early proponent of branding gas, especially with its bright orange circle logo, as opposed to generic gas that was also often of lower quality; a branded station was a natural next step.
The station didn’t last long, perhaps as late as 1950. Since then it’s been a parking lot. In 2000, the Gulfoil Historical Society campaigned for, and helped erect, a state historical marker to the station. I visited the site today, on the station’s 100th birthday, in the Lincoln Highway’s 100th year.