Self-Serve Gas Stations: Here’s All You Need to Know

Gas stations, as we know them, have come a long way and evolved into modern hubs with c-stores where you can add fuel to your vehicle and buy groceries, snacks, and soda. But if you go back to the early 1900s, things weren’t quite the same. As automobiles become more mainstream in the United States, more gas stations popped up.

By 1929, there were more than 140,000 gas stations across the country, and the majority of them were owned by the major oil companies that sold their branded fuel to consumers and distributors who could sell their fuel as unbranded. Since the inception of gas stations, attendants filled the fuel tanks for the customers.

Until 1947…

Self-Serve Gas Stations

In 1947, Frank Ulrich, a gas station owner in Los Angeles, introduced the first self-serve gas station, triggering the change in the fuel industry’s landscape. A mechanical computer powered the fuel pumps. It didn’t eliminate the need for an attendant as they were required to turn the pump back to zero after every fill manually. However, their role was limited to charging money as customers would fuel their gas.

A guy fueling his sports car.

Image Filename: fuel-station-fuel

Image Alt Text: A guy fueling his sports car.

The gas station owner didn’t need to hire a team of employees, but just a single attendant, so he charged a lower price to incentivize customers to buy gas from his gas station. Many gas stations tried to copy this business model, but they spent quite a few times catching on until 1964. Herb Timms, an inventor, designed a system that can activate the pump from inside the store, so the attendant doesn’t have to turn the pump back to zero manually.

The invention became mainstream and changed the gas station and convenience industry forever. Businesses could sell fuel without incurring the expense of labor. However, there were some challenges pertaining to this system. Many states prohibited self-serving fuel pumps due to fire hazards. However, most states, except New Jersey and Oregon, lift the ban on self-serving gas stations by amending their fire codes.

In 1973, pay-at-the-pump was introduced, which became extremely popular. In the early 2000s, most convenience stores embraced the pay-at-the-pump model, and today, most fuel is sold via self-service.

The future of gas stations

Pay-at-the-pump isn’t going anywhere, at least not anytime soon. However, the way consumers pay for their fuel has been changing dramatically. While crypto technology is looming around, it’s not quite here yet. We expect consumers to continue paying via their debit and credit cards for the foreseeable future. Therefore, it’s essential to upgrade your gas station before April 17, 2021, to ensure a safe payment system and avoid financial liability for card fraud.

If you have any questions about EMV technology, get in touch with us today! You can visit us online at or call 1.800.451.4021 to place an order. The John W. Kennedy Company brings you the best quality gas station equipment at competitive rates. Contact us today!

ALSO READ: “Think Beyond the Deadline”: 5 Tips for Retailers Navigating the New EMV Deadline

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