One thing in life that is certain is that gas prices will always go up. Just how high they’ll go up was a bit of a surprise to gas pump makers of the past. When pumps (or fuel dispensers) first came out, they were used to dispense gasoline and kerosene for lighting fixtures. The gas pump design as we now know it evolved following the mass-production of the automobile that began at the turn of the 20th century. The first gas pumps for cars actually didn’t have meters, but rather the gas was measured by sight.
The first meters were installed on pumps between 1905 and 1910. These early meters were soon replaced by clock meters, which became the standard through the 1930s. In 1933 the “computer” meter was invented and within a few years all the major gas companies were using them. Computer gas pumps were made with 3-digit dial readouts for the price of gas per gallon, the number of gallons pumped and the total sale amount. This was because, back then, it was inconceivable that gasoline would ever be more than 99.9 cents a gallon. This also meant that a total sale could never exceed $9.99. (Imagine that today!)
Well, the day did come when gasoline sold for $1.00, and more. The Oil Embargo of 1973 resulted in climbing gas prices. Many gas companies and station owners were taken by surprise. As a result, some pumps can still be found today that have handpainted gas prices on them. Many station owners, in order to create an interim solution, displayed prices on their pumps that were indicated as being 1/2 of the actual price per gallon. When the customer was finished pumping, they paid double the amount on the pump. Following the price increases, new gas pumps were manufactured to accommodate 4-digit gas sales as well as gas prices up to $9.99/9 per gallon.
Computer style gas pumps were made well into the 1980s, but for the most part, have since been replaced by digital gas pumps. First released in 1975, digital pumps were to be the solution everyone hoped would allow for never-ending flexibility with prices.
Unfortunately, not all privately owned gas stations have been able to make the changeover to digital pumps. Many “Mom & Pop” stations, because they can’t afford to replace their computer style pumps, are going to be or have been forced out of business. This occurs when the local price of gas exceeds $3.99 a gallon. Many pump manufacturers did not have the foresight to see that gas may cost $4.00 or more per gallon at some point and the pumps were made without a “4” in the dollar dials. Either the pumps or the dials would need to be replaced in these cases. To make matters worse, many of these same pumps cannot count over $99.99 for the total gas purchase.