The Retro Appeal of the Classic Gas Station

Service stations of a previous era conjure up evocative images of an evolving America. Sometimes they border on art.

It all started in a gas station, you know. SSCS was born in one, so to speak. Back in the 1940’s, the father of the founder of our company established a gas station in downtown Pacific Grove, about 20 miles from our Salinas headquarters. He passed his knowledge, expertise, and enthusiasm for the industry on to the next generation, and, well, here we are, a service station software company that grew up inside the very industry it serves.

Gas stations were different then; their iconic pairing with the c-store was still decades away. In those days, the gas station was mostly associated with automotive mechanical service and repair: oil changes, tire patching, changing spark plugs. Free air and water. Maybe a cooler full of Frostie Root Beer or King Cola that you grabbed by sliding open the top and reaching down inside.

As ancient as 1940 seems now, by then the industry was already over 30 years old; its mark on American identity firmly established by making car travel across distances a viable proposition. The first retail petroleum outlets started popping up in 1905, but according to Smithsonian these were little more than “motorists [buying] gasoline in cans from places like pharmacies and blacksmith shops.” The quoted article makes a case for the first true “service station” starting up in 1913 under the Gulf Oil brand in Pittsburgh (really Altoona), Pennsylvania.

Most of us are prone to nostalgia and romanticizing the past, but there is something special about the era of the gas station before the Interstate and the performance science of franchising. These earlier days were marked by sometimes over-the-top individuality and uniqueness in design, as is so often the case with entrepreneurs who are helping to create an industry. It didn’t hurt that eye-popping architecture usually got the attention of pioneering road trippers.

The gas stations of that time gain additional resonance by being so deeply knit into the American dream of the open road.[1] We’re far from the only ones who feel the connection—here’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to information on classic gas stations from a popular cultural perspective, all featuring plenty of images. Here are a few examples:

Being rooted in retail petroleum from a time when personal computing was the stuff of SF pulp magazines, and then becoming a technology partner with our customers as the industry matured and modernized, certainly provides SSCS an advantage in understanding the fundamental operational issues that software should simplify and improve. And we’ve been around over 40 years to see how demands on your business have changed over time. When you call us at 1-800 927-7727 and ask to chat with one of our sales team, you’ll understand—their experience and seasoned perspective will immediately come through, setting us apart.


[1] The continuing allure of old Route 66 taps directly into this sentiment.