There was a time in my life when the thought of paying 50 cents for a gallon of gas would have sounded like highway robbery. Now it sounds like a dream.
It’s all part of life for a guy who graduated from high school in 1957. I can’t help but think back to the “good old days” when things cost a lot less. (The fact that we earned a lot less then somehow never enters the picture.)
Today, any time the price of gas goes below $3 a gallon it seems like an unbelievable bargain. To refresh my mind on how inexpensive it once was to fill up the tank I did a little research by checking old newspaper files. What year do you think was the first I went to? None other than 1957. After all, it was a mighty good year.
Few advertisements listed gasoline prices back then. Most of the ads were concentrated on octane ratings. Others promoted Gold Bond Stamps to entice people to buy their brand.
On Thursday, Nov. 28, 1957 an ad appeared from King’s Service announcing a big “GAS WAR” and listed the price at 15.2 cents a gallon (plus tax). The late King Schaudt owned the station. His brother, the late Bill Schaudt, owned the bulk gas company that supplied the gasoline. Bill had added the line “Fill Up and Help Us Go Broke!”
I remember King once telling me that his father, Bill Sr., who owned the station before him, had a sign out front for years stating: ”GAS 8-4-1” meaning eight gallons of gas for a dollar.
At a little over 12¢ a gallon (including tax) that had to be the lowest priced gasoline I ever heard of but that doesn’t mean much because I’m hardly an authority on such things.
I then went back to old newspapers dating into the 1920s and 1930s and never found an ad listing the price of a gallon of gasoline. When I got to the 1910s I found what must have been an “AUTO WAR” where car companies were trying to beat each others price for a new auto.
Ford had the best deal going. An ad placed by the Ford Motor Company stated the price of their touring car at $400; their runabout at $440 and their town car at $690. The ad went on to state that these prices were effective from August 1, 1914 until August 1, 1915 and guaranteed against any reductions during that time. If the company was able to obtain the maximum efficiency in their factory production and the minimum cost in the purchasing and sales departments, they would reach a production of 300,000 cars during those dates. If Ford reached such a production rate they agreed to pay from $40 to $60 per car on or about August 1, 1915 to every retail buyer who had purchased a new Ford car between the above mentioned dates.
A few months after this advertisement appeared in the paper a story ran on the front page of the paper. Supposedly, a junk dealer from the Midwest had heard that Ford used tin cans in the construction of their automobiles. He gathered up several hundred tomato, sauerkraut and oyster cans and sent them to the Ford factory along with the request that they be made into an auto. Several weeks later he received a Ford by freight and a check for $9.30 by mail. Seems he had sent too many cans.
That story leads me to believe that even back in 1914 some folks did not have a lot of faith in the auto industry. I know one thing. I would love to own a few of those old Fords they were making fun of.
I was about to put away the 1914 news file when I spotted another headline. This one simply stated “KICK IN THE HEAD A SERIOUS ONE!” The story went on to tell how Milford Brown was kicked in the head by the family horse while he was in the process of harnessing it. Guess one of the main selling points of the automobile back in 1914 wasn’t fuel economy.
(Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He lives near Cambridge.)