Gearing up to travel for the holiday? Our city has a complicated claim to gas station fame. Many believe the first ever drive-in gas station was on Baum Boulevard in East Liberty, and there’s even a state historical marker at the site — which is now a parking lot. But the truth is a little more complex. Brian Butko, director of publications at the Heinz History Center, explains what’s fueling this local myth.
There were other drive-in gas stations in town before Gulf got there — one was built six months earlier on Bigelow Boulevard, and the building is still there today.
So why does the Baum location get all of the credit? While other companies folded, Gulf grew to be a national conglomerate, and the story endured. Butko says that while it wasn’t actually the first, “it was still a special station, because it took all of the ideas that were swirling around at the time and packaged them into one convenient outlet.”
It had an overhanging roof in case it was raining, it opened restrooms to the public, it was open 24 hours a day, and it gave away free road maps.
“At the time, it was pretty revolutionary.” Butko says. “I liken it to how Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb; they were there 10 years beforehand, but he invented switches and plugs and a power station — a way to make it accessible to the public. And that’s what this Gulf station did. Maybe we can call it the ‘first architect-designed drive-in gas station?’”