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Treasures of the Archives: Gasoline at 41c a gallon?

“UTOCO Gas Station,” A.M. Kendrick Photographic Collection, ca. 1890-1976, Photographs, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives.

“UTOCO Gas Station,” A.M. Kendrick Photographic Collection, ca. 1890-1976, Photographs, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov.

America’s love affair with the automobile has often been tempered by the cost of gasoline – the fluctuating prices driven by politics as much as production. In this photograph of a gas service station in Ritzville, a proud attendant stands next to his pump. A closer look reveals the cost for three gallons of gasoline was just $1.23 – that’s about 40c per gallon. In the background you’ll also see Coca-Cola sold for just 10c a bottle in one of the dispensing machines patented by the Coke Company.

Photographs like these capture not only a moment in time but also a larger story of the town, its people and its peculiar Americana. In the windows and on sandwich boards you can see advertisements for services and products that helped shape the automobile from the leaded gasoline in the above picture to the changing brands of Texaco.

On a larger scale these snapshots tell a story of changing landscapes and attitudes – the rise in automobile production and the relatively low cost of fuel allowed people to become much more mobile, able to travel and move where work was more plentiful.

The Washington State Archives has many more photographs of gas service stations from 1926 onwards, in its A M Kendrick Collection. Take a moment and explore your Washington State Archives!