'You get what you see!'

Baltimore Glimpses

January 21, 1992|By GILBERT SANDLER

AMOCO was the first major oil company to introduce environmentally friendly vapor recovery nozzles on its gasoline pumps. According to a recent news report, these "capture vapors through perforations near the tip and provide easier fueling than do regular nozzles." (It all has to do with reducing gasoline fumes, a major contributor to smog.)

This "first" takes its place alongside many other firsts that Amoco originally introduced right here in Baltimore, where the company was founded by Louis Blaustein and his son, Jacob, in 1910.

Amoco's very first "first" was the drive-in filling station.

Until the late 1920s, when you wanted gas you simply pulled to the side of the street next to the curb -- that's where the pumps were set up.

To correct what was, at best, a makeshift and often dangerous situation -- one, moreover, that was getting worse with the growing number of cars on the road -- Amoco introduced the first "drive-in stations," in which the pumps were located well off the roadway.

Amoco dubbed these first "modern" filling stations "Lord Baltimore gasoline stations" -- evidently seeking to evoke an image of luxury for its innovation. The first such station in America, believe it or not, was located at the intersection of Cathedral and Biddle streets.

The most spectacular "first" the Blausteins introduced, however, were gas pumps with engraved glass jars on top. These allowed purchasers to see the exact amount of gasoline they were paying for as it flowed into their tanks.

Until the appearance of the glass jar pump, motorists had no way of being certain whether they were actually getting as much gas as they were charged for.

On Amoco's new glass-topped pumps, the amount of gas in gallons was etched on the side of the glass, along with a reassuring slogan that proclaimed "You get what you see!"

Gas stations have evolved considerably since then. The changes include everything from remotely operated pumps and bullet-proof cashiers windows to push button controls that allow customers to choose cash or credit, preset how much gas they want pumped, automatically charge their purchase to a credit card and provide a receipt. (Recently, we even ran across a pump that concluded each transaction with a cheery, "Have a safe trip!" spoken by its computerized voice simulator.)

Yet for all the technological sophistication of today's wonder pumps, you still have no way of really knowing how much gas is actually going into your tank.

For that, you'll have to search for an Amoco station that time forgot, one that still has those gleaming old glass-topped pumps with the gallons marked on the side that let you see the gas as it flows from the station's tanks into your own.

Alas, they're all gone now. These days, you pay for what you don't see.

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