Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

Pittsburgh’s Mellon family owes much of its fortune to the oil industry. In 1902, William Larimer Mellon Sr. (1868–1949), with the help of his uncles, Andrew William Mellon (1855–1937) and Richard Beatty Mellon (1858–1933), was placed in charge of the J. M. Guffey Petroleum Company, with its rich Spindletop oil fields and a refinery at Port Arthur in Texas.Mellon guided Guffey Petroleum, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, to solvency. In 1907, the company was merged with Gulf Refining Company of Texas to form the Gulf Oil Corporation, which eventually became one of the world’s largest companies. Gulf merged with the Standard Oil Company of California in 1984.

In early December 1913, the Gulf Oil Corporation opened a gasoline filling station at the corner of Baum Boulevard and Saint Clair Street in Pittsburgh, advertising it as “fully equipped with the latest and most modern appliances where it will supply that Good Gulf Gasoline . . . of high quality homogenous and carefully refined from crude oil.” On its first day, with Frank McLaughlin as manager and four attendants providing service, the station sold thirty gallons of gasoline at twenty-seven cents each (the equivalent of $5.81 today). On the first Saturday after opening, the station’s sales jumped to 350 gallons.

Hand-cranked pumps connected to an underground storage tank delivered the desired amount of gasoline. The overhanging canopy, measuring forty-two feet wide, provided shelter from the weather and supported large lighted signs — GOOD GULF GASOLINE and SUPREME AUTO OIL — visible to motorists from a distance. The station dispensed two grades of gasoline, Good Gulf and Peerless Motor, each slightly different in specific gravity, the method by which gasoline was graded. Designed by architect J. H. Giesey and constructed by H. S. Moorhead and Company, the small octagonal structure included a storage room for sales records, a small supply of lubricating oil and greases, and a single restroom for employees. The unusual roof — recalling a pagoda — was bolted to one-inch anchor rods embedded in the footing to keep it from blowing off. Gulf pioneered free restrooms as a marketing ploy, as well as free road maps and twenty-four-hour service beginning in 1914, free air for tires, and complimentary crankcase service for customers who purchased Supreme Auto Oil.

Historians debated the site’s claim for the installation of PHMC’s state historical marker, dedicated July 11, 2000, for the “1st Drive-In Filling Station.” Gasoline was initially sold as a side business at places such as hardware stores and general stores. Communities claiming the first gasoline station include St. Louis, Missouri (1905), Detroit, Michigan (1907), Seattle, Washington (1907), and Altoona, Blair County (1909). However, Wayne Henderson, author of a dozen books on the history of petroleum, contends those early operators converted existing structures for use as filling stations. Pittsburgh’s Gulf station was the first architecturally designed and specifically built as a drive-in filling station. The station’s success became the catalyst for oil companies to build company-owned filling stations that became commonplace throughout the country by the late 1930s and forever changed the landscape.

The station was demolished in the 1950s and the site is now used as a parking lot.

PHMC has adopted “Energy: Impact and Innovation” as its annual theme for 2009.