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The Gas Station in America
a book by John A. Jakle & Keith A. Sculle
by Rick Smith

The Gas Station in America is a scholarly work written by a geographer and a historian and is published by a university press. These co-authors describe the history of the gas station in great detail, especially the:

  • generational perspectives about gas stations
  • marketing strategies of oil companies
  • company trade territories
  • design of gas stations
  • gas station as an icon
  • history of several oil companies

    Throughout this book there are many black and white photographs of gas stations, along with cover shots of oil company road maps, from the past 90 years.

    John A. Jakle, one of the co-authors, is a professor of geography, and he includes many maps throughout the book. These maps detail the trade territories and regional brands of key oil companies. He clearly demonstrates that usage of maps within a reference book is a very useful method of written communication. When I studied several of these maps, I understood why I never saw certain oil company's stations when I was growing up on the east coast.

    One very interesting and detailed map tracks the commercial land use of University Avenue in Champaign, Illinois, for seventy years (1919-1989), decade by decade. You can see how specific corners grew in popularity, while the number of gas stations swelled and ebbed. I have never seen land use over time so carefully and clearly detailed.

    Keith A. Sculle, the other co-author, is head of research and education at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. His influence is felt in the history of several key oil companies and the marketing strategies of the petroleum industry, decade by decade.

    Through the collaborative use of these two disciplines, geography and history, these co-authors have helped to describe how the style of gas stations have changed throughout the 20th century. After reading this book, you will be able to better understand both how and why gas station has been transformed from curbside stands and small houses to the "convenience store" style of today.

    While reading this book, I learned that the number of gas stations octupled during the 1920s, then rose steadily to the 1970s and has been in a steep decline ever since. In fact, there were fewer gas stations in the 1990s than there were in the 1930s!!!

    If you enjoy seeing quality photographs of early, modern and unusual gas stations, this book is definitely worth glancing through. You may find a certain section that peaks your interest and then you will begin to read the detailed text and analyze the maps and tables. There is a great deal of information presented within the covers of this book.

    While the corporate history section is quite fascinating, because of this book's academic background, this book is not an "easy read" that you can simply skim through, looking at the pictures. It helps to be interested in business, marketing or corporate history.

    I feel that this book would be best for someone who wants to gain a better understanding the petroleum industry and how, through time, marketing forces have affected this industry and the key icon of this industry -- the gas station.

    Also included is an extensive 13 page bibliography, 13 pages of notes and a 10 page index for this 272 page book.

    ISBN: 0-8018-4723-0

    The Gas Station in America was copyrighted in 1994 by The John Hopkins University Press.

    Dated: August 8, 2012

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    Copyright 2012 Rick Smith
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