Treasured Signs of Past Automobile Age

Cheap gas, economically-priced American made automobiles, miles of open highway, and a gleaming gas station on every corner.

    That was the golden age of the automobile in America. Today little remains of that sweeping era except for the surviving signs that once marked the landscape. From Aeroshell Gasoline to Willard Batteries, signs emblazoned across the countryside, forever beckoning to merry motorists.

    Their attraction was unavoidable. Their meaning was undeniable.

    “Such signs served as advertisements for the company owning the gas station,” note Mark Anderton and Sherry Mullen, authors of the book Gas Station Collectibles, “as well as for specific items available for sale in the station.”

    The skyline of the U.S.A. was generously dotted with porcelain signs proclaiming the virtues of one particular gasoline brand or service station-related product or another. Today porcelain signs of this genre are uppermost in collectors’ minds as well.

    Even the very earliest auto-related signs could be interesting. The die-cut metal Miles To White Rose Service Station signs, for example, featured a youngster wearing checkered pants and holding a sign with the number of miles to go to find the service station. These signs, copyright 1917, were a product of the strange sounding En-Ar-Co Motor Oil Company.

    Another early bird was the Goodell Auto Oil Company, which used a green tree on a round logo to attract motorists during the early 1900s.

    As the Roaring Twenties found a steadily increasing number of automobiles on the American road, the retail options likewise grew. Many Miles Transmission Oil signs featured a race car logo in the early 1920s. Michelin Tires offered a balloon-like man sitting in a tire, and Brockway Motor Trucks proposed, “the right way.”

    If anything the automobile product signs of the 1930s were even more animated than their forerunners. Passing motorists could catch a glimpse of Cargray Gold, Cities Service Koolmotor, and Bulko Gasoline depicting an elephant. Marathon Products offered a figure of a man running and the slogan, “best in the long run.”

    Elsewhere in the 1930s, Goodyear Pathfinder Tires signs promised “a dependable tire at a low price,” and Hood Tires provided “neighborhood tire experts.”

    Gasoline rationing as a result of World War II had a devastating impact on auto ownership and motoring early in the 1940s. Still, some creative signage continued along the nation’s roadways and highways including Invader Motor Oil’s knight on a horse and Fleetwood Motor Oil’s air-
plane logo.

    By 1945, “the stuff of dreams for most people included a new car, a set of good tires, and a world without gas rationing,” observes Stephen Sears in the book The Automobile in America. People could afford to drive a little bit more too—personal income had risen 68 percent between 1939 and the late summer of 1945.

    Meanwhile Sears compares the “auto mania” of the 1950s to the 1920s—only more so.

    The 1950s generation “easily embraced the auto culture with a fervor easily matching that of the 1920s generation,” he notes. “There was the same enthusiastic acceptance of the automobile as an instrument of change—change in living patterns, in recreational habits, in social status. There was no pause in auto-fueled urban and industrial decentralization or in the rush to the suburbs.”

    “New shopping centers, new drive-in businesses, new highways, continued the alteration of the face of America to accommodate a nation of motorists.”

    And with the movement was a steady march of signs that signaled the wave of ‘auto mania.’ Choices included Blue Sunoco, Pontiac Service, Shell, Quaker State Motor Oil, Fire Chief from Texaco, Shamrock Kerosene, Indian, Keystone, and even Texaco Marine White Gasoline.

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