Gas Bootleggers

To understand gas bootlegging we must remember the gas was pumped into a large glasslike cylinder located above the gas pump. When the gas was pumped to it before filling the automobile’s gas tank, the customer could actually see the gas that was put in the tank.

To understand gas bootlegging we must remember the gas was pumped into a large glasslike cylinder located above the gas pump. When the gas was pumped to it before filling the automobile’s gas tank, the customer could actually see the gas that was put in the tank.

Two methods of gas bootlegging were very popular. First, a crooked dealer would take a third grade of gasoline and sell it as a second grade product.

The second method was more complicated. A crooked dealer buys both kerosene and natural gasoline, both being tax free, and mix them together. After the liquids were mixed, they would be sold as gasoline, but would not be the true product. As a result, the gasoline that was sold was harmful to the motors, did not allow the car to run efficiently, and in the end was very costly to the car’s owner.

In 1932, the Skelly Company came out with a plan to fight against these bootleggers by starting a color identification in their gasoline. Each grade had a particular color. For example, red identified their best grade of gasoline, orange their regular quality, and their third grade was uncolored or white. This system allowed the customers to see what they were really buying.

Other companies also started color identification programs. In this period, gas was selling at the rate of three gallons for fifty cents. A cheaper gasoline was blue in color. People often went to the station and said, "Give me three gallons of the blue."

A typical example of the types of gas pumps that were familiar in the late 30s and early 40s is on display at the farm of J.D. Ford of Osborn.

Manually moving a handle back and forth forced the gasoline to flow from the storage tanks into a long glass cylinder located at the top of the pump. (Notice the pump handle located at the base of the photo.)

Evenly spaced numbers located along the side of the cylinder measured the amount of gasoline pumped into it. Reaching your desired amount, you would place the nozzle of the hose into the car’s tank and gravity let the gas flow from the cylinder into the gas tank.

Researched by Wilbur Bush