Bruce Gardow fuel dispenser in museum

This fuel dispenser is part of a display in the Dunn County Historical Museum. Its appearance is very grand, standing 10 feet tall, looking more like a piece of art standing in a museum rather than a gas station, Bruce Gardow writes.

I am a car collector and all of my friends are car collectors. Last Friday night at our weekly get together, we were talking about our collections and what type of memorabilia we would like to add to our collections.

Many ideas were discussed, but it was decided that the one thing that we all would like to have in our collection is a visible fuel dispenser, like the one in the attached photo.

This fuel dispenser is part of a display in our museum. Its appearance is very grand, standing 10 feet tall, looking more like a piece of art standing in a museum rather than a gas station.

Up to this point I have referred to our museum piece as a fuel dispenser, rather than a gasoline pump, and there is a good reason for it. This pump was invented prior to the availability of automobiles.

The device was used to pump kerosene for home use in lamps and stoves. It wasn’t until the automobile came along that this device started being referred to as a gasoline pump, because it was used to dispense gasoline in to an automobile.

The fuel dispenser was invented by Sylvanus Bowser of Fort Wayne, Indiana on Sept. 6, 1885.

The first pump designed for automotive use was created by John J. Tolkheim of Norway. He patented his pump in 1901.

The Tolkheim Company grew very large. As a matter of fact, the next time you fill up your vehicle look at the pump handle and you might find the Tolkheim name or the letters “OPW.”

You might ask yourself, “Why the glass dispenser?”

Simple. People were suspicious of this new technology. How did they know if the fuel was going into the container, and how did they know it was the correct amount? Thus, the glass dispenser.

This was a calibrated glass cylinder. The desired quantity of fuel was pumped up into the cylinder as indicated by the calibration. Then the pumping was stopped and the gasoline was let out into the tank by gravity. The customer could then with confidence pay for it.

Today we don’t have to worry about being cheated. In Wisconsin our fuel pumps are checked regularly by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection. This agency conducts tests of calibration and fuel quality at individual dispensers, and a department sticker is placed on the pump. Intentional modifications for the purpose of deceiving customers is extremely rare.

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Bruce Gardow is a volunteer at the Dunn County Historical Museum who shares his extensive knowledge as he explores some of the many treasures that exist in the archives of the Dunn County Historical Society’s Rassbach Heritage Museum, located at 1820 Wakanda St. in Menomonie’s Wakanda Park.


Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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