Filling up the tank in the time of our great-grandmothers – 05/18/2023 – São Paulo Antiga

With all this discussion generated in recent days due to the regulatory policy on fuel prices, with the extinction of the International Parity Price (PPI), I found myself here reviewing photographs of when cars were owned only by rich people and gas stations were practically non-existent in our city. Have you ever stopped to imagine what it was like to fill a car’s tank just over a century ago?

In the first two decades of the 20th century owning a car was still a privilege for the few. Imported, they were very expensive and came ready-made from the United States or Europe, being at most assembled here in the assembly lines of companies like Ford and Chevrolet. Practically a luxury good, it was understandable that it was also not easy to find where to supply it, as it is nowadays.

Initially, there were no gas stations, only isolated fuel pumps in the streets and avenues of the city. Usually at these pumps there was only one person working, who could even be the owner, serving customers. Normally, those who went to these places to supply the vehicles were not their owners, but the drivers or chaffeurs”as they used to say at the time.

Another place to buy “gasoline” with “z” as was the spelling at the time, they were in stores that sold fuel in cans measured in gallons (1 gallon equals 3.78541 liters). These stores also sold oil (initially called lubricating oil), grease, inner tubes and tires.

With the growth of the city and consequently the volume of vehicles in circulation during the 1920s, gas stations as we know them today began to appear in São Paulo with a whole range of services available for the car, ranging from simple fueling to changing fuel. oil, tire replacement and even mechanical repairs.

The so-called flags – the name given to fuel brands – were already in use. In São Paulo in the 1920s, stations with flags such as Anglo Mexican, Gulf, Atlantic, among others, appeared. Some fuel stations from that era still exist in the city of São Paulo, and at least one from the 1920s remains in full operation, in the Aclimação neighborhood.

Even with the arrival of new and modern gas stations, solitary pumps remained in full operation in the city of São Paulo for a long time, until at least the end of the 1950s when they disappeared completely. If such pumps no longer exist, swallowed up by modernity and by new regulations for land use and occupation, at least in one specific place in the capital, the site of one of the extinct bombs remains little changed.

This is Praça Olavo Bilac, in Santa Cecília, where since the end of the 1950s, when the bomb was removed, little has changed except for the buildings around it. Had the gas tank been removed or had they just taken the pump out, leaving the underground part there contaminating the ground? See a before and after of the location below.

Olavo Bilac Square – 1956 and 2023

square in Santa Cecilia

gas station

Comparison of images showing Praça Olavo Bilac in 1956, when there was a gas pump in the place, and currently, May 2023. – Douglas Nascimento

As for old fuel stations, until 2010 there were at least four in operation in São Paulo. Located in Bom Retiro, Aclimação, Liberdade and Paraíso, they were inaugurated in 1926, 1929, 1931 and 1942 respectively (see gallery below). Of these we had the one from 1931 demolished, the one from 1926 closed but preserved, and the other two working normally, however the one opened in 1942 is modernized and boasts a large panel with a photograph from the time of its inauguration to tell its story. In 2015, the posts from 1926 and 1929 were listed as historical heritage in São Paulo.

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