Dearmon: No one ever imagined today’s gas prices

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Norris Dearmon
For the Kannapolis Citizen
There are not a lot of people left who will remember the prices of gasoline in the late 1920s and 1930s, which were considerably lower than the prices quoted on the photo at right. Some of the really younger generations will find it hard to believe that a gallon of gasoline could even be bought for 16 cents. This picture shows the prices in the 1950s.
At that time, a gallon of gasoline and a pack of cigarettes were roughly the same price. A carton of cigarettes sold for $2.
In earlier years, the cost was much less. Those who could afford an automobile rode on the same roads as horses and wagons. As the governments had to build more and more highways, a higher tax was added to the price of a gallon of gasoline.
There was no better way to pay for highway construction than to tax those who were using the roads. We here in the United States now enjoy the best highway system in the world.
Gasoline wars among service stations and gasoline companies went on constantly in the 1950s and 1960s. There were a lot more stations competing with each other then. If you remember, there was almost one on every other corner in town, mostly privately owned. Eventually, the oil companies began buying the smaller stations and closing them. Competition decreased, as did gasoline wars.
In the 1970s, vehicles formed long lines at gas stations because of the shortage of gasoline. Many people would use any means possible to get gasoline. Some even spent the night in their cars waiting in line for the stations to open. Others learned that stations would open at midnight after their deliveries were made.
It was almost comical the way many people were able to get gasoline. As sometimes happens, some operators gouged their customers, requiring them to pay for other services in order to get 10 gallons of gasoline. From that time on, the cost of gasoline began to go up and up.
When our economy began to falter during the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the interstate system was begun. Almost immediately, the economy began to improve. We are now able to go from coast to coast and from the gulf to Canada without stopping for a stoplight.
The demand for more oil to produce gasoline also added to the cost. Oil produced in its infancy was cheap, cheap. Still, a lot of men became rich producing black gold รณ oil.
Up until the 1990s, oil was sometimes selling for as little as $3 a barrel. Now the price is in the $100 range. Currently, the cost of a gallon of gasoline around $3. Five years ago, no one ever dreamed it would be in that range.
I suspect we will soon see gasoline in the $4 and $5 ranges. At present, no new refineries are being built. Our demand for gasoline keeps going up, fueling the need for increased prices. The demands of China and India are also creating challenges to the world’s refineries.
Esso is no longer Esso (in the picture). It is now Exxon Mobile. They just posted the largest profit of any company in history.
Norris Dearmon is a member of the Kannapolis History Associates and volunteer in the Hinson History Room of the Kannapolis Branch Library.