14 May 2013

Gasoline Stations, Part 2

Welcome back. Today’s blog post concludes last Friday’s guest post by Miriam Biskin. 

Drilling Oil 

Recently, as a group of us reminisced about our hometowns and I mentioned my Dad's gas stations, one woman asked, “Did you ever hear of Titusville, Pennsylvania?” 

Oil rig at Titusville, Pa., ca 1900.
(Photo by Mather, Library of Congress
“Sure,” I answered, “The site of the first oil well actually drilled to find oil.” Although I had taught 8th grade social studies with a lesson on the discovery of oil, I wasn’t aware of the story she told us of how Colonel Edwin Drake and his assistants went from farm to farm in that area, seeking permission to drill.

“My father agreed,” she said, “but only on condition that he receive a share of the profits.” After many difficulties, there was success. Immediately, other businesses grew: refineries, drilling equipment manufacturers, iron works and railroad lines. The village of Titusville became a city, and the population prospered. It was said that Pennsylvania had more millionaires per thousand people than anywhere in the world.

Ida Tarbell

She talked about one Titusville resident who made herself famous and the oil industry infamous: Ida Minerva Tarbell.

In 1860, Ida's father moved the family to Titusville where he became an oil producer and refiner. When his company was adversely affected by the practices of the railroads and larger oil interests, Ida, an investigative reporter smeared as a muckraker, accused the Standard Oil Company of using unfair tactics to put her father and many small oil companies out of business.

Ida’s work sparked the Congressional inquiry into the John D. Rockefeller monopoly practices. She described John D. as hateful, penny-pinching and unscrupulous--a reputation he deserved. She also publicized his noted act of generosity, which was to give one dime to those who sought his aid.

Whether or not John D was the inspiration for the Great Depression ballad, Brother, can you spare a dime?, is a matter for the history detectives exploring the Depression to decide. The lyrics do sound like someone talking to John D.

The Great Depression

The Great Depression hit everywhere. The textile mills in my town folded, taking down businesses like Dad’s stations.

But even in times of desperation there was a bit of humor. One story was about the two nuns who were driving alone out in the countryside and ran out of gas. They walked a short distance to a gas station to purchase a can of gasoline.

"I'm sorry, sisters," said the attendant, "but the only thing I have for you to carry the gas is an old chamber pot (bed pan).” Having no choice, the nuns agreed and took the gas back to the car. As they were pouring the gas into the car tank, a man drove by, stopped his car, and commiserated, "Oh sisters, if only I had your faith.”

Thanks for stopping by. Any comments about the Gasoline Stations posts would be greatly appreciated. They might help me to entice the author to guest blog again.

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