The Bowser Petrol Pump c1921

Tucked in a corner of the Cotswold Motoring Museum is a petrol pump which, despite being bright red and 190cm high, is not particularly imposing and could be passed over quite easily. But missing it would be a pity because this pump has earned its place as the first of ten objects in our history of motoring. Made in the 1920s by S.F. Bowser & Company, the device was operated by turning a large crank handle. The pump’s history can be traced back 40 years earlier to when the company’s founder, Sylvanus Bowser, invented a safe and efficient means of delivering fuel. The original was used for pumping kerosene for heating and lighting, but that was in 1885 and the world was about to change.IMG_2877_edited
The introduction of the motor car greatly increased the demand for fuel. In 1888 Bertha Benz set out on a pioneering 65 mile journey from Mannheim to Pforzheim in her husband’s new automobile. The Weisloch town pharmacy, which still exists today, supplied the fuel and for many it is regarded as the world’s first filling station.
The practice of buying motor fuel in two-gallon cans from chemists, blacksmiths, hardware stores, and even hotels, became the standard practise. However, as motoring became more popular and the demand for petrol increased, providing a quick and safe means of storing and delivering fuel became a priority. As a result, kerbside fuel pumps began to appear outside the newly established filling stations and ‘country garages’. Storage tanks were placed underground and the pumps were moved to a central island. Our modest, hand-cranked, machine was soon replaced by electric giants that were effortlessly capable of gushing gallons of petrol to quench the automobile’s insatiable desire for fuel.

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The History of Motoring in Ten Objects

Back in 2012, the Cotswold Motoring Museum & Toy Collection held an exhibition entitled “The History of Motoring in Ten Objects”. It was inspired by the 2010 British Museum Exhibition and Radio Four programme describing the history of the world in 100 objects. We sifted through the many thousands of motor-related objects in the museum to create our own list of nine items for our own exhibition. We then asked visitors to select a tenth item to complete the selection. More than 1000 people took part, with satellite navigation winning the tenth spot by a clear margin.

Over the next few months, we will reprise the ” Ten Objects” in this blog, starting with the Bowser Pump or, as it is better known today, the fuel pump! They were not always quite as smart as today’s electrically operated, precisely calibrated dispensers of petrol and diesel.IMG_4338 edited

For more detailed information on this item plus our “Impact (of Motoring) on the World Today” exhibition, download the free eBook from our website. As well as looking at the impact that motoring has had on our planet, this fascinating book also considers the decisions that we as individuals can take to reduce that impact, with suggestions as to how the current century of motoring may unfold.