Above: 1912 photograph shows Harvey Wickliff standing to the left of the auto.
His name was Harvey Valandingham Wickliff, but to his friends he was just Wick. He started work for the Standard Oil Company in 1895 as a tank-wagon driver. These large wagons delivered coal oil to stores within a 20 mile radius of Columbus. During the busy months, his day would start at 5:00 am and not end sometimes until midnight. Wick remembers keeping his team of horses specially shod for the icy, sometimes impassable, central Ohio roads.
The arrival of the automobile was quite a change for everyone. Those who did not own one of these new machines resented the noise, clouds of dirt, and the fact they frightened the horses. For those that did own a gasoline buggy, the love affair was complete and contagious.
During those early years just before the automobile became the norm, those that owned a horseless carriage, had to seek out gasoline from producers of kerosene. Gasoline was a highly flammable liquid that evaporated quickly and was too unstable to be used for either cooking or lighting. In fact, it was too flammable for any practical use and had to be discarded. Yet with the development of the internal combustion engine in the mid to late 1800s, gasoline became the natural fuel for powering these small portable engines that could operate without an external flame.
As more and more horseless carriages began operating throughout the country, it became clear, that gasoline could become a much in demand product. It was at this time that two Standard Oil men, B.A. Mathews and H.S. Hollingsworth, recognized this opportunity and to take advantage of it, the 2 men created America’s first service station.
The business began operations on June 1, 1912, with a portable drive-through located on the corner of Oak and Young Streets in Columbus. This small 14’ x 20’ building was located just 3 blocks east of the State Capital. The manager of this new operation was Mr. Harvey Wickliff. They called it a “filling station” a name that would endure, even as late as the 1970's. Even today we refer to "filling-up" our cars.
At the new filling station, customers entered from the front, had their tanks filled with Standard Red Crown Gasoline by a hand-cranked pump. Products such as Polarine lubricating oils and other shelf items were also sold.
In his later years, Harvey Wickliff recalled that there was no electricity in the early days, so for the first few years, sales ended at sundown. Harvey also remembered his first free service at the station: offering a grease job with the purchase of 25 cents worth of grease. At times there would be as many as 35 cars waiting in line to be filled. With that kind of success imitation was not far behind. Soon other oil companies opened their own filling stations throughout the city, state and the nation. The rest is as they say, history.