The Daily Heller: Designing Fossil Fuels

It’s a gas, man! And I mean that both metaphorically and literally. I love the graphic and physical artifacts that have long been produced by the petroleum industry. I’ve also imagined that classic gas pumps—those that stand at attention in front of service stations, with their glowing globe logos perched atop the dispensing mechanism—are akin to gas attendants ready to extend their arms to you and your car.

Like most things that are made passé by time, gasoline ephemera is among the finest graphic and industrial design artifacts that once were. Today, most of the old pumps have been replaced by large angular forms housing digital read-outs, (some) with LED screens (perhaps because drivers cannot abide a five-minute wait).

Whatever one believes about the petroleum industry’s dangerous byproducts—and there are many—gas station identities exert a genuine hypnotic allure on many of us. Americans also take gas and gas stations for granted, but until all those promised electric charging stations become widespread, it’s fuel that ties people and a nation together. The artifacts below, which come from an Italian catalog, “Il Design Nelle Stazioni Di Servizio 1900–1960,” are essential midcentury modern designs that represent this and other well-oiled nations.

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