Why were visible gas pumps so tall?

Why were the old visible gas pumps so dang tall? I know they need to be big enough to hold a full tanks worth of gas, but the ones I see on American Restoration are 8’ to 10’ tall, with the actual tank being 3’ to 4’ off the ground.

For the jokesters, “visible” refers to the gasoline inside the pump. Modern pumps you can’t see the gasoline until it comes out of the nozzle.

Weren’t they gravity fed? You would pump the glass reservoir with the desired quantity, then let it flow into the vehicle?

yeah the whole reservoir and hose had to be higher than the vehicles to fully dispense the paid for produce.

The gas was visible so that you could see how much gas you had pumped up into the reservoir. If you only intended to buy 10 gallons of gas, you pumped until there was 10 gallons visible in the glass tank, then whatever was in the tank all went into the vehicle when you opened the handle, by gravity as the others have said.

And gas caps used to be on top of the cowl.

Yes, the gas tank was directly in front of the windshield (Ford Model A, many others) and the “instrument panel” mounted directly onto the tank.
It was 1931 before Ford moved the gas-shutoff valve from under the passenger’s legs into the engine compartment.

My brother worked at a gas station. You manually pumped the gas (there was no electricity) up into the vial which had increments on it. Then it was delivered via gravity to the car tank. So the vial had to be taller than the tank.

So if you’d fired a .22 round at a full reservoir would it have gone up in flames?

Probably not. It would make a big mess, though.

I actually saw one of those in use, in Liberia, in 1976. The glass at the top had only a one-gallon capacity. The attendant would manually pump gas up to the one-gallon mark, and call out the number of gallons each time he filled it, and then release each gallon into the car. He would call it out loudly enough that any bystanders could hear it, so there would be witnesses as a check on the honesty of the attendant.

Around 1950, even though the gas pumps were electric and had a metered flow, there were still signs at the pump island saying something like “Make sure glass is full before delivery”. I wondered what that meant.

a vague memory.

some electric pump had a glass window with paddles where you could see the gas flow. i don’t recall if it was only one brand or which one(s).

There’s also the fact that with a gravity feed the pressure is dependent on the height of the tank. If it’s not tall enough, the gas just trickles out and it takes a long time to fill the car.

Only Hollywood gas tanks explode when shot. Real life gas tanks just end up with holes in them and leak out the liquid gas.

Gas vapor is explosive, liquid gas is not. Mythbusters busted this:


a glass reservoir wouldn’t have a hole in it for long.