Gasoline now smells strongly of currency (1916)

Gasoline now smells very strongly of currency

by Herbert Quick

With gasoline at 25 cents a gallon, the automobile industry is threatened. Men who are willing to run cars on cheaper fuel are talking of laying up their machines until the exhaust will not smell so strongly of currency.

It is a great mistake, however, to imagine, as many seem to do, that the high price of gasoline is of interest to the motorist only. It is safe to say that it bears hardest on people who use internal-combustion engines to save labor on the farm. In some parts of the country, the farmer who does not own some sort of internal combustion engine is the exception.

The government investigators announce that they find no shortage in the crude oil from which gasoline is made, and that reserve stocks on hand are the largest in the history of the country.

Dr Rittman of the geological survey has perfected a system of treating crude oil by which twice as much gasoline is obtainable than by any other system heretofore available to the independent refiner. The Rittman process has been tried out on a commercial scale and reported a success. But if gasoline rises in price regardless of the supply of crude oil, there is no reason to believe that it will not do so in spite of the supply of gasoline itself under the same conditions.

The motor car, tractor and gas engine businesses combined are only a little less important than the oil business. And their development depends of fair prices for gasoline. These are great’ business interests whose possible activity in the matter is perhaps more likely to produce results than that of the man who use his engine to run the motor car, the churn or separator. The latter, however, has the most votes.

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Dr Rittman himself, however, is quoted as saying that the high price of gasoline is purely a matter of demand and supply. He may be a genius in gasoline making without knowing much about gasoline prices, but his statements are interesting.

First, says he, the Cushing Pool oil has fallen off 100,000 barrels a day of the best gasoline produced, not all oils will make much gasoline by the ordinary methods. Second, our exports of gasoline have been tripled. Third, the demand is growing incredibly all the time. Four thousands new automobiles are added to the consumers a day.

This adds $40,000 to the domestic demand every 24 hours.

There are 700,000 gasoline engines in use on farms.

There are 300,000 motor boats using gasoline.

There are 6,000,000 farms on the waiting list for engines!

The gasoline engines in use in the United States represent 55,000,000 horsepower — two and a half times the steam power of locomotives, stationary engines and all!

Something must be done. We must find some other fuel, we must get more gasoline out of the oil — or we must have a different land of motor, or we must find the leak in the present system.

The gas engine business should organize on the fuel question, or soon there will be no gas engine business.

Gasoline cost to consumer

Wholesale / Retail cost (per gallon)

New York: 22 / 25 to 30
Chicago: 16.5 to 17.5 / 19 to 21
Boston: 23 / 25
Philadelphia: 19 / 21
Pittsburgh: 19 to 23 / 20 to 24
Indianapolis: 17.5 / 21 to 22
Kansas City: 14.8 to 15.8 / 18 to 20
St Louis: 15 to 16.9 / 17 to 21
Buffalo: 21 / 23
Trenton: 21 / 23 to 24

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Where a high and low price are named in this list the figures cover the three grades of gasoline; one price shows the average cost per gallon in that city.

The wide range of cost figures, from 30 cents in New York to 17 cents in St Louis, retail, and from 23 cents in Boston to 14.8 cents in Kansas City, wholesale, seems to indicate an arbitrary method of price fixing.


Photo: Sunset Oil field; Kern County, California (June 3, 1916) U S Geological Survey

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