View From The Cab

By David Tollefson, Columnist

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics comes some history of gas prices for each year, along with a few comments relevant to the year:

1937: Absolute Gas Price (AGP) $.19. Americans were beginning to emerge from the financial wreckage of the Great Depression.

1938: AGP $.18.     

1939: AGP $.17. 1939 marked the official end of the Great Depression, and therefore the beginning of America’s return to a more stable economy. This year also marked the beginning of World War II.

1940: AGP $.16. In 1940, development in the world of automobiles changed the American car permanently. The Oldsmobile became the first car to offer the Hydra-matic transmission, at an additional cost of $57, illustrating a move away from manual driving.

1941: AGP $.17. At the tail end of the year, the United States finally entered World War II, thereby igniting a shift in global politics and economics.

1942: AGP $.18. The United States was now a player in WWII, which meant the introduction of gas rationing. (It had little to do with a shortage; what the United States armed forces needed was rubber, so nonessential rubber usage, like car tires, had to go. The military needed rubber, so the U.S. decided to ration gas, limiting the number of gallons various driver classes could purchase per week.)

1943: AGP $.19. Over the course of the war, only 139 cars were produced in the United States. Key players like Chrysler and GM were busy producing things like guns, tanks and aircraft components.

1944: AGP $.19. Between 1943 and 1944, though the absolute price of gas remained steady at $.19 per gallon, the inflation-adjusted price dropped by several cents. The war necessitated such a high degree of productivity that real wages rose by 50% between 1939 and 1944, allowing Americans to save and spend more.

1945: AGP $.19. After years of conflict and a global loss of 70 to 85 million lives, World War II came to an end. Many automobile companies announced plans to expand their facilities to meet pent-up demand of American consumers for motor vehicles.

1946: AGP $.19. An early 1946 steelworker strike brought steel production to a halt. (Steel companies settled after pressure from President Harry Truman.) Cars began to roll out, including new models from Ford and a Chrysler convertible.

1947: AGP $.21 (notice 2 cent increase). The slow death of full-service gas stations began in 1947 when Los Angeles gas station operator Frank Ulrich advertised cheaper prices in exchange for customers pumping their own gas. It was a hit, with the tiny station selling hundreds of thousands of gallons in a single month. Within a few decades, self-service gas was commonplace across the nation.

1948: AGP $.24. In 1948, American geologists working for Standard Oil of California were searching for oil in Saudi Arabia. A test drill hit oil – this was the find which turned out to be the largest oil field in the world.

1949: AGP $.25. This is the year that the United States exported more petroleum products than it imported, making it a net exporter. This would not happen again until 2011! This was also the year that my dad saw fit to retire his 1939 Chevrolet and buy a brand new 1949 Ford! Our family was SO excited.

1950: AGP $.25. In 1950, the automobile industry produced nearly 8 million vehicles.

1951: AGP $.26

1952: AGP $.26

1953: AGP $.28

1954: AGP $.28

1955: AGP $.29 .

1956: AGP $.30. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Americans were beginning to get fewer miles per gallon, meaning they were likely spending more on gas overall.

1957: AGP $.31. The federal gas tax has remained at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993 and exists with the intention of raising money to pay for infrastructure like roads and highways. The current structure of this tax dates back to 1957, when a system was set up to send all money made from the gasoline tax directly to the federal Highway Trust Fund.   

1958: AGP $.31

1959: AGP $.31

1960: AGP $.32

1961: AGP $.32

1962: AGP $.32

1963: AGP $.32

1964: AGP $.32. In 1964, the median income for American families was $6,600 per year. This was 5% higher than it had been in 1963, and more than double what it had been in 1947. Gas prices remained relatively the same, meaning that a gallon of gas made up a slightly smaller percentage of a person’s total income than it did in 2018.

1965: AGP $.33.

1966: AGP $.34. Few cars can sum up the automobile style preferences of the 1960s like the Ford Mustang. The Mustang 1, a two-seater that prioritized style over substance, the car eventually morphed into its 1966 identity. Ford sold approximately a half million Mustang Coupes, making it one of the most popular and lasting models the brand ever produced.

1967-1972: $.35-$.37, dropping briefly to $.32 in 1972.

In 1973 came the oil crisis which shifted the balance of global politics. For one year, $.41. For two years, 1974 and 1975, the price was in the $.50’s.

For three years, 1976, 77 and 78, the prices were in the $.60’s.

1979 (the time of the 444-day Iranian hostage crisis) was the only year of $.90 gasoline.

1980 was the year Ronald Reagan took over the White House, defeating Jimmy Carter. That was the first year gasoline went over $1.00. It stayed between $1.20 and $1.38 until 1986-1988, when it dropped for three years as low as $.93 per gallon.

In 1989 the price went over $1.00, never to see double digits again. Prices stayed under $2 until 2005, when it went to $2.30.

The first $3 gasoline was in 2008, at $3.27, but dropped below $3 for the years 2009 and 2010. It stayed in the $3’s until 2015, when a glut of oil from Saudi Arabia brought the price in the $2’s for 6 years.

Around Sept. 10 of this year, there was another spike up, bringing Starbuck gasoline to $3.99. My last fill was 15 cents up from the previous one a few days before. But now I hear prices may come down again. Stay tuned!

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Please contact David Tollefson with thoughts or comments on this or future columns at: