In the summer of 1888, Bertha Benz (yes, that Benz) became the first person to take an automobile on a long distance road-trip. She also became the first person to have their car run out of fuel. If her steed were a horse, she’d have been able to stop at any of the stables that peppered that landscape to get oats or hay. But she needed car fuel, and the gas station hadn’t yet been invented. Fortunately, pharmacies of that era sold a petroleum product called ligroin; a common stain remover that also happened to be the fuel source for Bertha’s car, so she visited a pharmacy and was able to finish her journey. And as automobiles spread, in part due to the efforts of Bertha and her husband Karl Benz, pharmacies and other stores began selling ligroin and other petroleum based fuels to car drivers in larger and larger quantities, and in the early 1900s, the world’s first dedicated fuel stations were built.
Today, fuel stations pepper the landscape and make it possible for over a billion of us to drive our car long distances with little fear of running out of fuel. And while horse stables still exist, they mostly support recreational riding and niche professions where horses are really useful. In general horse power has been replaced by horse power. But there is no reason for that horsepower to come only from cars burning fuel. There are automobiles powered by electric batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, and even compressed air. Among these non-gas alternatives, electric cars are the most dominant, with charging stations popping up all over. It is not hard to imagine that at some point in the near future, electric cars or vehicles powered by a different fuel take over, and fuel stations will go the way of stable, with people only visiting them for recreational rides. But do not eulogize the fuel station just yet.
Only 1 of every 200 cars on the road today is electric and 1 of every 40 new cars purchased is electric, although that rate is increasing. Given, how rarely people buy cars, though it is projected that it might take 20 years before even a quarter of the cars on the road are electric. And when (or if) a full transition to non-petroleum fuels arrive, fuel stations may still be at the center of it all. A hundred years ago, lots of stables ended up getting converted into dealerships and repair shops for the new type of carriage. In the same way, our fuel stations may simply get converted into stations for selling new types of fuel. In other words, the future of fuel stations may be quite stable.