Every time you take your car to the filling station, you are using the invention of one of America’s most important “unknown” inventors–Sylvanus Bowser. He created the automobile fuel pump. The fuel pump may not be the most exciting piece of equipment, but the history behind this piece is quite interesting. Learn more about Sylvanus Bowser and how he helped to shape the way that people fuel up efficiently.

Mr. Bowser set out to create a water pump when he decided to take the same principles in this water pump and use it for kerosene. As such, he first invented, patented, and sold a kerosene pump in 1885. At this time, kerosene was an extremely useful substance, so having an easy way to dispense it was important. The self-contained unit included a storage barrel, plunger, and two levers. The unit quickly gained the moniker of a “filling station.”

Before long, the technology that Bowser used for his kerosene filling stations was used for gasoline, too. With automobiles becoming popular, there was a need for an easy way to dispense gasoline. By 1893, Bowser was selling his filling stations to mechanic shops and garages. However, for the first few years, these filling stations were all indoors. By 1905, Bowser had made some improvements, changes, and adjustments to his system and was able to develop an outdoor drive-up model–these fuel delivery systems were the early predecessor to the gas pumps we use today.

This outdoor fuel pump was called “The Bowser Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage Pump.” It included a metal tank that was enclosed inside a wooden cabinet. His pump had turned into a forced-suction pump that operated with a hand level. This pump included quantity stops, air vents, and a patented hose attachment that allowed for dispensing directly into the car’s fuel tank.

Bowser himself worked on further adjustments and evolutions of the fuel pump and operated the business until his death in the late 1930s. The company operated independently until 1969 when it was purchased by Keene Corporation. By this time, other companies were building and designing fuel pumps, but Bowser’s original still inspired each and every design.

Every time you take your car for a fill-up and look at the fuel pumps, think about the long and storied history of these pumps. Sylvanus Bowser may have gotten into the fuel pump industry by accident, but his invention came along just at the right time.