Whether they’re called filling stations, pumping stations or gas stations, these places might seem like boring, everyday places that aren’t that important and shouldn’t really interest people who are interested in history.
However, growing up in the Miller Park neighborhood, I was always fixated with the squatty little building standing at the corner of North 24th and Himebaugh. It looked interesting, and I wanted to know about it.
Its taken me more than 20 years, but I’ve finally learned enough about that building. I’ve learned a lot about other gas stations in North O, too. Here’s a short history of gas stations in North Omaha.
A History of Buying Gas In North Omaha
The first gas station in Nebraska was built by the Nicholas Oil Corporation (operated by the White Eagle Company) in 1912.
The earliest filling stations in North Omaha were at general stores along the biggest streets, including North 16th, North 24th, North 30th and North 42nd, as well as Cuming, Military, Lake, Ames and Fort Streets. Before pumps were installed, stores would simply put gas in buckets and funneled it into cars. When gas stations were invented and spread across the community, many were manually powered roadside pumps that were operated by a gas jockey.
Standard was the biggest brand in Nebraska and nationally and was targeted for a breakup in 1911. Standard’s brand continued though, and when it became part of the nationwide Standard Oil Trust in 1911, its power across Omaha became palpable. For a time, almost all the gas sold in Omaha was Standard.
1924 Omaha Gas War
“In Omaha we have an orgy of price cutting. You buy gasoline at 12 places for 15 cents and at two places for 13 cents and all the regulars are selling for 17 cents. Shades of the Rockefellers. What are we coming to?”
According to a 2006 Nebraska History article, the 1924 Omaha Gas War changed the gasoline landscape across the city for all times, especially in North O. It actually began in South Dakota when a local businessman challenged the high prices refused to institute the high profits sought by the national trust. Nebraska’s Governor Charles Bryan wanted cheaper gas in his state too. Nebraska already had price controls on ice and coal, and the governor wanted to extend that to gas.
Standard didn’t like that, so they played ball. Independent gas stations that weren’t affiliated with the big brands struggled to compete, but they certainly tried to bring the noise. To make the prices sink even further, the City of Omaha opened a municipal gas station at North 16th and Izard Streets in early 1924, pushing competition and prices to new lows. It was called “The Muny,” and its prices regularly undercut the big brands by .03¢ per gallon. Fluctuating between .14¢ per gallon and .18¢ for a year, the price war started when Standard declared they were raising prices to .18.5¢ per gallon in late 1924.
The Muny sold a lot of gas, despite other dealers warning and threatening and cajoling businesses and individual customers not to shop there. Later in the year, the Nebraska attorney general took the Standard Oil Company and 14 others to court accusing them of colluding to make sure The Muny wouldn’t be supplied with gas. Under the power of corrupt Mayor Jim Dahlman, the City of Omaha encouraged independent dealers to slash their prices and join in the Gas War. It worked, and several independent cut-rate gas stations opened. A new phenomenon called the Price War District sprung up. It was a collection of five independent stations opened between North 16th and North 18th between Izard and Charles Streets that were key players in the Omaha Gas War. The Muny closed in July 1924, and the Mystery Gas Station picked up the slack, dropping prices to .10¢ per gallon. Cut-rate stations started closing because they couldn’t compete, but the lowest prices were still ahead.
In September, the Mystery Station posted gas at .8¢ per gallon, the lowest price of the Omaha Gas War. By that point, collusion among the major gas companies was never proven. However, nobody could compete with the Mystery Station selling gas so cheap, and the war simply came to an end. The trial proved little, and Omaha stations continue selling gas today.
Life After the Gas War
Prices continued jostling after the gas war, but they were never as driven by intense competition again.
One of the largest local gas companies in Omaha was the Central States Oil Company, which sold Globe Gas in Omaha. Another was the Mona Motor Oil, which belonged to Monarch Manufacturing. Mona became famous for starting a highly successful advertising gambit called a radio station in 1925. The call letters are K-OIL, and its signal broadcasts at 1290 AM. Mona’s was the local dealer for Natural Gas Company, called ONEOK, which sold a gas called Barnsdall. Although its long since been affiliated with Mona, the station continues broadcasting today.
There came a point when big national brands flooded into Omaha, carried by local companies that refined and moved gas around the city. The big ones were Standard Oil Company, Phillips 66 and Sinclair, as well as the National Refining Company and the Texas Company, called Texaco. Later brands included Deep Rock and Amoco. Smaller brands throughout the years included White Rose, White Eagle and many others. In 1916, Manhattan Gas was sold at two locations in North Omaha, including a garage at 4310 Florence Boulevard in the Saratoga neighborhood and in Florence.
Standard also sold Red Crown gasoline in Omaha. Other early gas brands in Omaha were Continental and D-X. In 1932, the Shell company pulled out of Omaha because it was unprofitable. The brand re-entered the city in the 1980s. In its absence, Sinclair became a major player in the city and grew strong throughout North Omaha specifically. The Mystery Gas Station stayed in business downtown and had multiple outlets through the 1950s. Turned out it was owned by the owner of the Michel station downtown.
Other gas wars plagued Omaha too. In 1940, there was a price war between Council Bluffs and Omaha, making Carter Lake a hot place to buy fuel.
In the 1950s other stations in Omaha, including one at North 30th and Ames Avenue, became exclusive Ford Neighborhood Service Stations. These were special designations that let Ford owners know these stations could provide gas, oil, lubrication and repairs on Ford cars that Ford approved.
In 1973 and 1979, there were major gas shortages across the U.S. including Omaha. Gas prices skyrocketed, and when customers in North Omaha couldn’t find cheap enough gas, dozens of stations closed. The riots of the 1960s already made North 16th and North 24th unattractive to retailers, and almost every station along those streets closed immediately. Others lingered through the 1980s into the 1990s and until today. There are no full-service gas stations left in North Omaha today.
Its important to note that most of today’s gas stations that look modern and computerized are located on the sites of other, older stations. However, those buildings were demolished. They include the station on the southwest corner of North 30th and Parker; the southwest and southeast corners of North 30th and Ames; at the south corners of North 42nd and Ames; and elsewhere. Since it would be literally exhausting to identify and track every single gas station that’s ever existed in North Omaha, following are some of the gas station buildings left in North Omaha.
A Few North Omaha Service Stations and More
Gas stations haven’t always just sold gas. Originally envisioned as all-in-one facilities for the newly car driving public, service stations provided a range of services and sold all kinds of products for cars. In addition to pumping gas, they also sold oil, tires, belts and car parts. They changed headlights, spark plugs, brakes and windshield wipers. They also had maps and local recommendations for travelers; pop and candy for kids; and gas jockeys who’d run out to greet you, pump your gas, check your tires’ air pressure and do the other quick service cars need. Gas jockeys would also wind the crank on your jalopy before there were self-starting ignitions, too! This was true of almost every single gas station in North Omaha through the 1960s.
North 30th and Decatur
Located at 1723 North 30th Street, this was a Standard Oil Station when it was built for Sam MacSimmons in 1931. Henry Magzamin owned it within a year, and by 1940, it was a Texaco Station. It was the Masek Service Garage in the 1950s, and closed in the early 1960s. From the ’30s through the 60s, the business suffered break-ins, hold-ups and other thefts. When it closed, there was little fanfare.
North 16th and Willis
This station was built as a Phillips 66, and apparently remained with that brand throughout its entire life. The company became committed to high quality standardization in the early 1940s. In 1940, Ramona Hickman became the Nebraska “highway hostess,” visiting this station and 40 others throughout the state to ensure cleanliness and more. In 1960, this was Jerry’s Phillip 66 Service Station. It was closed by the mid-1980s.
North 24th and Himebaugh Streets
North 16th and Willis
North 40th and Hamilton Streets
Other Stations in North O
In the 1950s, 3822 Ames Avenue was a successful Phillips 66 station. There was a Phillips 66 service station at North 16th and Ames Avenue the same decade. Dean’s Standard Station was at Florence Boulevard and Ames Avenue, and had been there since the 1910s when private gas stations first opened.
In 1960, some of the gas stations throughout North O included Bill’s 66 at 1801 Military Avenue; Crouch 66 at 5727 North 24th; Frost Service at 1102 North 20th; Kampfe Service at 6153 Military Avenue; O’Conner 66 at North 16th and Pinkney; Lyle’s Standard at 7505 North 30th; Smith’s Standard at North 60th and Ames; Koborg Brothers Mobil at North 47th and Hamilton; Merkley’s Mobil at 5608 Ames; Stiles Mobil at 3805 Lake; Thomsen’s Conoco at North 30th and Reed; Erickson 61 at 3309 North 30th; Dodd’s Sinclair at 3801 North 24th; Superior 400 at 2501 North 30th; Whitmore’s Phillips 66 at North 30th and McKinley; Ames Standard at North 30th and Ames; Eddie’s Texaco at 4401 Cuming; Texaco at 4902 Military; Field’s Conoco at North 30th and Browne; and the Florence Service Station at 8901 North 30th Street.
Gas in North Omaha Today
Contrary to some internet prognosticators, there are still gas stations in North Omaha today. They aren’t all boarded up or covered in bars, and some are nice. Sure, gas stations throughout the community have suffered crimes, especially robberies and break-ins. Gas station attendants and mechanics and customers have been shot, and some have been killed. There have also been gas stations implicated in crimes too, like the station at North 24th and Maple, where 16 people were arrested for illegal gambling in 1996. (Adam’s note: The phrase “North Omaha gas station” only returns crimes in search engines for local newspapers and on the internet.)
There have been plenty of successes in North Omaha’s stations in the recent history, too. In 1968, Larry Dobney graduated from Tech High and re-opened the old station at North 30th and Read Street. Working hard, Dobney built a successful business that continues operating almost 15 years after he died.
MUD is excited about natural gas, and is running three stations in the metro area today. However, none are in North O.
- A History of North Omaha’s Omaha Auto Speedway
- A History of Streets in North Omaha
- A History of the Omaha Driving Park in North Omaha
- L Robert Puschendorf, “Petroleum, Politics, and Prices: Omaha’s Gas War of 1924,” Nebraska History 87 (2006): 54-81.