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The cost of gasoline the year you started driving

  • 1947

    - Absolute gas price: $0.21
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.43 (#24 least expensive year in 84-year span)

    Today, full-service gas stations have largely gone the way of drive-in movie theatres and travel agents: While they're not entirely gone, pumping your own gas is certainly a more common practice. 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-serve gas was commonplace across the nation.

  • 1948

    - Absolute gas price: $0.24
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.57 (#31 least expensive year in 84-year span)

    1948 marked a monumental discovery in the world of oil, which would impact the ways in which the U.S. and the world received crude oil. In the early 1940s, American geologists working for Standard Oil of California were searching for oil in Saudi Arabia. They discovered a geological bend in a riverbed that indicated an underlying oil field. Further exploration was put on pause during the war, but in 1948, a test drill hit oil. This was the beginning of a series of discoveries about the Ghawar Field, which would turn out to be the largest oil field in the world.

  • 1949

    - Absolute gas price: $0.25
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.71 (#40 most expensive year in 84-year span)

    Petroleum, also known as crude oil, was found in underground reservoirs and used to make gasoline, and therefore the global price of crude oil began to directly impact the cost of gas. The United States both imported and exported petroleum, though for many years the nation imported far more than it exported. In 1949, the United States exported more petroleum products than it imported, making it a net exporter. This would not happen again until 2011.

  • 1950

    - Absolute gas price: $0.25
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.68 (#38 least expensive year in 84-year span)

    The 1950s may conjure images of sock hops and “Leave It To Beaver”-esque viewing material, but nothing defines this decade more than its cars. In 1950, the automobile industry produced nearly 8 million vehicles and capitalized on popular features like the hardtop convertible. The automatic transmission also continued to grow in popularity, with an estimated 1.5 million automatic units sold in 1950.

  • 1951

    - Absolute gas price: $0.26
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.58 (#32 least expensive year in 84-year span)

    American gas and consumption reached an all-time high in 1951: The per capita consumption of gasoline was 295 gallons, and U.S. oil production hit 6.2 million barrels a day. While Americans consumed more oil, the U.S. did not always increase its production rate. In 2000, for example, oil production dropped to 5.8 million barrels a day. It would eventually rise again, and in May 2019, the United States hit a crude oil production average of more than 12 million barrels per day.

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  • 1952

    - Absolute gas price: $0.26
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.53 (#28 least expensive year in 84-year span)

    In the 1950s, competition in gasoline retailing became an issue. Competitors would constantly drop prices in order to remain appealing to customers, winning over potential buyers with the promise of freebies, like car accessories. In Philadelphia, concern over the practice of competitive pricing reached such a scale that a faction of retail dealers asked the governor to look into some retailers' dishonest practices and initiate preventative legislation.

  • 1953

    - Absolute gas price: $0.28
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.71 (#42 most expensive year in 84-year span)

    The national average gas price in 1953 may have been $0.28 a gallon, but for those looking for a bargain, Omaha, Nebraska, was the place to be. Omaha native Lynn Folgate remembered getting gas that year (her first year driving) for the low price of $0.18 a gallon, according to recollections shared with the Rockford Register Star. Folgate also recalled that during her years as a “pump jockey,” people often purchased gas by demanding a specific gallon amount, rather than a dollar amount, perhaps as a relic from years of gas rationing.

  • 1954

    - Absolute gas price: $0.28
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.69 (#39 least expensive year in 84-year span)

    The U.S. experienced a slight recession between 1953 and 1954. In the wake of the Korean War, actions taken by the Federal Reserve and Treasury caused a rise in interest rates, leading to general pessimism towards the American economy. This brought upon a decrease in aggregate demand (the total demand for goods and services within the economy) and set in motion a three-quarter economic decline. Though the absolute gas price remained steady from 1953 to 1954, consumers overall spent less money during this time, and the GDP contracted 1.9% in the first quarter of 1954.

  • 1955

    - Absolute gas price: $0.29
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.79 (#31 most expensive year in 84-year span)

    Smack in the middle of a thriving economy, and with more and more people relocating to the suburbs as a result of the baby boom, 1955 was a particularly fruitful year for the automotive industry. Automobile manufacturers were experimenting with style and substance, introducing new technology in impressive designs. One of the most significant cars from this year was the Chevrolet Bel-Air, from Chevrolet's three “Tri-Five” series.

  • 1956

    - Absolute gas price: $0.30
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.85 (#25 most expensive year in 84-year span)

    In 1956, inflation-adjusted gas prices and absolute gas prices increased slightly from the previous year. As more people began living in suburbs outside of centralized industrial hubs, Americans began using more fuel—between 1955 and 1956, the average gallons per vehicle jumped from 761 to 771, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Americans were also beginning to get fewer miles per gallon, meaning they were likely spending more on gas overall.

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