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Sylvanus F. Bowser

By OSP

Fort Wayne Reader

2006-09-18


One cold morning in 1885, Sylvanus Freelove Bowser went to his Fort Wayne well to draw water for his wife before hitting the road as a salesman. The mist rising from the seventy-foot well froze on the ropes, making the task of hauling the bucket very uncomfortable. The idea came to him of a simple pump that would produce a constant measure of liquid with each stroke of the pump handle. Although it turned out not to be feasible for a deep well, Bower’s self-measuring pump mechanism revolutionized the oil industry and, later, gasoline industry by making possible easy, accurate handling of liquid fuels from storage tanks.
A second pump company, the Wayne Pump Company, came to Fort Wayne in 1891. Competing intensely with Bowser, Wayne Pump won the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition gold medal for the best self-measuring pump. Later, Wayne Pump produced the first gas pump with a visible dial, and in 1933 revolutionized the industry with the “computing pump.” This pump was the first that automatically registered not only how much gas was being pumped, but also its cost.
This invention did not receive the immediate acceptance, so Wayne Pump undertook a national advertising campaign to convince the public that its product was the sort of pump neighborhood gas stations should have. Fort Wayne advertising agency Louis Bonsib created the catch phrase “Fill ‘er Up” (when the computing pump stopped, the tank was filled). The campaign was a resounding success.
A third pump company entered the Fort Wayne area in 1918 when the Iowa-based Tokheim Company was acquired by Fort Wayne investors led by Ralph F. Diserens. Tokheim grew slowly in post-World War I Fort Wayne until it developed the extremely popular “visible globe” measuring pump.
Tokheim became the leading pump company in Fort Wayne by the 1950s and pioneered the self-service equipment for gas stations and the now-common financial card-reading machines that carry out the entire transaction through the customer’s bank account. Later, Tokheim produced more than 35 percent of the gasoline pumps in the U.S. and became the world leader in pump control systems.

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