Cut Loose, Footloose . . . . With A Bowser Red Sentry Long Distance Pump

We picked up this amazing gas pump the other day, and I am afraid I am going to have to keep this one. That original patinaed finish is simply irresistible.

This is a Bowser Red Sentry Long Distance Pump, and the patent dates cast into the base are from the years 1911 and 1914.

A quick search of the company’s namesake, S. F. Bowser, revealed that he was the inventor of the automobile gas pump, that the “S. F.” stands for “Sylvanus Freelove,” and that this is an actual picture of the man:

At this point, I am seriously intrigued.

Bowser was born in 1854 and started his kerosene oil tank company in 1885. He had many years’ experience as a traveling salesman and was heavily involved in the management of the business. The company was successful, and Bowser became a prominent citizen in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

1905 was the year he first developed an outdoor, self-measuring pump for dispensing gasoline conveniently and, more importantly, safely.

These pumps, aptly called “filling stations,” were located at the curb in front of garages and general stores.

You may be wondering about the Footloose reference in the title. Apparently, S. F. Bowser was the John Lithgow of the Industrial Age in that he severely disapproved of dancing. A condition of employment with S. F. Bowser & Company was compliance with the posted “Rules That Govern This Office,” and one of those rules forbade this activity. In 1907, newspapers reported that five employees of the firm had been terminated for “tripping the light fantastic” and being “addicted to the dancing habit.” I have no idea what Bowser was doing in the above photo, but I guess we can safely rule out the rhumba.

The Bowser Red Sentry operated with a hand crank and was not a visible pump. One that has been restored was auctioned off by Bonham’s a few years ago:

Photo credit: Bonham’s

Mine is missing many of the parts seen on the one pictured above, but it does still have a number of the original brass plates:

Sylvanus Freelove Bowser died in 1938 at the age of 83. Interestingly, gas pumps are STILL referred to as Bowsers in some parts of the world like Australia and New Zealand.