Franchised gas stations used to give out all kinds of premiums to lure in folks from their road trips to fill up with Gulf over ARCO, or Esso rather than Sinclair.
Some of those premiums were in the form of maps, but others went straight to the back seat, to keep the kids quiet. If you grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, you’ll probably remember these gas station premiums.
ARCO is an acronym for Atlantic Richfield Company. Beginning in 1971, it started using a play on its name to get kids to harass their parents to fill up there.
The ARCO Ark set included at least a dozen sets of animals, a Noah figurine, and the plastic ark to put them all inside. Every few months, ARCO stations would feature a new set of nine animals, attached to a cardboard display card.
Gulf Lunar Module
On July 20, 1969, NASA mission commander Neil Armstrong and pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the lunar module Eagle on the surface of the moon. An estimated 600 million people watched the event, slightly delayed on television. It transfixed kids from around the world, and all manner of companies hoped to capitalize on moon fever.
Gulf was one of them, providing a cardboard model kit that young hands were supposed to punch out and fold up into the Lunar Module, which frankly was about as sturdy as the real thing.
The kits were free, but according to the Paper and Packaging Board, were “insanely difficult” to put together.
“The model came in four sheets and required literally hours of cutting, folding, inserting tabs and sliding various pieces together. If you persevered — and many kids did in that pre-digital age of three television channels — the result was a remarkably accurate and beautiful miniature of America’s crowning technological achievement. And it was all rendered in high-quality, four-color, semi gloss paper stock,” the blog notes.
Gulf’s lunar landing ephemera is difficult to find as it is to put together 45 years later, but in celebration of the 45th anniversary of the event, the Lower Hudson Valley Paper Model E-Gift Shop developed an amazingly detailed, free full-sized rendering of the kit, which you can print out on heavy stock and assemble at home.
Beginning in 1964, Hess filling stations — which are primarily located on the east coast of the United States — began selling toy trucks around the holidays, as a means of luring dads who were short a few last minute gifts on the way home from the office party.
That tradition continues, even though Hess officially sold off its retail operations to Marathon in 2014. The trucks these days are cheap, unappealing plastic, but the trucks from the 1960s and 1970s are terrific. The tradition has always been to offer trucks with working lights, which continues today.
Gen-X kids remember the Hess “trucks,” but over the years, Hess offered a bunch of non-truck vehicles, including a tanker in 1966, a patrol car in 1993, and a helicopter in 2001, and this super-cool GMC Motorhome in 1980. In 2011, Hess donated 900 trucks to the Salvation Army in North Dakota for underprivileged kids.
Texaco Fire Chief Helmet
Texaco had no official endorsement from any fire protection agencies, but it made a lot of hay out of providing fuels that governments required for emergency vehicle use. It branded all of its high octane (or “Super Octane”) fuels as “Fire Chief,” and used the image of a fire chief’s helmet in all of its advertising.
Kids love fire engines, so the tie-in with some kind of marketing to kids was perfect. Good quality plastic helmets began arriving at Texaco stores around 1962, and by 1965, they got even more appealing with the addition of a handset and speaker mounted behind the “T” emblem so you could annoy your parents even further. For less than four bucks, it was a score.
These days, oil companies like BP want you to think its fuels come from flowers and plants, but beginning at the 1933-1934 Chicago World’s Fair, Sinclair took a more honest approach, perpetually tying its brand to the dinosaurs that would spawn the gasoline in the tank.
Ever after, Sinclair offered a range of plastic toys that reminded kids to bug their moms and dads to fill up at the dinosaur station. Toys ranged from this plastic set, featuring dinosaur names on the bag:
…to a more realistic brontosaurus figure:
…to these more modern plush dinos available through Sinclair’s online store.
Marathon B.C. Comic Dinnerware
Johnny Hart’s daily comic strip B.C. hit newspapers around the country in 1957, and ran until 2007 when Hart died at his drawing table. In the 1960s and 1970s, aside from Peanuts it was one of the most recognized comic strips anywhere.
No wonder the oil company Marathon wanted to license the characters to put on a pretty extensive set of dinnerware in 1970. The heavy-duty Anchor Hocking glassware was sold as individual pieces, and every few weeks Marathon launched a new item for sale. The full set included tumblers, taller glasses, bowls and placemats.