A Reminder Of When Service Stations Sold More Than Just Fuel And Snacks
Miler tires were a replacement available at Cities Service stations and are one collectible that will likely never be reproduced. This pair, seen in the swap meet at the Carlisle Ford Nationals, were the correct size to fit a 1933 or ’34 Ford. While too old and oxidized to ever see service again, the deep tread and well-preserved sidewall detail means they were perfect for display.
What was Cities Service?
Cities Service has been better known since the mid-1960s (and officially known since the early 1980s) as Citgo, and is commonly associated with the Venezuelan government. Before 1986, when resisting a takeover attempt by notorious corporate raider T. Boone Pickens badly destabilized its finances, it was an entirely U.S.-owned company. It was founded in 1910, not as a petroleum-dealing concern, but to supply electricity and natural gas to municipalities—hence the name Cities Service. Within a decade, however, its position in the natural-gas market made it a natural entrant into the gas-and-oil industry and it began exiting the municipal-supply business in the 1940s when forced to choose in response to federal legislation. The familiar triangle-in-cloverleaf logo seen on the sidewall of this tire was first used in 1921, according to company trademark filings.
Why did Cities Service sell replacement tires?
In the 1920s, fuel sellers quickly discovered that there wasn’t enough money to be made simply filling up motorists’ tanks— plus they had a ready supply of other petroleum products available for retail (think lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, etc.). Diversification was the order of the day and Cities Service was hardly alone in selling house-branded merchandise to its customers. Socony-Vacuum’s Mobil brand is well remembered as is that of the Atlas Supply Company, a company jointly owned by several Standard Oil successors. Cities Service was marketing Acme-brand tires in the mid-1930s and by 1950 its halo tire was called the Cities Service Airmaster—a riff on the Milemaster moniker the company had used to label tires (under the Acme brand as Mile-Master), gasoline (or “gasolene” as Cities Service styled it back then), car batteries, and other products as early as 1932.
Just how old is this Miler?
It’s tough to say just when these tires were made. The size, 5.25/5.50 x 17, was common in the early 1930s, being original equipment on the 1933-’34 Ford, the 1933-’36 Chevrolet Standard, some 1933-’35 Plymouths, and other, similarly sized cars. Because those brands all had mass-market appeal, it meant there was a massive replacement market when they were in service— especially since the Great Depression meant not everyone was ready to re-tire with name-brand rubber like Firestone, Goodyear, or B.F. Goodrich (which was later renamed BFGoodrich in the 1980s). Since Milemaster became a Cities Service brand (directly, rather than as an Acme tire) in the 1940s and lasted through the 1960s as a tire brand, they would seem to be from a rather narrow window of time when Acme tires were sold using the Mile-Master name, leaving Cities Service to turn to something purely descriptive for its high-mileage tire. These are probably no newer than the early 1940s.