The Journal of American History has an new article for those interested in the history of US transportation finance policy: “Fueling the Boom: Gasoline Taxes, Invisibility, and the Growth of the American Highway Infrastructure, 1919–1956,” by Christopher Wells (Journal of American History, Vol. 99, no. 1, 2012, pp. 72-81).
“In 1938, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the photographer Dorothea Lange turned her camera to a mundane feature of the American landscape: a sign advertising gasoline prices. Unlike most such signs, however, this one broke down its 20½ cents-per-gallon price: gasoline, 5½ cents; state, 5 cents; Uncle Sam, 1 cent; city, 1 cent; railroad, 2¾ cents; agent, 1¼ cents; and “Me,” 4 cents.The joke lay partially in what many saw as the modern equivalent of highway robbery. Yet the humor also depended on another, equally important characteristic of gasoline prices, which always took the form of a flat, per-gallon rate: the rate of taxation was neither listed nor even necessarily known by the seller. Unlike goods with itemized sales taxes, gasoline appeared to be tax free, even if buyers and sellers both typically knew this was not the case.”
~Thanks to Asha W. Agrawal for this post