Detroit Lakes may be a small, quaint community that is regionally famous for things like its lakes and kicked-back, relaxed living. But decades ago, the city was known around the world for what was known as the “smallest gas station in the world.”
Some may remember the teeny-tiny, 3 ½-foot-by-4-foot Standard station that sat right downtown next to where the Graystone building is today.
In 1937 the tiny station was featured in “Ripley’s Believe it Or Not” publication (before it became a TV show) and was also featured in a 1949 issue of “Science and Mechanics” magazine.
According to information gathered from the Becker County Historical Society, the smallest gas station in the world was owned by J.M. Sauer and his sons, Roy and Lee.
The inside of the gas station was so tiny that it had only enough room for one person; however, it did have a much larger room downstairs. A trap door in the little gas station featured a spiral staircase that went down into a larger space where there was a bathroom and a storage area for things like bulk oil.
It is noted that the station was robbed of $750, which was the total receipts from two days, on July 6, 1925.
Despite that though, business appeared to be good. The station also happened to be located conveniently close to the bus station at the time, which meant bus drivers were often filling up there, while tourists took the opportunity to get photos of the “world’s smallest gas station”.
But according to literature with the Becker County Historical Society, business began to dry up for the Standard station when gas started being rationed and hard to get as World War II approached. The Sauer brothers went off into the service, and at that point, the station closed. When the brothers returned from service, the tried to buy the tiny gas station back, but Standard instead chose to sell it to the city for $500. It was then tore down in 1950.
But the story of the world’s smallest gas station didn’t die that day; The Lake Region Builders Association rebuilt a replica of the station for just over $1,000.
It still sits down in the lower level of the Becker County Historical Society, all shiny red and exactly the size of the building that once put Detroit Lakes on the world map.