Wadham's Oil and Grease Company of Milwaukee
Wadham's Oil and Grease Company of Milwaukee was a chain of
filling and service stations based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the
early 20th century. Their refinery was in Indiana. The company was
headed by Harger W. Dodge who assumed leadership from his
father-in-law in 1916. He saw the potential in offering a convenient
way for automobile owners to fill their cars with gasoline. Dodge
would build off-street filling stations with underground tanks for the
gasoline, and electric pumps to dispense it. Wadham's was
purchased by Vacuum Oil Company in 1930. Vacuum Oil was then
acquired by Socony, which later became Mobil.
Early gas stations were small, ugly or utilitarian buildings that
attracted little notice, and at times even complaints from neighbors.
Dodge hired Milwaukee architect Alexander C. Eschweiler to design
eye-catching stations. Inspired by Japanese culture, which was
popular at the turn of the century, he created Wadham's signature pagoda style buildings.
Each building was unique, having a different roofline and floor
plan. The pagoda-style roofs were made of stamped-metal
tiles. Atop the gabled red roofs many stations had cupolas -
often multi-tiered - with lanterns hanging from the corners. The
walls were black with yellow trim around the copious glass.
They most often featured large plate glass windows on the
front, and multi-pane windows covering the sides. Wadham's
built over 100 of these distinctive pagodas between 1917 and
Few of these stations remain. One, built in 1927, was in use as
a gas station until 1978. It was restored in 2000, and is now a
Registered Historic Place and maintained as a museum display
by the city of West Allis located on the corner of 76
National. Another, built in 1926, is part of the Washington
Avenue Historic District in Cedarburg, and is in use as a
1927 Wadham building located on 76th &
National in West Allis Wisconsin
Dave Immel Automotive Consultant