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Selling Gasoline with a Smile: Gas Station Attendants between the United States, Italy, and the Third World, 1945–19701

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 July 2012

Elisabetta Bini
New York University


This article analyzes the ways in which Esso Standard Italiana, the Italian affiliate of Standard Oil (New Jersey), and the state-owned firm Azienda Generale Italiana Petroli (Italian General Oil Company, Agip), redefined the job of gas station attendants in post-war Italy. It argues that, drawing on US scientific management and marketing, the two companies advanced a new understanding of masculinity and class. They promoted the idea that gas station attendants should distance themselves from the forms of male working-class identity that were associated with mechanical work and combine technical expertise with the ability to market products by relying on appearance. It shows how during the 1960s Agip exported such Americanized business practices to the developing world, by organizing a series of training courses for gas station attendants from North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. This article looks in turn at how attendants challenged the two companies' efforts to standardize and rationalize their services by joining trade associations and organizing strikes, in the name of their rights as shopkeepers and small businessmen.

Labor and Global Commodities
Copyright © International Labor and Working-Class History, Inc. 2012

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