Red flag from the gasoline shortage of 1973-1974

In late 1973 and 1974, many Americans had to cope with limited supplies of gasoline because of an oil embargo imposed by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Some state governments took drastic action to distribute gasoline as evenly as possible and maintain order at gasoline stations. New Jersey imposed mandatory odd-even rationing based on calendar dates and license plate numbers, prohibited sales when the car’s tank was at least half full, and required a system of flags at gasoline stations to alert motorists about supplies. This red flag, mounted on a small staff, warned customers at Closter Exxon in Closter, New Jersey that the station was temporarily out of gasoline. A yellow flag indicated that supplies of gasoline were limited, and a green flag meant that the station was open for business as usual under state law. The state-issued flags and regulations didn’t sit well with some gasoline station owners. One owner, who wanted to let supply and demand dictate sales without government-imposed restrictions, tried to burn his flags in public, claiming that the new law was “un-American.” When he learned that open fires were not permitted at gasoline stations, he “burned” the flags with acid. After OPEC lifted the oil embargo, fill-ups returned to normal. This red flag, stored in the attic of Closter Exxon for 38 years, is a grim reminder of the deprivations and chaotic conditions during the shortage and their effects on daily transportation.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Physical Description
fabric (overall material)
overall: 25 3/4 in x 38 in; 65.405 cm x 96.52 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Road Transportation
See more items in
Work and Industry: Transportation, Road
Road Transportation
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Closter Exxon through Glenn Bourke, Jr.

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