The development of e.g., engine oil shows certain parallels to that of fuel. There's more to it than the fact that they both originate from crude oil. Just as the petrol-engine developers and chemists have worked hand-in-hand for more than 100 years, to utilise the ever increasing technical possibilities of petrol to improve the performance and effectivity of engines, such was also the development of lubricants, even though the aims were different.
Thereby (unfortunately), the fruits of this development was never really given the attention it deserved by the technical press. Indeed, it did deserve attention, take only one example, the drastically reduced service intervals. To some extent, the manufacturers of lubricants were themselves to blame, they were, and in fact still are, e.g., placing their advertising at especially expensive locations (Formula 1) and so, are creating the impression that the price of their expensive products is being channeled into the budgets of the promoters instead of into the development of even better oils.
Thus nowadays, we can safely say, although the average car-driver may know something about the workings of his car, he knows just about nothing about the lubricants which are used. Environmental protection, the long intervals between services and the zero rates for simple oil changing have played their part in discouraging the car owner from the earlier, frequent Do-It-Yourself mentality. As long as there are those who, when topping up, fill the engine to the brim and then still allow themselves to be waited on at the filling station …
It used to be quite different. At the beinning of the automobile era, a chauffeur was actually a necessity, apart from his services as a driver, he also had to maintain and care for the vehicle. It was quite normal to see them with an oil-can or a jar of yellow grease in their hands. At the time, there was no central lubrication system, one was familiar with each and every lubrication point. It was to remain this way for a long time, only in the 1970's did the last grease-nipple dissapear from the motor car. They are however, still found in utility vehicles today.
With the vehicle from the period shortly after 1900 the cylinder head (if it could be removed at all) had to be taken off from time to time, for the purpose of removing the oil-carbon from the pistons. Grinding the valves by hand was something that the good chauffeur also had to be able to do. For want of a grease-gun, the grease was applied with the finger, indeed, also not the most efficient method. Even earlier, the engines had little, refillable glass jars on their lubrication points, which allowed the oil to slowly trickle in, of course only with slow moving parts.
Frequent oil-checking is not the worst way of preserving a vehicle. A typical method used by owners of veteran cars e.g., is to put only one layer of paint on the motor car underside and not a thick plastic layer, this way any weak points, at least when regularly inspected (!), which was quite normal earlier, do not remain hidden for long. Indeed, with all this permanent regreasing, where did the excess lubricant land? In the environment of course.
That's what it was like when the apparatuses having a pipeline to the lubrication points appeared, they were, e.g., to be operated every 10 kilometers. As long as there was one (hand) pump per lubrication point, it was okay, apart from the environmental aspect. However, this type of central lubrication is still around in utility vehicles, either pneumatically or electrically driven, indeed, not with oil, as it used to be, but with liquid- or normal grease. With this system a lubriction point can more easily be under-supplied. The famous Adenauer-Limousine still had a reminder-display in the speedometer showing when the central lubrication was to be operated, although only in 100 km intervals. 11/11