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Chicago businessman's gas giveaway brings hourslong waits and traffic jams

As gasoline prices rose, Chicagoans started waiting in line at 4 a.m. to fill their tanks with some of Willie Wilson's $200,000 worth of free gas.
Chicago Millionaire Donates $200,000 In Free Gas For Residents
Motorists line up Thursday to get free gas at a station in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago.Scott Olson / Getty Images

A Chicago businessman and perennial political candidate's $200,000 gas giveaway Thursday resulted in hourslong lines of cars and traffic jams across the Windy City.

The businessman, Willie Wilson, said Wednesday in a statement that he made the donation because the “soaring price of gas has caused hardship for too many of our citizens.”

Ten stations got $20,000, and representatives hired by Wilson pumped $50 of free gas into each waiting vehicle starting at 7 a.m., Wilson said in a statement.

Cars began lining up as early as 4 a.m. Thursday, and by 7 a.m. police had to help control lines that stretched for blocks, NBC Chicago reported.

To distribute as much free gas as possible, at least one participating station lowered the price of gasoline — already at or near record highs — by about 40 cents per gallon. The average price for a gallon of gas in the U.S. has jumped by almost $1 in the past two weeks.

Wilson became a millionaire after having owned multiple McDonald's franchises and started a medical supply company, NBC Chicago reported. He used his wealth to launch multiple failed campaigns for public office, including bids for president and for mayor of Chicago. He most recently unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 2020.

Despite the long lines and the snarled traffic, at least one of the hundreds of people who lined up said she was grateful.

"I am so thankful that he did it, because it's a hard time, so I thank God that I'm getting some gas and a fill-up!" she told NBC Chicago at a Citgo station.

Online, some wondered whether traffic could have been alleviated by handing out $50 gasoline gift cards to spend at the closest available pump.

Across the U.S. and around the world, gas prices have been bouncing near record highs for weeks, in part because of trade sanctions related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine but also because of pandemic-related inflation and supply chain logjams.