Happy %#@! Anniversary, 1st Parking Meter Installed July 16th

As you dig through your pockets for quarters to pay for your parking spot today, you have an additional reason to curse your parking meter.

Today, for urban motorists everywhere, this day could be labeled an anniversary of evil.

Because this day in 1935, the very first parking meter was installed at the corner of First Street and Robinson Avenue, in downtown Oklahoma City, OK.

Who was the fiendish, twisted genius who conceived this motorist tormenting device 78 years ago?

He was attorney and newspaper editor Carlton Cole “Carl” Magee.

nickel_parking_meter.jpg

As the story goes, Magee came up with the idea shortly after he was named Chairman of the Oklahoma City’s Chamber of Commerce Traffic Committee in 1933.

The city and the chamber of commerce were concerned that when drivers parked and just left their cars all day in front of downtown businesses, other shoppers were being discouraged from spending their money downtown because of the lack of parking spaces.

Magee felt challenged to find a way to regulate parking and conceived of the idea of a coin operated timer for parking spots.

In his quest to design a working parking regulation device, Magee sought the help of Gerald A. Hale and Professor H.G. Thuesen two engineering professors from Oklahoma State University, whom assisted Magee in making his idea a reality just a few months earlier.

According to an account by the Oklahoma Historical Society:

Hundreds of people gathered in the heat and humidity of downtown Oklahoma City to watch 150 of the new meters put into place. According to local papers initial reactions were not favorable and newspapers boys within minutes figured out a way to jam the machines so they would work without using any money. Stores without meters in front began advertising free parking as a gimmick but quickly changed their tune. Business and profit increased significantly for stores located on blocks containing the meters and soon every downtown business demanded meters on their block.

In another account in an article by Bonnie Loyd, in the Spring, 1988 edition of Whole Earth Review the meters had to be installed under the cover of night.

Many citizens were outraged. They claimed it was un-American to pay for parking, and some initiated court actions to remove the meters. The battle attracted national attention, but the meters stayed.

Surprisingly, it would take three weeks before another big first in American history, as it took until August 6th for the first parking ticket in America was issued to Rev. C. H. North.

Magee filed for a patent May 13, 1935 for a “coin controlled parking meter” It took just over three years, but his patent, #2,118,318, was issued May 24, 1938. Less than two months from filing the patent, the first parking meter was bolted into the street of downtown Oklahoma City charging the outrageous sum of a nickel.

parking-meter-_1.jpgAccording to accounts the city paid a whopping $23 per parking meter to the Dual Parking Meter Company–the company Magee founded to manufacture parking meters. It was named “Dual” because, as the story goes, the meters served two purposes, one for controlling parking and two, for revenue generation.

By 1951, just 16 years later, one million parking meters dotted the American scene.

Magee’s meter No. 1 currently resides within a glass case in the State Museum of History in Oklahoma City.

Magee died in Tulsa, OK in 1946.

However, his infernal invention, unfortunately, lives on.

EDITOR’S NOTES: Some accounts list July 14th or 15th as this red letter day in American history. However, most records, including the Oklahoma History Center, have it listed as July 16th.

Special thanks to our friend Sluggo for reminding us of this very special historical anniversary.

4 Responses to Happy %#@! Anniversary, 1st Parking Meter Installed July 16th

  1. Jeff says:

    In and of themselves, parking meters can be quite a useful means to:

    (1) allocate scarce parking spaces in cities; and

    (2) discourage “squatters” from occupying spaces that could be used by shoppers patronizing local businesses.

    Of course Chicago’s parking meter lease has taken what would ordinarily be a valuable city asset, and turned it into an unmitigated financial clusterfuck. Mr. Magee is probably spinning in his grave over this whole fiasco.

  2. The Parking Ticket Geek says:

    Jeff,

    You know, I think you’re right about Mr. Magee.

    The more I think about the Mayor’s meter lease remix, the more I think it accomplished very little. Why didn’t the city try to figure out a way to have a smarter way to determine rates while in negotiations with CPM? Higher rates in some areas, lower rates in others, while still insuring CPM gets the revenue they require.

    I will make the case that parts of Lakeview and Lincoln Park should have higher rates. While in many, many other places the rates are too high.Stupid!

  3. Jeff says:

    Geek:

    Having demand based pricing makes a good deal of sense. Even City Hall could have figured out how to kept the parking meters as a municipal asset, and instead designed a system that charged more for prime spots in commercial areas, and less for meters in more residential areas. Revenue from that price differential could have gone a long way towards reducing Chicago’s yawning budget deficit (rather than enriching the Abu Dhabi Parking Pirates, to whom Chicago is enslaved to for the next 7 decades).

  4. Eric G says:

    Agreed with Jeff on everything.

    Nothing wrong with parking meters if the money goes to the city. That money is then used to pay for various city expenses, which would have to be paid for somehow, be it taxes or parking revenue.

    The problem with Chicago’s current parking meter deal with CPM -a private corporation- is that the money we put into parking meters goes to Morgan Stanley and Abu Dhabi, rather than to the city. If we can fix the schools and the CTA, I wouldn’t mind parking meters. But that’s not where the money is going.

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