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.
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.
According 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.