July 16, 1935: I Put My Nickel In But Didn’t Get No Music

It didn’t take long after the first automobiles were sold at the turn of the century for traffic congestion to become a problem. By the 1930s, America was fender-deep in automobiles – Fords, Packards and Nashes; Hudsons, Bentleys and DoSotos. And folks weren’t happy just driving these vehicles around; they wanted to park them!

Parking was becoming a big problem, particularly in cities. Downtown merchants were up in arms because their businesses suffered when parking spots were hogged by the same cars all day long. Carl Magee, an Oklahoma newspaperman, came up with an idea: allow vehicles to park for a specific time period, using some kind of timer – a great solution but he didn’t have the least idea how to make such a thing work. He shared his idea with two professors at Oklahoma State University who came up with an operating model of a coin-operated parking meter.

Magee founded the Dual Parking Meter Company – “Dual” because the meters served two purposes, controlling parking and generating revenue. Oklahoma City purchased 150 of the mechanical marvels at $23 each, installing them downtown under the cover of darkness on July 16, 1935.

The meters charged a nickel an hour. There were not a great many satisfied customers. In fact, citizens were outraged. Paying for parking was unAmerican. The brouhaha attracted national attention, but the meters stayed in Oklahoma City, and quickly spread throughout the land. By the early 50s, one million were in operation.

Today’s motorists would be tickled pink to pay but a nickel for an hour of parking – particularly in Chicago where downtown meters now collect $6.50 an hour.

Restore human legs as a means of travel. Pedestrians rely on food for fuel and need no special parking facilities.Lewis Mumford