The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

10 May 2005

Put another nickel in

You don't remember Carlton Cole Magee, but you almost certainly have seen his invention (U.S. Patent #2,118,318, granted in May 1938).

Some years earlier, Carl Magee had wound up on the traffic committee of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, and one of the problems on his plate was the tendency of people who worked downtown to use up the available parking spaces, leaving few or none for retail customers.

Magee's solution was both elegantly simple and incredibly annoying, at least at first: the city would install meters of his design alongside the streets, which would collect a small fee in exchange for a short period of time. The very first parking meter went into service on 16 July 1935; Park-O-Meter, a firm partly owned by Magee, started up shortly thereafter.

There's no doubt that Magee understood the revenue potential of his little box on a pole: his patent application specifies that the device is for "measuring the ... use of parking or other space, for the use of which it is desirous an incidental charge be made upon a time basis."

Oklahoma City is currently upgrading its downtown parking meters, which gives The Downtown Guy an idea:

[W]hy not re-install either the original parking meter or a duplicate of it where the world's first parking meter stood — at Park and Robinson. Install it, charge the original rates for this meter and this one only, and put up a sign next to it explaining that the world's first parking meter was invented and installed here. I know, we're not supposed to like these gadgets, but they're a fact of life and why not give tourists and visitors a whimsical chuckle and picture spot while they are here?

Works for me. I suspect that people's irritation with meters will subside, at least temporarily, when they see that very first meter in action.

Incidentally, POM Incorporated, descended from the original Park-O-Meter company, still makes parking meters — in Russellville, Arkansas.

(Ronald B. Luttrell II, who died in 2000, was working on a book about the history of the parking meter; I have borrowed liberally from his notes, some of which are collected at The Parking Meter Page. A few minor changes have been made since the original post.)

Posted at 8:01 AM to City Scene

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I had heard of lawnmower blogging and toaster blogging, but I had heretorfore not conceived of parking meter blogging.

But surely a reference to "Cool Hand Luke" was in order, don't you think?

Posted by: Gentleman Farmer at 10:05 AM on 10 May 2005

It would have undercut (sorry) my premise to have worked in a reference to chopping off the tops of parking meters.

Posted by: CGHill at 10:37 AM on 10 May 2005