The crack team behind the invention of the parking meter

Illustration for article titled The crack team behind the invention of the parking meter

Nothing makes the heart swell with pride like a giant scientific collaborative effort, incorporating ideas from many different types of people, to produce a new invention. Unless it's the parking meter. Read this, so you'll know who to curse by name when you get a ticket.


By the 1930s, cars had proliferated to such an extent that they clogged the hearts of most cities. People parked for eight hours a day. If you didn't get in to a city early, you couldn't park. Something needed to be done, and Carl C. Magee was the guy to do it. Magee had moved to Oklahoma City after having just barely been acquitted for manslaughter in New Mexico — which is exactly the kind of background you'd expect for the person who came up with the parking meter. Taking a job as a reporter for a newspaper, he heard about the congestion problems, but only applied himself to it when he was made, by the city council, the head of the Traffic Committee.

Magee came up with the idea of an inexpensive, windable, coin-fed meter. In 1932, he came up with a very crude model, and filed a patent. Although he'd established his claim to the product, he hadn't actually built one that would be a commercial success. To make something that could be manufactured cheaply, he headed to the Oklahoma State Engineering Department, where he got the help of Professor H. Theusen and a recent graduate named Gerald Hale. They painstakingly constructed the inner workings of a meter, only to be confounded when they needed a tough and water-proof outer shell. A local plumber, who was used to containing liquid, came up with something that would stand up to the local weather, and the "black mariah" as they called it, was ready to be manufactured.

In 1935, 175 parking meters were installed around fourteen blocks in downtown Oklahoma City. The inner congestion of the city cleared, the nickel-per-hour rate of the meter delivered a lot of money to the local government, and downtown property values went up. No wonder other cities began demanding the meters.

So when you get a ticket, look skyward and scream, "Damn you, Carl C. Magee!" If you have time, include Professor H. Theusen, Gerald Hale, and the entire plumbing profession, but be sure to feed the meter first.

Image: Luiz Eduardo

[Via Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture]



Dear Zeus

As someone who has to plan an outing to a parking-unfriendly city I am now glad I have something to shout in frustration.