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The Parking Meter Celebrates Its 80th Birthday!


Lawyer, reporter, Carl C. Magee was a man who could truly claim he did it all. Not only was he a part of helping uncover one of the U.S.’s largest corruption controversies (Teapot Dome scandal); oddly enough, he also dabbled in politics and publishing, and even attempted to murder a judge. While he missed, but shot an innocent bystander, the attempted murder charges thankfully didn’t define who he was, or who he became.

With a life like what is described above, one would wonder why a story about Magee is popping up on an auto news site; but the reality is, Magee was many things, including the inventor of the parking meter.

MSN reports that after 30 years of enjoying free parking, once the first vehicle hit the U.S. market, by the 1930s, American cities were feeling the pressure and congestion that no formal parking system brought. The solution? Magee’s Park-O-Meter! With that creative name, also came a creative parking solution, but the entire concept didn’t happen overnight.

The device was developed for the downtown district in Oklahoma City, as Magee was on the board of their Chamber of Commerce. While Magee came up with the parking meter idea in 1932, which had a mailbox feel to it, and a prototype name of ‘Black Maria’; he showed it off in May 1935, the first one was installed in Oklahoma City in July 1935, and Magee patented the idea in 1936.

The meters took nickels, and depending on location, allowed drivers to park their vehicles for about 15 minutes to one hour. Like anything new, people hated it at first, but at the end of the day, the concept made money for cities; and plenty of money for Magee. So much so, that he created the Park-O-Meter company, and started supplying as many of the gadgets as he could, to any city that wanted some.

As such, today’s parking meter may be considered a shadow of its former self, as people can pay for their parking with bills, credit cards, or debit cards; but Magee clearly started something, so much bigger, than he could even imagine. So sure, there are disgruntled drivers, who still grumble about having to ‘pay to park their vehicle’; but the Park-O-Meter not only revolutionized a city parking system, it also created many jobs along the way … mainly the position of meter maid.

Curious about what the first Park-O-Meter looks like? You may want to check out the Oklahoma Historical Center, in its Statehood Gallery. Not sure if parking is free though …