An OKC-invented Solution to Parking Woes - 405 Magazine

An OKC-invented Solution to Parking Woes

Feeding the Meter.

Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Carl Magee at his desk with his invention, the parking meter.

Free parking on Oklahoma City’s downtown streets was the norm in the early 1930s, but that was about to change.

Street parking had become a problem, with workers — who usually arrived early and didn’t move their cars until quitting time — snagging most of the nearby spots. Retail shoppers, along with anyone with bank or business appointments, often had to park blocks away, leaving many people unhappy on a daily basis.

In 1932 the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce urged Carl C. Magee, chairman of the Traffic Committee, to find a solution for the insufferable parking problem.

Magee, a lawyer and newspaperman who came from New Mexico to Oklahoma City six years earlier to spearhead the Oklahoma News publication, envisioned a small, mechanical timed device that would be easy to use and monitor. He built a rough prototype; patented it; and then collaborated with professors at what is now Oklahoma State University on a working model.

The world’s first parking meter, known as the Park-O-Meter, was installed on the southeast corner of what was then First Street and Robinson Avenue in front of First National Bank on July 16, 1935. More than 170 other meters were installed and tested along 14 blocks in Oklahoma City. Initially, the rollout called for meters on just one side of the street, but that changed almost immediately as city officials saw parking congestion ease. Nearly 300 more meters were installed by year’s end.

One nickel bought one hour of parking, and losing track of time was costly: A $20 fine was issued for cars left parked at an expired meter. Some people complained that meters were just a way to cushion city coffers, but there was no going back. Interest was piqued by local newspapers often featuring pictures and stories about the meters, including one about a 9-year-old girl who deposited a nickel thinking it was a gumball machine.

Dallas soon added meters on local streets, followed by other cities in Texas and Kansas. Magee’s Dual Parking Meter Co., named for the dual functions of measuring parking time and collecting fees, thrived with more than 50,000 meters sold between 1935 and 1940.

To promote the meters to other cities, Magee made a film showing Oklahoma City’s streets before and after the meters, and how the machines worked and were serviced. In 1937, the meter’s name was changed from Park-O-Meter to Dual Parking Meter to channel the company name — which eventually became the Magee-Hale Park-O-Meter Co.; Magee served as president until his death in 1946.

As decades passed, it became more difficult to find parts for mechanical parking meters. In 2017, Oklahoma City started replacing its familiar meters with multispace kiosks that are computerized and accept credit cards. Spaces are still patrolled and expired time still results in a citation issued electronically and uploaded to the municipal court system.

These days, charge cards are a convenient way to feed the meter. Who still carries around a pocketful of change? And even those few who do may not have the correct coins needed … as was the case for Reverend C.H. North all the way back in 1935. 

A month after the first meters were installed, the reverend parked at one only to realize he had no nickel. He ran into a nearby store to get change, but a ticket was waiting for him when he returned. It was the first ticket given for a parking meter violation in Oklahoma City.

As CBS News reported in 2022 during a segment on the meter’s anniversary, “… even God can’t save you from a parking ticket.”