In A Nutshell
Carl Magee was quite an interesting character. He exposed some of America’s most corrupt politicians, shot a man to death, and created one of the most irritating inventions of all time. Every time you have to pay for parking, you can thank this guy.
The Whole Bushel
You’ve probably never heard of Carl Magee, but if you’ve ever parked your car in a major city, chances are good you’re going to hate his guts. Originally an Albuquerque reporter, Magee was kind of like a 1920s version of Bob Woodward. He played a key part in uncovering the infamous Teapot Dome Scandal, and when he wasn’t busting the feds, he was busy rooting out corruption in his home state of New Mexico.
However, things took a really weird turn when Magee ran into a corrupt judge he’d recently lambasted in his newspaper. After a brief scuffle, Magee actually pulled out a pistol and fired at the judge. Only problem was that he missed and killed a curious bystander. After he was (somehow) acquitted of manslaughter, Magee packed his bags and headed for Oklahoma City. However, once he showed up, he found the Sooner State was plagued by an issue far more serious than corruption.
Like many big American towns, Oklahoma City had a parking problem. People just parked their cars along the curb and left them there all day long. If you didn’t show up for work in the wee hours of the morning, well, good luck trying to find an empty space.
Fed up with congested streets and desperate motorists, the Oklahoma City council appointed the newly arrived Magee as head of the city’s traffic committee. As you might’ve guessed, his first goal was to come up with a solution to the parking pandemic. So in 1932, Magee drew up the plans for a device that would revolutionize the world: the parking meter.
Of course, Magee wasn’t a mechanical genius. That’s why he marched over to Oklahoma State Engineering Department and asked Prof. H. Theusen and a recent graduate named Gerald Hale to make his masterpiece. As the two brains worked on all those intricate gears, Magee hired a local plumber to design a watertight exterior so the meter could survive those tempestuous Okie thunderstorms.
Finally, in July 1935, Oklahoma City was introduced to the world’s first “Park-O-Meters.” It took a nickel per hour to placate these hungry machines, and as you might expect, there were quite a few people who took issue with the invention. Some even claimed the devices were un-American. Nevertheless, the parking meter worked like a charm. Now that people were forced to pay up or move on, more and more customers were able to frequent local stores and employees could actually get to work on time. Business started booming, property values started to rise, and soon the parking meter was a common sight in cities around the world.
Darn you, Magee.
Show Me The Proof
History: World’s first parking meter installed
io9.com: The crack team behind the invention of the parking meter
Oklahoma Historical Society: Carl Magee Dies