History of parking

First parking meter

We go back to the early 1920s en -30s in Oklahoma City. There was no regulated parking anywhere yet. People would just park their cars in the streets and leave them there until they need them again. In shopping areas most of the parking spaces were occupied by employees who worked downtown, leaving no room for potential customers. Traffic congestion problems were common in big cities. It was hurting business, and soon people started to think about a way to regulate the parking time.

Because merchants were complaining about the low traffic in the downtown area, they decided to ask Carl Magee for help. Magee immediately thought about a machine which we now know as the parking meter: A machine that sets certain amounts of time for parking. He organized a design contest at the University of Oklahoma to design this newfound parking meter. This was a challenge since the machine had to be operative in all kinds of weather, be vandalism-proof and cost-efficient.  There was a price for the engineering student who could design this machine, but unfortunately none of the students’ entries were approved.

The first working parking meter was designed by Holger George Thuessen and Gerald A. Hale. Hale and Thuessen started working on the parking meter in 1933 because of the assigned project by Carl Magee. They weren’t students anymore, but since the contest didn’t work out these two men were appointed. Thuessen was a professor at Oklahoma State and Hale an engineering graduate. The parking meter they designed was called The Black Maria.

After the contest Magee filed patent for his own design of the parking meter on May 13th, 1935. This parking meter, based on the design of the Black Maria, is known as the Park-O-Meter No. 1. The first parking meter was installed in Oklahoma City on July 16th in the year 1935.

Magee wasn’t the first one to file patent for a parking meter. The first patent for a parking meter was filed by Roger W. Babson on August 30, 1928. Babson was an entrepreneur in the early 20th century. Babson had the idea of creating a parking meter that gets its energy by using the power of the parked vehicle. There would be a connection to from the meter to the cars’ battery. But Babson is not known as the inventor of the parking meter; it was never more than an idea.

Magee started the Magee-Hale Park-O-Meter Company to manufacture the parking meters. The company later changed its name to POM (the initials of Park-O-Meter) and is still active in manufacturing parking meters today.

Most people didn’t care for the idea of paying for parking spaces that were usually free. But soon people in Oklahoma City noticed that the traffic flow improved and the congestions were solved. At first, the parking meter was installed at only one side of a downtown street. They say that businesses already noticed a positive effect within a few days and that three days after the installation of the meters on one side of the street, business owners from the other side of the street demanded that they also got parking meters installed in front of their stores.

The installation of the parking meters didn’t only solve the traffic problems but also created revenue because of the new costs for vehicle owners who wanted to park their car downtown.

Parking Garages

As more people got cars, the need for a place to park it was growing bigger and bigger. Parking became a problem and cities were looking for a solution to park as many cars as possible on as little space as possible.

The first cars weren’t as weather -resistant as today’s cars. Back in the days they had open tops, leather seats and were very sensitive. Therefore, they had to be parked inside where they were safe from the cold, the rain and other bad weather conditions. The first parking garages looked like other buildings where people would store stuff. A car was by most people considered as a machine and nothing more than just a machine, in contrast with today’s idea of cars. The parking garages blended in with the neighborhood; you couldn’t really tell that they were places to store cars. Sometimes parking garages were horse stables, where they would charge the same for parking a car as they did for stalling a horse.

Automated parking system (APS)

The very first automated parking garage was built in 1905: Garage Rue de Ponthieu in Paris, France. People needed more parking spaced, but there was less land available. Tis multi story car park had an internal lift, which moved the cars from one level to another. On these levels a car park attendant would park the car in an available space; people didn’t park their cars themselves. Garage Rue de Ponthieu wasn’t a fully automated parking garage, but many consider this garage to be the first with automated elements and there for the forerunner of the APS. Technically, it’s a semi-automated parking garage.