Sunday, April 5, 2015

Plug or Pay

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

In 2009, Ruth and I visited Bethel, Ohio, in an attempt to capture some photos of an old-fashioned Five and Dime store. Even though this town has a population of less than 3,000, it was nearly impossible to capture the store due to its location at the intersection of two state highways. The traffic was always backed up at the intersection and, after spending a considerable amount of time waiting for even the smallest break in traffic, I gave up and photographed it from the sidewalk near the front of the store.

When I returned to the car, I made sure to capture an old-fashioned parking meter, which Ruth had plugged with change several times to avoid an expired meter and possibly a parking ticket.

It would be another four years before we had the opportunity to again photograph antique parking meters and it was on a return visit to Ohio. This time we hit the jackpot in the city of Pomeroy.

We arrived in town in the early evening and drove down by the Ohio River to locate a rare Battle Ax Plug Tobacco sign on the side of an old brick building.

The street running along the river was full of old parking meters.

In 1913, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society, it was estimated that Oklahoma had 3,000 cars. By 1930, the number of cars in Oklahoma had increased to about 500,000, with the majority registered in Oklahoma County and Oklahoma City, the state capital. In 1935, in an effort to solve a parking shortage for the ever-increasing number of automobiles in downtown Oklahoma City, Carl C. Magee, a newspaperman and chair of the Traffic Committee, came up with the idea of a mechanical parking timer.

With the help of the Oklahoma State University Engineering Department, the parking meter was designed and prototyped. Once manufactured, the world’s first parking meter, known as Park-o-Meter No. 1, was installed on the corner of First Street and Robinson Avenue on July 16, 1935.

The City of Oklahoma installed 175 meters that day along fourteen blocks. When this concept proved successful, meters were placed along the streets of the entire downtown. The cost to park for an hour was a nickel.

Many of the citizens of Oklahoma City considered it un-American to have to pay to park their automobiles, but the retailers were encouraged by the movement of cars and the prospect of more business.

The installation of the parking meters not only solved the parking problems of Oklahoma City, but it also generated a good revenue stream from the parking fees (five cents an hour) and the parking fines ($20 for each violation). By the 1940s, there were more than 140,000 parking meters operating across the country, with yearly revenues totaling around $10 million.

By 1951, there were roughly a million parking meters in the U.S. To make it easier for people to pay their parking fines, the Duncan Parking Meter Corporation developed a payment box called the Fine-o-Meter.

Fine-o-Meters were first put into use on May 21, 1954. The description of this invention that was submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office stated that it was for “envelopes for the reception of fines for overparking in a parking metered zone.” These boxes were installed on the poles of parking meters in a few choice locations around town to make it convenient for parking violators to pay their fines.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this nostalgic look at the evolution of automobile parking in this country. If you’re ever in Oklahoma City, pay a visit to the Oklahoma History Center where you will find the original Park-o-Meter No. 1.

Happy Easter and Happy Shunpiking!

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