Past Times

Parking meters found their way onto NC streets in 1930s, ‘40s

Raleigh resident Felton Tilley feeds a meter along Fayetteville Street.
Raleigh resident Felton Tilley feeds a meter along Fayetteville Street. N&O Photo

On October 25, 1939, only three years after the first parking meter was introduced in Oklahoma City, Raleigh citizens learned from their morning paper that they would now have to pay to park along Fayetteville Street in the city’s shopping district.

Beginning this morning at 8 a. m., persons parked legally along Fayetteville Street will have inserted into the parking meter before their cars one cent for 12 minutes of parking and five cents for an hour’s parking.

The machine will not be in proper operation until a red flag has appeared on the face of the dial after the coin has been inserted and a complete turn of the meter crank made.

When the dial hand on the meter enters the red area from the white area which indicates paid time, the car is illegally parked. The N&O Oct. 25, 1939

More than 100 parking tickets were issued that first day, although most of them were subsequently excused. By the second day, people were starting to get the hang of it, and in the next 10 years, parking meters caught on. In 1948, writer Jim Chaney took a look at the state of parking meters in North Carolina.

Parking meters are sprouting along the curbstones of more than a score of North Carolina towns and are demanding their toll of nickels from the motoring public, but until the present, the resulting benefit to traffic has scarcely been noted.

The motorist who has fussed and fumed to find the parking place for which demand has steadily increased now encounters the additional task of finding a coin for the parking meter – or forking over $1 if he is luckless enough to forget the five cents.…

The sudden swing to meters throughout North Carolina was attributed, not so much to the sudden demand or yen for coin but to the release of a demand long pent-up. Small towns which long had wanted parking meters were quick to satisfy the desire after the 1947 General Assembly repealed a statute which hitherto had restricted the coin collectors to towns of 20,000 or greater population.…

Since the start of the meter movement, the curse of meter maker and metered cities has been the slug. Most modern meters have been made slug-proof except to the expert crook, either by milling the coin slot to the proverbial hair’s breadth of tolerance or by setting the mechanism so sensitively that it will tick only when perfect coins fall through it.

Practically all meters have glass insets through which coins may be viewed en route from slot to receptacle. Thus, slugs which jam the works are visible to any cop who happens to be alert and interested enough to work – and when it comes to parking meters most cops apparently are – while the car for which the phony coin was inserted still is in the parking spot.

Then, there’s the matter of the sticky fingered collector. Because even preachers and college presidents have been known to pocket a dollar or two when they figured their “occasional loans” would not be missed, meter makers are giving lots of thought and gadgetry to making it more and more difficult for a coin to go astray. When a nickel can be slipped aside without notice, soon nickels go by the dozens.

The sticky fingers are checked, therefore, by equipping meters with devices which count coins as they fall or with tamper-proof, sealed coin receptacles, or with both.

No creation of a bureaucratic police chief, the parking meter was born in the brain of a newspaperman.

Some 12 years ago, as the nation was digging its way out of the depression, Carl C. Magee, lawyer, editor and businessman, hit on the idea of selling time. The trick, obviously, lay in a coin meter. Aided by one G. A. Hale, an instructor in the Industrial Engineering Department of Oklahoma A. & M. College in Stillwater, Okla., he translated his scheme into the mechanical contraption so common today. On July 16, 1935, he put his invention to work in Oklahoma City.

About the time that Magee was putting in his meters at Oklahooma City, a Hartford, Conn., manufacturer – M. H. Rhodes, Inc., – was building up a reputation as a timing device specialist. A private group in Miami, Fla., motivated probably by reports of Magee’s success, asked Rhodes to turn out a parking meter. The gadget would be marketed, it was explained, through the Mark-Time Parking Meter Company of Miami.

In June, 1936, Rhodes had filled the order and the first Rhodes meters were installed in Miami. Magee’s meters required only that the motorist drop in his coin. The Rhodes meter-user was instructed to drop in coin and turn a small crank. With the Magee meter, the motorist had to rely on the serviceman to keep the clock spring wound. With the Rhodes meter the motorist, by turning the handle, wound the clock itself.…

Design and adaptability vary with the manufacturer. Some are advertised as weatherproof, tamperproof, etc. In extremely cold sections, heating units are included to prevent the accumulation of snow and ice.

Vandalism plagues the mind of the meter designer. One design, using a bright red ball to indicate lapsed parking time, proved too inviting a target for marksmen. One maker encased his machine entirely in metal, except for a tiny signal window, to discourage vandals.

Working towards a similar goal, M. H. Rhodes has developed a “magic link” which snaps, safety valve fashion, when foreign matter is forced into the coin slot, thus preventing injury to more valuable parts. The links, priced at a few cents each, can be replaced for a fraction of the cost of the meter mechanism.

All of this seems to inspire meter abusers to new deviltry. Soda fountain straws and uncurled paper clips regularly are dug into meter innards in efforts to trip the clockwork. In LaFayette, Ind., recently, five Purdue University students were hauled up before the courts for carrying away four parking meters from LaFayette streets as souvenirs. The N&O Jan. 18, 1948

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Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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