By Scott Meacham
Entrepreneurs and inventors welcome big challenges.
Oklahoma City was voted the official state capital on June 11, 1910. That same year the stockyards and meat packing plants opened, and the Cattlemen’s Cafe, Oklahoma’s oldest continually operated restaurant (now Cattlemen’s Steakhouse), started serving great cups of coffee and hefty meals to many of the 2,000 people who worked in the nation’s leading livestock handling hub.
In 1915, the Oklahoma City Model-T Ford assembly plant began operations. In a year, there were more cars than horses in the city. By the 1920s, Automobile Alley was home to more than 50 auto dealers. (There were reportedly another 25 more around town.)
Oil was discovered just outside the city limits and by Christmas of 1928, Oklahoma City No. 1 was pumping. The Skirvin Hotel was becoming a destination location with 14 floors and 525 rooms. By 1930, the population of Oklahoma City had tripled from our pre-capital days.
The city was so bustling and busy you couldn’t find a place to park.
Carl Magee, Inventor
Enter Carton (Carl) Cole Magee, attorney, newspaperman, and soon-to-be inventor.
A New Mexico crusading muck-raker of the highest order, Magee had broken the story of the Tea Pot Dome scandal and afterward continued to write relentlessly about political corruption in New Mexico.
In his own genre, Magee was as colorful as any of the cowboys in the Cattlemen’s Cafe. After surviving numerous accusations of libel, being arrested and then being acquitted for an accidental shooting during an altercation in a Las Vegas hotel, Magee exited the West for good.
When he arrived in Oklahoma City to start a newspaper, the parking problem was becoming top of mind. Employees who worked in downtown businesses would come to work and leave their automobiles in parking spaces for the entire day. This meant that customers who wanted to patronize the John A. Brown Department Store and other shops, didn’t have a convenient place to put their cars.
A Better Parking Idea
Congested automobile traffic on the streets reduced foot traffic in the stores. Merchants and residents complained. The Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce listened, and appointed Magee chief of the traffic committee to reduce congestion and improve traffic flow.
Magee landed on the idea of regulating parking time. (He had a bit of market research as a starting point; parking enforcers were already trying to justify parking tickets based on chalk marks.)
Magee tapped into Oklahoma-grown engineering talent from University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to build out his concept of a meter that accepted coins to pay for limited use of a public parking space.
The story goes that the meters installed first on one side of the street so improved things, that the merchants on the other side demanded their share of meters after just three days. At first, parkers didn’t like paying a nickel for an hour’s worth of parking, but they got over that as access to parking improved.
Carl Magee was not an engineer, but he was curious and fearless. He welcomed big challenges and imagined big solutions. He found the Oklahoma talent and the financial resources to solve a problem that was affecting his city’s economy and other cities in other states. By the early 1940s, there were more than 140,000 parking meters across the U.S.
There are more budding “Carl Magees” in Oklahoma. Like Magee, entrepreneurs and inventors welcome big challenges. They deserve the spotlight and our support.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.