Parking Meters -The Great Constitutional Threat of 1935

Bryan ROctober 31st, 2007
By: Bryan R

They were dark times; The Great Depression was in full swing and tensions were running high with hunger marches and small riots becoming commonplace. Despite these difficulties, auto sales continued to the point where the existing road system in many American cities was struggling to cope with the sudden onslaught of so many cars and as a response, the late '30s and early '40s saw the construction of our first freeways. While these improvements helped cars get around, soon as they arrived at their destination parking was hard to come by.

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The popularity of cars was on the rise

In fact it was worse; parking was chaos. The Wall Street Journal notes “Employees of downtown businesses hogged spaces for whole days; some merchants deliberately parked their cars in front of competitors' stores. Trucks loading or unloading double-parked. In most cities, there were no marks on curbs to delineate spaces. In the few timed spaces, enforcement by chalking the tires was easy to beat. And the art of parallel parking was in its infancy.”

The situation was a loose-loose. For the driver, the situation was exasperating and discouraging. For the retailers, who depended upon a high turnover of customers, the lack of parking could lead to ruin. Clearly, something had to be done.

Oklahoma City decided to act and based on the insights of a local city newspaper editor the first parking meter was invented and then installed in July, 1935. It was a simple machine that accepted a nickel for an hour of parking. Suffice it to say that this first parking meter was not well received.

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Birth of the meter

Paying for parking, it was argued, is simply un-American, even unconstitutional. The dispute was that charging for parking was an illegal infringement on the citizen’s right to free use of the public streets- streets that were built with public funds. The parking meter was, essentially, an instrument for collecting a parking tax, a tax that was illegally levied which depraved owners of the full use of their property

It was claimed that the tax was unfair and burdensome and that it was going to hurt the little guy the most. "This [the parking meter] is just a combination of an alarm clock and a slot machine which is being used for further socking the motorist, who is already paying enough in taxes," suggested William Gottlieb of the Automobile Club of New York. The parking meter went onto be legally challenged and in some cases was found to be an unacceptable exercise of a city’s taxing authority.

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Articles in Series
  1. Parking Meters -The Great Constitutional Threat of 1935
  2. Parking Meters - Warming Up to the Idea
  3. Parking Meters - The Effects Today
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