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Oklahoma Journeys

Carl Magee Dies

2011-01-29

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He was a crusading lawyer in Tulsa, turned crusading newspaperman in Albuquerque and Oklahoma City, and inventor of the parking meter. It was on February 1, 1946, that he died following a career described as packing the experiences of several lifetimes into just one. Carl Magee, our subject this week onOklahoma Journeys from the Oklahoma History Center.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Journeys. I'm Michael Dean.

Carl Magee is a name not many are familiar with but his lasting legacy, a machine he helped develop, is something we all are very familiar with. Carlton Magee was born in Iowa in 1873, graduated from the State College of Iowa, served as a school superintendent in Iowa,then in 1903 moved to Tulsa and was admitted to the Oklahoma Bar as an attorney. Through 1920 he was described as a crusading attorney and perhaps that crusading spirit led him to another career, that of crusading newspaper editor.

He moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he edited three newspapers over the next seven years. In 1921 President Warren G. Harding named former New Mexico Senator Albert Fall Secretary of the Interior where, among other things, he soon gained jurisdiction over three oil fields that were part of the U.S. Navy's oil reserves. He then took bribes from various oil men to sell leases in the oil reserves. One of the reserves was in Wyoming at a place called Tea Pot dome. Tulsa oilman Harry Sinclair wound up with a lease there; meantime, Carl Magee discovered what was happening and began writing about it. That ultimately led the scandalto becoming a national news story. Albert Fall and Harry Sinclair among others went to prison, and Magee now had a nationwide reputation as a crusading newspaper editor. During his career in New Mexico, Magee exposed corruption in the state court system, and in a chance meeting in a hotel, one of the judges knocked Magee to the floor. Magee pulled a pistol and fired at the judge but missed and killed an innocent bystander. He was tried and acquitted of manslaughter but soon after left New Mexico for Oklahoma City.

About the same time, oil was discovered in South Oklahoma City, and soon the city was filled with drill rigs and roughnecks and downtown office spaces filled with accountants, attorneys, land men, and secretaries. By January 1933, people going downtown to shop couldn't find parking spaces anymore. The downtown retailers persuaded the city council to appoint a joint traffic study committee; Carl Magee was named chairman.

Magee had the idea of timing devise mounted on the curb to be set by the motorist after he parked; using coins, it also provided an economic deterrent to people abusing the parking rules. Magee worked with several engineering professors he knew at Oklahoma A & M College, and by the summer of 1935, his devise was ready for use. The Oklahoma City Council was split over the idea of charging people to park on public streets, but finally on July 16, 1935, the first parking meters were made operational.

Magee passed away on February 1, 1946, and is buried with his wife and son in Tulsa. Carl Magee, crusading attorney, newspaper editor, and father of the parking meter, Oklahoma City's gift to the world.

You can see the first parking meter on display at the Oklahoma History Center, NE 23rd Street just east of the state capitol. Oklahoma Journeys is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.