First Parking Meters in D.C.

Ugh, nobody likes parking meters. I always forget to have enough change, but thankfully, Parkmobile has saved the day.

But, for our less fortunate grandparents, the installation of parking meters was a serious pain in the ass back in the 1930s.

This brilliant, money making nuisance was first installed in Oklahoma City in 1935 to help reduce congestion and encourage parking turnover … and of course, generate revenue for the city, both from the meters and parking tickets.

Melvin Hazel testing out a nickel parking meter in 1938

Melvin Hazel testing out a nickel parking meter in 1938

To say that meters were controversial would be an understatement. Pay to park your car on a public street? How unbelievably American.

Pay your taxes to make sure the streets are paved, swept and patrolled by police … AND now pay to park your car on them? You can imagine how objectionable this proposal was, not to mention having the appearance of an unfair tax. Wealthy people had no issues forking over the nickel, but it added up for regular folks.

Needless to say, people were pissed. One such person wrote a letter to the editor, published in the Washington Post on December 9th, 1938, entitled “Parking Meter Taxes.”

To the Editor of The Post–Sir: The purpose of this letter is to ask a question that must have occurred to many people: Bu whose authority were the parking meters installed in downtown Washington?

The parking fee is nothing more nor less than a tax, and the power to tax rests with the people. The people of Washington are taxed heavily and without their consent, in return for which they receive inadequate police protection, antiquated fire-fighting equipment, and schools forced to operate in the winter with poor heat and light because of a a curtailed budget.

Today there is a great hue and cry, and rightly so, against the undemocratic policies of certain European nations, but let us look to the protection of our own rights under a Constitution that places sovereignty in the hands of the people.

The fathers fought a bitter war for the right to tax themselves  The people of Maryland were subjected to a Nazi-like rule during the Civil War when a citizen was shot dead for shaking his fist at Federal troops passing through the State, a man was kept in jail after Chief Justice Taney had personally made a trip to Baltimore to declare on the legality of the action, and the use of the polls was limited to the people of one political party.

When the District officials announce that the people of Washington will be taxed for parking on their own streets, it is just as serious an offense against democracy as the above instances. And to those who claim the meters are not a tax but an attempt to regulate parking, we refer them to the Drexel Furniture case, where the Supreme Court disallowed a tax on products of child labor because it was not a tax but an attempt to regulate.

Nowhere in America are the people taxed without their consent. Why not let the people of Washington into the Union to enjoy the privileges and immunities of a democracy.

JOHN B. STRUBLE.
Washington, Dec. 6.

Wow. There are quite a few subtexts in this hyperbolic letter. Where do we start? The Nazis in 1938, ramping up power and control in Germany, on the brink of unleashing the worst war the world has ever seen? Okay, but the Maryland comparison is a little much. Probably a little much.

man checking out parking meters in 1938

man checking out parking meters in 1938

Also, I don’t know if we should take solace in the fact that John is complaining about high taxes and crappy District services. Things don’t change do they?

… and the D.C. statehood people will love that last line.

By the way, do you think Ron Paul ghost wrote this letter? Pun intended.


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