How did parking meters become popular?

Parking meter circa 1940 (Source: wikipedia)

I’ve never met someone who is happy with parking meters. Meters are pesky and inconvenient, often caked with filth from weather or people, and as the conspiracy theory goes, designed to trap people into receiving those lovely parking tickets. And yet they’re prevalent in just about every city. And we the average peoples put up with them.

That though is nothing new. As an American society, we’ve been putting up with meters since 1935. That’s when they were introduced. 150 of them on a handful of downtown streets in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on July 16th.

But while many of us associate parking meters with city revenue, they were first introduced to solve a different problem. At the time cars were becoming popular, quite popular in fact. Between 1900 and 1935, 50 million cars were sold. America was evolving into a society of drivers and cities were trying to adjust to this new trend. And for most American cities the adjustment was difficult, as roads and infrastructure in general were never built to support cars.

So behavior of people with their cars was causing all sorts of problems for cities. In downtown areas of cities, people were leaving cars parked for hours and sometimes days. This lead to double parking becoming prevalent and congestion was a norm.

None of this was good for business owners who want turnover. Give customers enough time to shop, but then have them leave so that other customers can shop. To counter the problems, different cities used different methods — some let people park cars all day for free, others like Los Angeles banned cars completely during the day for a period of time. But it wasn’t until the introduction of parking meters that the congestion and turnover problem was solved.

When Oklahoma City first introduced meters, there was pushback from citizens. Free parking is a right the populace demanded. But business owners helped keep the meters in place. And of course the parking meters were good for the government too. It meant more revenue for the city.

Today, parking meters are becoming easier to use. With apps to help manage payments, the experience has definitely improved. All in good time for driverless cars to become popular.

Sweet Harlem, I Made It

Sweet Harlem, I Made It
Source: Library of Congress

I wasn’t born in Harlem. The truth is, most of us weren’t.

My life began in rural Mississippi, in a small town with rickety homes made from mismatched wooden beams, that line disheveled dirt roads. I was born in a truly unremarkable country basin, in the bedrock of racist America, into a society where rules to govern were little more than blots of black ink on stale sheets of white paper. For they were empty words of broken promises, as Jim Crow was put in place for the solace of segregation. To appease and placate the hate filled hearts and corrupted minds of men and women for whom racial prejudices were still life’s norm. I was born into a society in which a mob was the jury and a noose was the verdict.

This was life for my parents. And likely, it was to be my destiny too. But I reason my parents got tired of the racism and the burden of raising me in world with so few opportunities. So we moved. It was early 1913 then. The destination was to be Harlem, a grand place we were told.

My parents sold everything we had to buy tickets for the many train rides we were about to take. But these proceeds would not be enough. We had to stop in a few cities for periods of time so that my parents could earn more money to buy more train tickets. On most days, I’d work too. Child labor was in high demand and money was sparse. The cost of the train rides was expensive. And we had many miles to cover.

Finally, after months in travel, we made it. We arrived at a brand new Grand Central Station on August 16th, 1913. I stepped out to the rumbling noises of cars and people, trains, horses and carriages. It seemed like all the world was hunkered down in a handful of city blocks. There were people of every shape and color talking in languages I had never heard. Wearing clothes I had never seen. Or at least that’s how the world felt to me that day.

Back then, Harlem was the destination for many black migrants moving from the South. Named after the old city of Haarlem near Amsterdam in the Netherlands, it had the distinguished feel of a European city, or at least of what I could imagine. I’d say it was the brownstones, their royal presence with stately columns and tall, solid wood doors, incased in arched entries reminiscent of grandeur old European architecture. And the windows, how big and elegant they were. There to catch all the summer shine.

We moved in with my uncle and his family who were already living in Harlem when we arrived. Two families of nine total, living in a two bedroom flat could seem chaotic. But for us, there was a comfort to this new home. Even though crowded, the chaos and poverty were different here then back in Mississippi. And regardless, it was our new home. We had arrived.

How did sneakers become popular?

First all star converse.jpg
The 1917 All-Star sneaker. Source:

Sneakers today are the norm to wear for much of America. Whether it’s going to school or going out, the vast majority of people we see are wearing one of the myriad fashions for kicks. But how did this come to be?

You can say the historical record started in 1908 when a 47 year old Marquis Mills Converse, a well groomed and lifelong respected manager started his own company, Converse Shoes. They made rubber soled shoes for winter first, then in 1915 for tennis players, and in 1917 the company introduced the All-Star basketball shoe.

During this time, in Indiana, a basketball player at Columbus High by the name of Chuck Taylor fell in love with the All-Star basketball shoe. Chuck was a lanky white kid, with a prominent nose and insightful eyes. By most accounts, he was a good basketball player at best. But he was likable, and he understood the footwear needs of basketball players. He was also a gifted salesman who knew how to pitch himself and his ideas. In 1921, Converse hired Chuck Taylor after he arrived unannouced at their Chicago office.

With his drive and passion, Converse introduced the Chuck Taylor sneaker, and it became the shoe to wear for basketball players. In 1936, the sneakers were the official shoe for the US basketball team participating in the Olympics. Then “during WWII, Taylor became a fitness consultant for the US military. GIs were soon doing calisthenics while wearing Chuck Taylor sneakers that had become the official sneaker of the US Armed Forces (Wikipedia).”

In the 1950’s, sneakers extended beyond sportswear and became the norm for daily wear. Much of this was the result of James Dean and his love for the Jack Purcell’s, a sneaker designed by a former world badminton champion (and which was later acquired by Converse). The Jack Purcell sneakers were similar to Chuck Taylor’s, but appealed to a different segment of society. These sneakers were prominent in the rebellious rock culture of the time, broadening the overall appeal of sneakers.

Stories such as the rise of sneakers as a cultural norm remind me of the Harriet Tubman quote, “All dreams begin with a dreamer.” Chuck Taylor wasn’t the only reason sneakers became popular, but he was certainly the catalyst to usher in the change. And as a result, more than 600 million pairs of Chuck Taylor’s have been sold. It’s remarkable how influential just one person can be in driving cultural change.