First parking meters (1941)

Parking meters line Adams Street between Fifth and Sixth streets in 1947 (Sangamon Valley Collection)

Confusion, reluctance and a little apprehension were Springfieldians’ responses to the city’s first parking meters. The Illinois State Journal described their debut in its Oct. 24, 1941, edition.

Springfield entered a new era of streamlined parking control yesterday as nearly 500 parking meters were officially inaugurated in the downtown district.

As the unaccustomed public was initiated to the meters, a strange emptiness along the curb line struck observers as the initial result of the new devices. Parking places were plentiful during the morning hours. Only a few of the seemingly more “daring” motorists pulled over to the curb, stepped gingerly from their cars and approached the mechanized “hitching posts” with a coin clutched in their fingers.

With apparently sinking hearts, they deposited their coin and, as they walked away, turned around several times to make sure that the devices – and their cars – were still there.

Springfield’s first meters, made by the Dual Parking Meter Co. of Oklahoma City, charged 1 cent for 12 minutes or 5 cents for an hour. There was no in-between – a meter could register only one coin at a time, and it had to be a penny or a nickel. A motorist needed to gauge ahead of time whether he or she would have a brief visit (12 minutes or less) or a long one (which meant spending a nickel).

A prototype of Springfield’s first meters (Courtesy State Journal-Register)

Meters operated from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Sundays and holidays. They were installed on Fifth and Sixth streets from Capitol Avenue to Jefferson Street; Washington and Adams from Fourth to Seventh; and Monroe Street from Fourth to Eighth Street. The minimum overtime fine was $2.

City officials tried to lighten the blow of paying for on-street parking by promising that violators would receive only warnings, not citations, for meter violations during their first three days of use. But that didn’t solve all the problems.

Springfield Police Lt. Dwight Teater, in charge of parking enforcement, fielded complaints on the meters’ opening day, Oct. 23, 1941, Teater’s telephone rang “like a machine gun trained on a bell target,” the Journal said.

Throughout the day, Teater droned over and over again to violators, “Just drop your nickel or penny in here, and see how it works.”

Meters were jammed because they were “overfed,” and repair crews were kept busy “reviving” the mechanisms. Parkers were scratching their heads over the high finances of pennies, nickels and dimes and then joining the steady stream of befuddled believers in more parking space to the police station. …

One man put his nickel in a meter at 7:30 a.m., but said he didn’t think the meter would start counting his hour until 8 a.m. “’He thought we threw a switch here at the station to start them all going at 8 a.m.,’ one policeman commented.” …

A physician complained that his profession entitled him to exemption. Teater explained the law was drawn “without exceptions,” while the doctor retorted: “The mayor and officials in the city hall told us to ignore the meters.”

At the end of the day, however, Teater said he thought “Everything went off fine.”

“Although there was a lot of confusion today, I believe that most of the public is in favor of the meters and that everything will be all right.”

City employees responsible for the take from the meters were Hugh Sponsler, who collected the coins, and Dan Sullivan, who counted them. In April 1947, 5½ years after the meters were installed, Sullivan reported they had taken in almost $338,000, all of it in nickels (almost 6 million) and pennies (more than 4 million).

But motorists also had inserted more than 2,500 fake coins over the years, which Sullivan had saved. Besides blank “slugs,” his collection included tavern trade checks, plastic sales tokens, and a variety of foreign coins.

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