Tuesday, March 14, 2023

My Rabbit Trail Led to Oklahoma Inventions

Not too long ago, I went down a fun rabbit trail while researching a potential story idea. In my search for a historical event to spark a story, I looked up Oklahoma historical timelines. And that led me to the rabbit trail as I learned all kinds of commonly used items had their start in the Sooner State.

Here are three Okie inventions plus bonus info on a food franchise.

Parking Meter 

Like most major cities in the early 1900s, Oklahoma City had a problem—too many cars driving around the downtown area with nowhere to park.

Parking Meter, ca 1940
Carl C. Magee, a lawyer and newspaper publisher with a colorful past, worked with two Oklahoma State University engineering professors, Holger George Thuesen and Gerald A. Hale, to find a solution.

About two years later, on July 16, 1935, the world’s first installed parking meter was erected on the southeast corner of “what was then First Street and Robinson Avenue” (History).

On May 24, 1938, Magee received a patent for the invention. 

Magee is also known for his adoption of a quote from Dante for the Albuquerque Tribune, the newspaper he founded, which is now the motto for the E.W. Scripps Cpmpany: 

“Give Light and the People Will Find Their Own Way.” 

Magee died in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1946 (Magee). 

Full Disclosure ~ American entrepreneur and economist Roger W. Babson filed a U.S. patent for a parking meter on August 30, 1928—almost seven years before Carl Magee. However, Babson’s meter operated on the parked automobile’s battery power. 

Can you imagine having to hook up a connection to your car’s battery whenever you park at a meter? It’s so much easier to pop in a few coins.

Roger Babson ran for president against incumbent President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940 as a member of the Prohibition Party. Born in Massachusetts in 1875, Babson died in Florida in 1967 (Babson).

Shopping Cart

Oral Watson's
Patent Documents

About a hundred years ago, shoppers only bought a few groceries at a time—no more than they could carry—or had them delivered. Sylvan Goldman, owner of Oklahoma’s Humpty Dumpty supermarket chain and a pioneer in the self-serve concept, wondered how his customers could transport more groceries.

One evening in 1936, he put a basket on the seat of a wooden folding chair and wheels on the legs. Fred Young, a mechanic and one of Goldman’s employees, tinkered with the original design and created a metal frame with two wire baskets, one above the other. 

Goldman was awarded a patent on April 9, 1940 for his “Folding Basket Carriage for Self-Service Stores” (Shopping Cart).

 Though we almost always grab a cart when we head inside a store, whether we need one or not, Goldman’s grocery store customers had to be convinced of their usefulness. 

According to the “Shopping Cart” Wikipedia article referenced above:

“Men found them effeminate; women found them suggestive of a baby carriage. ‘I've pushed my last baby,’ an offended woman informed Goldman. After hiring several male and female models to push his new invention around his store and demonstrate their utility, as well as greeters to explain their use, shopping carts became extremely popular and Goldman became a multimillionaire” 

Sylvan Goldman (1898-1984) received several honors for his philanthropy, including (Goldman):

  • honorary chief of the Pawnee Indian Tribe (1950), 
  • the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanities Award (1965), 
  • a Distinguished Service Citation from the University of Oklahoma (1971),
  • induction into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame (1971), and 
  • an honorary doctor of law degree from Oklahoma City University (1974). 

He also funded the construction of the portico and western entry of the Temple B'nai Israel in Oklahoma City. About two years later, he donated $1.5 million to the Sylvan N. Goldman Center when the Oklahoma Blood Institute moved to that location.

Plaque on the grounds at Temple B'nai Israel (Oklahoma City)

Yield Sign

Tulsa police officer Clinton Riggs (1910-1997) invented the first yield sign used in the United States. His original design, erected in Tulsa in 1950, was shaped like a keystone.

Keystone Design
Later, the sign was changed to the inverted triangle we’re familiar with today.

Eventually this triangle was adopted as the international standard by the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals (Yield). 

Officer Riggs, who retired from the Tulsa Police Department as Administrative Chief in 1970, is also known for several other achievements, such as the following:

  • designed the Tulsa Police Department's shoulder patch, patterned after Riggs' original yield sign,
  • created the Tulsa Police Academy,
  • Established a university degree requirement for new officers,
  • wrote police handbooks:
    •  Law of Arrest for Police Officers
    • The Police Officer Witness

Bonus Fast Food Franchise ~ Sonic

"In 1953, the prototype of the first Sonic Drive-In opened in Shawnee, Okla....The tater tots and cherry limeades are favorites on the menu" (Oklahoma Iconic Foods). 

I'm not crazy about tater tots, but who doesn’t love cherry limeades on a hot summer day? 

Historic Sonic Drive-In Sign

We have WWII veteran Troy N. Smith, Sr. (1922-2009) to thank for providing us with those refreshing drinks.

When Smith returned to Seminole, Oklahoma, after the war, he delivered milk and then bread—because bread is lighter than milk!

Sometime later, he bought a diner in Shawnee, Oklahoma, then sold it to open Troy’s Pan Full of Chicken. 

Historic Sonic
Drive-In Stand
Here’s a quick rundown of what happened next (Sonic):

  • 1953 ~ Smith and a business partner bought a log house and a walk-up root beer stand named the Top Hat. The log house became a steak restaurant.
  • The stand—which also sold hamburgers and hot dogs—was more profitable than the log house. Smith bought out his business partner.
  • Smith tripled sales by connecting an intercom system to the parking lot so that customers no longer had to park and then walk to the stand.
  • Entrepreneur Charles Woodrow Pappe was impressed with the drive-in concept. He opened the first franchise in Woodward, Oklahoma, in 1956.
  • Two more drive-ins were opened in the next two years, one in Enid and one in Stillwater.

In 1959, Smith and Pappe learned that the Top Hat name was trademarked and changed the company’s name to Sonic. The name made sense considering that their existing slogan was:

“Service with the Speed of Sound.”

Like shopping cart inventor Sylvan Goldman, Smith and his wife, who he married in 1941, were generous with their wealth.

“In January 2007 Smith and his wife donated Sonic stock valued at $3 million to the University of Central Oklahoma, the largest unrestricted cash gift in UCO's history. The couple also donated funds for the new YMCA complex in Shawnee and it bears their name, Troy and Dollie Smith” (Smith).

Fun Fact ~ As I was writing about Sonic, my daughter surprised me with a chocolate milkshake...from Sonic! And nope, she didn’t know I was writing about the drive-in when she placed the delivery order!

Johnnie writes award-winning stories in multiple genres. A fan of classic movies, stacks of books, and road trips, she shares a life of quiet adventure with Griff, her happy-go-lucky collie, and Rugby, her raccoon-treeing papillon. Visit her at johnnie-alexander.com.

Photo Credits ~ Public domain

Parking meter ca. 1940; Title: Close up of parking meter in Long Beach, Calif., circa 1940. Original patent documents of Orla Watson showing design of the nesting feature of the Telescope Cart. The rear of the cart swings forward when a cart is shoved into it, hence the nesting feature.

Original version of the Yield Sign in the United States with the "keystone" shape as it first appeared in 1952.

Photo Credits ~ Creative Commons

Sonic Drive-In neon sign at the Oklahoma History Center; Kevin from Oklahoma, USA - Sonic Neon Sign Uploaded by xnatedawgx.

Sonic Drive-In stand at the Lamar County Historical Museum in Paris, TexasMichael Barera.

Plaque on the grounds at Temple B'nai Israel (Oklahoma City); Photo by James M. Branum. Jmbranum – Own work.


Oklahoma Ingenuity

Things Invented in Oklahoma

Blog Oklahoma

First Installed Parking Meter

Roger Babson

Carl Magee

Shopping Cart

Sylvan Goldman

Oklahoma Iconic Foods


Clinton Riggs


Troy Smith


  1. I love reading about inventions and the people behind them. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thank you for posting today. I was surprised that people had to be convinced of the usefulness of the shopping cart, but I understand that they didn't buy the quantity of groceries at one time that we do. The woman's comment about baby carriages struck me as funny....maybe she was having a "difficult child" moment!!