These days, some cars can help you parallel park with the touch of a button, but it wasn’t alway so easy. Back in the 1930s you had to parallel park the old fashioned way, and this short clip from a newsreel shows how one inventor in California came up with a plan to let drivers squeeze into parking spaces with ease.
“So, one California genius disproved the simile, ‘useless as a fifth wheel’,” the announcer of the 1933 newsreel explains. “His fifth wheel moves sideways, and with it you could sneak into the tightest hole.”
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to figure out the inventor’s name, but it does appear that the video is indeed from 1933. Getty Images has a copy of the film and dates it to January 1, 1933.
But this wasn’t the first slide-wheel invented to make parking easier. This 1927 clip from British Pathe shows a similar concept in Paris, France. In this design, the wheels on the front of the car fold in, something that would probably make the car less stable when it was driving properly. But when you’re designing for the future, safety isn’t always the top priority.
There were plenty of other designs to come along in the 1940s and 50s that were supposed to make car travel and parking so much easier. Like this car from 1948, the Davis Three-Wheeler, that solved the parallel parking problem by simply having just three wheels.
The flashiest technologies for cars of the future tend to be the ones that get the most attention. The self-driving, flying, and hovering varieties are always going to get the headlines. But sometimes you just want to get into a parking space a little easier. And these weird inventors were helping it to actually happen, long before the robots would take the steering wheel.
So, thank you, weirdo inventors. The most helpful inventions aren’t always the sexiest. But you give us hope with your strange and wonderful inventions. Keep dreaming of those little gadgets that are going to make our lives slightly better. We could use a bit more of that thinking here in the 21st century.