Nothing incites the general public more than someone trying to charge for something that was once free. Yet that’s exactly what entrepreneur Oscar F. Spate tried to do in the New York City parks in the blistering summer of 1901. It all started in Central Park on June 22, 1901, when a group of people spotted rows of bright green rocking chairs along the park’s mall, near the casino. Usually in this same spot, stood rows of uncomfortable wooden hard benches, so it was a pleasure indeed for the park-goes to sit and rock and enjoy the wondrous summer day.
Finally, on July 11, a hero named Max Radt, the vice-president of the Jefferson State Bank, went into state Supreme Court and got an injunction forbidding Spate and the Park Commission from charging people to sit in Spate’s green rocking chairs. Spate, realizing he was a beaten man, promptly put all his chairs in storage. A few days later, Spate announced to the press he was ”abandoning his project.”
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The New York City press knew a story when it hit them in the face, so they managed to track down Spate in his offices in the St. James Building, on Broadway and 26th Street, near Madison Square Park. When questioned by the reporters, Spate became indignant. ”I’ll put in as many chairs as they will allow,” Spate told the reporters. ”The attendants who collect the charges are in my pay. They will wear gray uniforms, and each will look after about fifty chairs, from 10 a.m. to 10 p. m. A five-cent ticket entitles the holder to sit in either a five-cent, or a three-cent chair in any park at any time during that day. But the holder of a three-cent chair can only sit in a three-cent chair.”