Take the 2-minute tour ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Seems that every single place I go nowadays, they have valet parking: restaurants, bars, airports, etc. The other day I got to think about this dreadful service (I have enough skills to park my own car and I really don't mind if I park 2 blocks away, I can walk - thanks!), I assume this tradition out dates the invention of the automobile, where people took someone else's horses / carriages to the stables. However, I really couldn't find any reliable source and oddly enough, Wikipedia's article on it is quite vague. A really dodgy website called valetparking.com states that it originated in the US in the 1930's, however I believe it might have appeared long before this.

Are there any reliable sources of the origin of valet parking?

share|improve this question
    
Apologies for the tags, but I really couldn't get any of the ones I wanted in there (not enough credits apparently to create one). –  Darred Oct 3 '12 at 1:40
1  
A possible subsidiary question: why is valet parking so much more prevalent in the US than in the UK? I don't recall ever experiencing it here in Britain (though maybe I'm just going to the wrong kinds of establishments :-) ). –  Steve Melnikoff Oct 10 '12 at 10:45
add comment

1 Answer 1

This isn't a complete answer, but may help. An alternate line of attack is to look at the history and etimology of the word 'Valet' itself. I can't vouch for the reliability of the source, but etymonline.com drops these suggestive titbits:

Modern sense is usually short for valet de chambre; the general sense of "male household servant of the meaner sort" going with the variant form varlet. First recorded use of valet parking is from 1960.

So the idea is one of "Parking by house manservant", with car parking being something that is analogous to one of the regular duties a house manservant would have had. This suggests to me that valet parking evolved as an evolutionary thing. It's easy to imagine a progression like this:

  1. The valets of a noble house provide services to the house's guests that require knowledge of the house, and therefore couldn't be done by the guests' own travelling staff, such as stabling
  2. Establishments begin to provide equivalent services that a visitor to a noble house would expect from that house's valets
  3. This creates an expectation that certain things (such as stabling) will be done as a valet service - something that is done as a matter of course, not as a formal advertised business.
  4. These services re-emerge as a type of named, formal advertised business when you have logistical factors that require that extra level of named accountability (such as trust with car keys), non-commonplace skills (as driving would have been), and abstraction from the immediate premises, e.g. when a valet service might serve multiple establishments in a city location, when they might need business-to-business relationships of their own with multiple 3rd parties such as if they need a network of possible secure parking locations (sourcing parking spots probably wouldn't have been a simple matter when such services first emerged)

This would explain how it sort of slides into existance around the 1930s in an undocumented, uncelebrated way - as a formalised development on something that was commonplace and informal at the time. This would also explain why not much would have been written about it, if it emerged as a improvised business model trying to implement an adjusted version of something that was familiar, rather than a classically notable innovation creating something novel.

Hopefully that's a useful starting point and a plausible theory suggesting leads and which can be tested and explored.

share|improve this answer
    
The quoted text is wrong. google.com/… gives you 9 results from before 1955, including one from what looks like 1886 (I'm not sure I believe the age of one, as it is a "Motel" book, and Google refuses to show it to me). –  T.E.D. Oct 4 '12 at 14:09
1  
@T.E.D. While I don't doubt that the source probably isn't the best, I wouldn't trust an entry claiming the American Hotel & Motel Association were publishing books on motels with 1980s style cover design in 1886, the very year the first patented motorcar was developed :). Pretty sure that one is a typo for 1986. I guess my point could be characterised more simply as - if you can't find explicit references to valet parking when it first emerged, try exploring the role of a valet from around that time. –  user568458 Oct 4 '12 at 15:24
    
Thanks @user568458, as you said, this is a useful starting point. –  Darred Oct 16 '12 at 3:36
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.