Colorado History

Jeopardy Contestants Get Booted by Denver's Most Infamous Invention

Jeopardy Contestants Get Booted by Denver's Most Infamous Invention
Clancy Systems
Denver is famous for inspiring a chirpy folk singer who adopted this city's name, and for a not very inspiring ham-and-green pepper omelet. And it's infamous as the home of an infernal contraption that has stopped drivers in their tracks around the world: the Denver Boot.

Even so, brainy contestants on a segment of Jeopardy this week all failed to properly identify it in a question from the category "Boots." One answered "What is the Oregon boot?"and another "What is a parking boot?" Both answers were declared wrong — until the judges reversed their decision and gave credit for "a parking boot."

The real Denver Boot was invented in 1953 by a Manual High School shop teacher named Frank Marugg, who liked tinkering with things. He even built his own violin, which he played with the Denver Symphony. It was at the request of a cop friend that Marugg created a clamp that could be secured to the wheel of a parking scofflaw's car, so he couldn't drive away until his fines were paid. It worked like a charm.

From its origins in Denver, the boot spread from city to city, irritating drivers everywhere.

Clancy Systems International, the Denver company that acquired the rights to Marugg's patent in 1986, still makes the contraptions here and markets the Denver Boot around the globe. And Jeopardy wasn't the Denver Boot's first brush with fame, says Clancy CFO Liz Wolfson.

About eight years ago, the plot of a Law & Order episode focused on a city employee booting cars and extorting money (not all that different from what a city does, but still illegal). "We shipped them six boots," Wolfson recalls, so that the crew could create a mock boot warehouse. And a studio in California bought some boots to keep for movies as props.

"It's got a life of its own," says Wolfson, adding that its longevity is surprising for such a mechanical tool in this day of technological traffic innovations. "It's not our main business, but we still manufacture them."

But you won't find many Denver Boots in Denver these days: The DPD now buys its "parking boots" from a competitor.
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun