License Plates – 1901
Today’s Flashback Friday examines the history behind American license plates. We travel to the turn of the 20th century, when the first American automobile factories began production. At this time, automobiles were expensive and reserved for the wealthy upper class. As automobiles became less expensive and grew in popularity, outdated traffic laws and undeveloped roads made driving conditions extremely hazardous.
In 1901, New York was the first state requiring residents to display an identification tag. California followed soon after requiring a tag on bicycles and wheeled carts as well. There was an obvious need for the tags as collisions were common and the drivers involved needed to be identified.
The first New York tags were do-it-yourself license plates, with the residents responsible for making their own ID tag with their initials and state name. That same year the state realized that conformity was necessary and began issuing individual registration numbers to be used. These homemade tags were often made of leather or rubber and some people just painted the ID on their car.
The use of homemade tags created obvious problems, such as counterfeit tags. Massachusetts became the first state to have state issued license plates in 1903. These early plates were fashioned of iron coated with porcelain. This style did not last long as the porcelain coating was too fragile. The state of West Virginia designed the first stamped and embossed style metal plates in 1906.
The first Department of Motor Vehicles was established in 1915 and all states required license plates by 1918. During WWII no plates were issued, and to save metal in 1943 and 1944 other materials such as cardboard and stickers were issued as replacement plates. It was not until 1960 that the size of the license plate was made uniform throughout the United States.
The Past Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village has a wide variety of vintage license plates and transportation memorabilia for sale among its assortment of over 90 vendors. Visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles.
For more antique history, check out our Throwback Thursday posts!