Cool License Plate Trivia
Thanks to our friends at ALPCA, Design Turnpike is happy to present these very interesting and cool trivia facts about license plates! Enjoy the images of my unique artwork made from recycled vintage plates every so often, and be sure to visit my originals and prints purchase page to learn more.
The least used letters on license plates are I, O and Q. Explanations vary, but most point to the fact that they are easiliy mistaken for numerals 1 and 0.
Arizona is the only state to make license plates out of copper. Copper was used in 1932, 1933, and 1934. The 1934 plate has a patent number along the bottom edge.
Initially British Columbia's 1996 stickers were colored black on white. However the color was changed to pink on white for late months because people were xeroxing the stickers to make fake ones!
The front tab for the 1916 California plate had a place for the owner to scratch in his name.
California issued special 1960 plates for the governors' and dignitaries' cars for the Democratic National convention at the Sports Arena, Los Angeles. They pictured a donkey with the logo "Democratic National Convention 1960".
Between 1903 and 1905, the State of Connecticut issued no plates at all, but instead issued each motor vehicle owner a number. It was the responsibility of the vehicle owner to have a license plate made up to be displayed on the vehicle. Many of these were made in Black-smith shops. One my collection has a steel rectangular frame, covered with Leather and then had what appeared to be "White Metal" numbers riveted on it. Even a piece of wood with numbers painted on it could be used. In Vermont, before they issued plates, when they gave you a number, rather then make up a plate and possibly block the air flow to your radiator, you could simply paint the number on the radiator if you chose to.
Other than some early pre states, Connecticut's 1937 base was the first United States plate intended to be used "permanently". It was made of heavy-gauge aluminum with no background paint (thus none to fade or rust). Slots at the bottom were made to accommodate annual revalidation tabs. It was used for 11 years before the next "permanent" plate was issued.
The last state to issue a porcelain plate is Delaware, in 1942.
Florida was the last state to introduce state-wide license plates, back in 1918.
The 1941 Georgia plate is the first reflectorized general issue plate in United States history, and is the first plate to use a decal. (*)
The 'World Famous Potatoes' slogan on Idaho plates first appeared in 1948, long before the 1956 slogan (which said World Famous Potato, not Potatoes.) In addition the '53 plate carried the same slogan three years earlier than the '56. Also, way back in 1928 the plate said "Idaho Potatoes."
Only 100 sets of the 1983 style Idaho 'Street Rod' plates were made before changing to the graphic red/white/blue base. These plates feature a Model A Highboy Roadster.
Illinois front plates from 1912 to 1918 all allowed air to pass through, thus not blocking air flow to the radiator.
Perhaps the biggest mystery to United States license plate collectors is a small letter used on Kentucky license plates from 1910 to 1913. Evidently the earliest plates contained a "B" which later was replaced by an "L", then a "M", and finally a "G". Although theories have been suggested nobody knows that these letters stand for.
Manitoba is the last jurisdiction in North America to issue metal tabs, in 1970.
In some years the Michigan colors represented university colors. For example, 1954 was maize on blue for University of Michigan; MSU followed in 1955 with white on green.
In 1996, Nevada's state legislature considered a bill that would require all pre-1983 blue white on blue plates to be turned in and replaced with current graphic plates. There was such a public outcry that the bill was killed before it was ever voted on.
Due to the shortage of metal in WWII, New Brunswick made Motorcycle and Trailer plates out of wood!
New Hampshire's slogan "Live Free or Die" is among the most controversial in license plate history. One couple coupled challenged its use and the Supreme Court ruled the state could keep it but citizens could cover it up if they chose.
New Jersey was the last state to switch over to issuing reflectorized license plates, in 1992. They did experiment with reflective plates around 1970, but only issued a small number at that time.
In 2001, New York reinstated its old slogan "Empire State" on its license plates. The first time that slogan was used was exactly 50 years before, in 1951.
Early Ontario and Newfoundland motorcycle plates came in sets of 3. Two were mounted back-to-back to be placed on the front fender, the third was for the rear.
Ontario license plates in the -ZZZ series were recently issued from the Ottawa license office. However, plate 999-ZZZ was issued as a vanity years ago. (From John Hayes) Additionally, you can see a picture of the very last six-digit passenger plate to be issued in Ontario (998-ZZZ) on page 173 of the August 1998 Newsletter.
Quebec used galvanized steel plates for a very brief period in 1981 for the dated 1979 permanent base. It was the first time since 1951 that a material other than aluminum was used. The first of these galvanized plates were made of a heavy gauge steel, moving to a lighter gauge before returning to aluminum.
The University of Tennessee beat the University of Texas in the 1951 Cotton Bowl (20-14), and the Tennessee legislature quickly made the decision to release the 1951 Tennessee license plates in the UT colors of orange and white. That plate is now perhaps the most frequently sought after Tennessee license plate.
During the prestate era in Texas (1907 to mid-1917) motor vehicles were registered by the individual counties, not the state. Each county began numbering vehicles at #1. This meant that with over 200 counties in Texas, by 1917 there were potentially over 200 vehicles in Texas all bearing license plate #1.
The county in Texas with the lowest number of vehicles registered is Loving County, in West Texas. In 1975 Loving County received only 150 pair of passenger plates to issue whereas Harris County (Houston) received over one million pair. Harris County issued all of its plates before the end of 1975 and had to receive more numbers while Loving County had still not issued all of its 150 pairs by 1982!
During World War II some states used a soybean based fiberboard to make license plates. It is said that these plates were popular among goats who enjoyed eating them.
About the legend of goats eating plates, Charles R Fregeau, ALPCA# 2332, says: In 1943, my grandfather had to order a replacement 1943 Illinois license plate. He was a vital war worker with the oil industry in Southern Illinois, so he drove his car a lot. One day he parked his car near the fence, and his horse took a bite out of the bottom. He had 9 kids and lived out on a farm, so during WW2 he still had a horse as well as a car. I have heard this confirmed from several members of his family that were old enough at the time to remember the incident, though some have now passed from the scene.
Several states issued fibreboard plates during World War II. However, Virginia was the only state to issue embossed fibreboard plates. Most of these were issued in 1944 and were black on yellow. Some are known from 1942 (white on black) and the 1943 motorcycle plate (white on black).
Washington is no longer going to issue vanity plates on the green/lemon yellow base. This combination was an option for vanity plates since they became available; all vanity plates will now be issued on the mountain base.
In Washington DC the president used to be issued plate #100, however this tradition ended in the late 60s or early 70s, probably because of security reasons.
The 1906 West Virginia plate measures 3-7/8" by 6-3/4" and is made of such a thin tin material that it could almost be crumpled in the palm of your hand!