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The History of License Plates

License Plate Car Tag Art

A vehicle registration plate (or license plate) is a metal or plastic plate attached to a motor vehicle or trailer for official identification purposes. The registration identifier is a numeric or alphanumeric code that uniquely identifies the vehicle within the issuing region's database. In some countries, the identifier is unique within the entire country, while in others it is unique within a state or province. Whether the identifier is associated with a vehicle or a person also varies by issuing agency. Depending on the country, the vehicle registration plate may be called a license plate or tag (United States), licence plate(Canada), or number plate (United Kingdom), or rego plate (Australia).

Licence plates have been around for longer than there have been automobiles. France was the first country to introduce the licence plate with the passage of the Paris Police Ordinance on August 14, 1893, followed by Germany in 1896. The Netherlands was the first country to introduce a national licence plate, called a "driving permit", in 1898. The first licences were plates with a number, starting at 1. By August 8, 1899 the counter was at 168. When the Netherlands chose a different way to number the plates on January 15, 1906 the last issued plate was 2001.

Old License Plates

In the U.S., where each state issues plates, New York State has required plates since 1901. At first, plates were not government issued in most jurisdictions and motorists were obliged to make their own. In 1903, Massachusetts was the first state to issue plates.

The first license plates in North America appeared in 1903 in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Soon after, other states followed suit, with virtually every state having adopted a form of license plates by 1918.

The first license plates in the United States were made out of leather, rubber, iron and porcelain, painted on the front in usually two different colors—one for the background and one for the lettering. This scheme held true for most states until about 1920. The front of the plate would usually contain the registration number in large digits, and in smaller lettering on one side of the plate, the two- or four-digit year number, and an abbreviated state name. Each year, citizens were usually required to obtain a new license plate from the state government, which would have a different color scheme than the previous year, making it easier for police to identify whether citizens were current with their vehicle registration.

Leather License Plate

Even before 1920, some states had adopted the technique of embossing the metal plates with raised lettering and numbering, without porcelain, and applying paint all over the plate, directly onto the metal. Minnesota introduced some license plates during this period with three different years embossed into the plate, so that the plates were valid for three consecutive years (e.g., 1918, 1919, and 1920).

In the United States, license plates are issued by each state. The federal government issues plates only for its own vehicle fleet and for vehicles owned by foreign diplomats. In the United States, many Native American tribal governments issue plates for their members, while some states provide special issues for tribal members. Within each jurisdiction, there may also be special plates for groups such as firefighters or military veterans, and for state, municipality, or province-owned vehicles.

The appearance of plates is frequently chosen to contain symbols or slogans associated with the issuing jurisdiction. Some of these are intended to promote the region. A few make political statements; for example, most plates issued in Washington, D.C. include the phrase "Taxation Without Representation" to highlight D.C.'s lack of a voting representative in the United States Congress. More recently, some states have also started to put a web address pertaining to the state (such as Pennsylvania, which posts the address of its tourism site). In some states (Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and some versions in Florida), the issuing county is listed at the bottom, while Kansas does so with a letter-coded registration sticker; Utah did so until 2003. Indiana county stickers are at the top. Alabama, Idaho, Montana, Ohio, South Dakota, Wyoming, some Nebraska and Oklahoma plates designate the county by number code (the latter with a letter) either in the plate number or registration sticker.

Arizona License Plate Embossed Cactus

Most states use plates onto which the letters and numbers are embossed so that they are slightly raised above its surface. Several—Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia—have moved to entirely digitally produced flat license plates. Several other U.S. states now use a color thermal transfer production process that produces a flat license plate for only short-run plates such as personalized license plates and special interest plates. The territory of Nunavut has recently introduced the first flat license plate in Canada.

The numbering system of license plates also varies among the jurisdictions. Some states issue a motorist a serial that stays with that person as long as they live in that state, while other states periodically issue new serials and completely rotate out any old ones. Several states do not regularly use certain letters — most commonly the letters I, O, and/or Q — in their plates, except on vanity plates, so as not to confuse observers with the numbers one and zero.

Canada License Plates

When a person moves from one state or province to another, they are normally required to obtain new license plates issued by the new place of residence. Some U.S. states will even require a person to obtain new plates if they accept employment in that state, unless they can show that they return to another state to live on a regular basis. The most prominent exceptions to this policy are active duty military service members, who legally do not change residence when they move to a new posting. Federal law specifically allows them to choose to either retain the state vehicle registration of their original residence or change registration to their state of assignment.

Text via Wikipedia.

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