April 25, 1901: New York becomes the first state to require license plates. The first plates were issued in the German state of Baden in 1896. As more cars took to the roads, it became essential to be able to track those who behaved recklessly or caused accidents. To that end, a way of identifying a car’s ownership was established. In 1900, New York City was America’s largest city and they did not issue any kind of license so the state decided to take over. They required car owners to file an application with the state. Once done, the owner received a receipt of certificate and was then required to make his or her own plate with the owner’s initials on it. This helped, but soon people were simply creating a plate with any initials and placing them on the back of their cars.
In 1903, Massachusetts became the first state to manufacture the required plates. These earliest plates were made of leather, wood, and porcelain. By the middle of 1903, New York state figured out the problem with car owners making their own plates and also began the manufacture of the mandated plates. Numbered plates were issued and as proof that the number was legal, registration seals were also issued. Beginning in 1905, NY was added to the black on white plates. As the process of making plates was perfected, the materials changed as well. Today, Delaware is the only state that still permits porcelain license plates.
Mexico was the first country to issue reflective plates and did so in 1936. The embossed coating contained glass-like beads which would reflect light. Connecticut introduced this technology to their plates in 1948. Reflective sheeting was invented by 3M and replaced the beads-on-paint process in the 1960s and by 1970 most US states incorporated this into the manufacturing process. Idaho was the first state to add a graphic to their design when they added a potato in 1928. Pennsylvania was the first to offer custom, vanity, or personalized plates in 1931. Other states soon picked up the money making venture and allowed for personalized plates which generated millions of dollars for community projects.
The metal or plastic tag must be attached to the rear of the vehicle. There are some states which also require the tag to be displayed on the front of the vehicle, but these are in the minority. Some countries have a unique plate for any vehicle registered within the country while others subdivide the plates issued by each state or province. Whether the identifier is associated with a vehicle or a person varies by issuing agency. The information on the tag, plate, or identifier (jargon depends on area) offers information as well. Letters and numbers can indicate where the vehicle comes from as do color combinations or style. Sizes and materials used have become standardized and are nationally mandated.
IH8 PPL – Maine plate
SLZBAG – Arizona plate
HI DEBT – California plate on a Jaguar
VAMPYR – Australian plate found along side a sticker for the Australian Red Cross blood service
IMBROKE – Mississippi plate
SHELEFT – plate on a Corvette
IDSRVIT!! – plate on a Lexus
UR NEXT – plate on a hearse
IM A CAR – New York plate
Also on this day: “Off With Their Heads” – The Queen of Hearts – In 1792, the first person is executed by the more humane method of guillotine.
Semiconductor – In 1961, Robert Noyce patented the semiconductor and opened the computer age.
Ouch! – In 1684, a patent was granted for a thimble.
Rebellion Losses Bill – In 1849, the bill was signed into law.
Suez Canal – In 1859, ground was broken for the construction of the canal.