has colorful history
idea of requiring automobile identification numbers originated in
New York State in 1901. With a fee imposed, it became a license.
The term tags originated in Michigan in 1905 when vehicle owners received
small, aluminum, numbered discs the size of a silver dollar.
A Vehicle Registration Act was adopted by the Texas Legislature on
August 10, 1907. Cost was 50 cents with the vehicle owner responsible
for constructing and installing the plate. Most license plates were
made of leather with house numbers riveted to the surface.
After establishing the Texas Highway Department in 1917, the licensing
fee increased to 35 cents per horsepower and the state began issuing
standard design license plates. No year of issuance was needed as
the plate was good as long as the vehicle was used in Texas. This
rule lasted until 1920 when year issue dates were adopted. The plates
were black with white letters.
As the automobile came of age, the numbers grew at a tremendous rate
forcing the state to void all old numbers in 1923 and issue new registrations.
Pairs of plates for front and back of vehicles started in 1926. Alphabetical
letters were introduced into plates in 1931. "A" was shown on the
first 100,000 registrations, "B" for 200,000 etc. Later, "A" was for
the first 1,000,000 vehicles and other letters for greater numbers.
and worldwide events affected issuance of license plates periodically.
The Great Depression in 1933 left citizens short of funds so the legislature
adopted a law allowing current plates be legal until March 31, 1935.
Because of the shortage of 1933 license plates issued, they have become
collector items. This was also the beginning of the long-standing
April 1 deadline date for renewing Texas vehicle registration.
No new license plates were issued in 1943 and 1944 because of WWII.
Small metal tabs were used instead. New plates came in 1945 and 1946
but only one plate was required instead of two. Reflector-type paint
for license digits began in 1969.
My favorite license plate story comes from Ft. Sumner, N.M., where
leather plates were issued for wagons and buggies with the fees paying
for a man to clean the manure from the main thoroughfares to prevent
odors and flies. This was long before the advent of automobiles.
During hard times, cash-short vehicle owners (such as us farmers)
bought one license plate and changed it from vehicle to vehicle depending
on which car, pickup or truck was going to town.
I once saw an old-time photo of a house in Nevada with a roof constructed
of license plate shingles. Another house nearby was roofed with flattened
Prince Albert tobacco cans.
As a young boy I used throw-away license plates to build play bridges
on my play roads, roofs for bird houses, patching holes in buildings,
covering rat holes, flooring hen nests and sealing the holes rusted
in the bottom of our trash-burning barrels. I used baling wire to
attach plates to my red wagon, bicycle and a well-used Cushman motor
I can remember the pride felt when I purchased by first license plate
for my first car.
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" >
July 18, 2006 Column