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10 fun facts: US license plates

Updated on August 23, 2017

Fun facts, trivia and weird stuff about US License Tags

A lot of people collect license plates. It's an interesting hobby, but sadly, a bit complicated for me. I live in Europe, and that's why it's hard for me to collect US license plates. Nevertheless, I collected the most intriguing facts and stories associated with those metal identification thingies.

Browse around, I'm sure you'll find something interesting!

Want to buy something 'License Plate' related?

Scroll down to the bottom of this page!

01: Free air flow - 1917 Illinois license plates

1917 - Illinois license plate with holes
1917 - Illinois license plate with holes

From 1912 to 1918, Illinois issued front license plates that had holes in them, to let the air pass trough to the radiator of the car. Nowadays, you can see some cars with license plates mounted to the left (or right) side of their bumpers. The reason is the same - leaving the air intake unobstructed. A great example for that is Mitsubishi Lancer EVO.

Johnston Atoll is a small atoll in the North Pacific Ocean. The surface of the atoll is just 1.03 sq mi (2.7 km2), and there are just a few short roads there. It was used as an airbase, naval refueling depot, weapons testing grounds and chemical weapons disposal facility.

Some time ago, pictures of Johnston Atoll license plates mounted on official vehicles started to show up on the Net. They attracted quite the attention among collectors, but unfortunately, they were fake!

ALPCA issued the following warining:

These plates were made up as souvenirs and were never ever used. As part of a promotional scam they were placed on some vehicles, photographed, and then removed. In particular some versions with "FIRE" and "POLICE" were made and similarly photographed so they could be sold to collectors.

Collectors are warned to beware of buying these plates unless they collect booster or Souvenir type plates. They WERE NEVER USED ON THE ISLAND.

03: The first, the last and the only... - A bit of license plate history in the USA

Click thumbnail to view full-size
1903 - Massachusetts:The first license plate issued in North America1917 - Arizona:First graphic on a license plate in America1935 - Maine:First slogan on a license plate: VACATIONLAND(Image: Maine 1936 license plate)1937 - Connecticut:First state to offer vanity plates(Image: Connecticut 1938 vanity plate)1939 - Arizona:First person ever honored on any license plate in  America:  Marcos de Niza1941 - Georgia:First reflective general issue plate and first plate to use decals1918 - FloridaLast state to issue state-wide license plates1942 - DelawareLast state to issue porcelain plates1992 - New JerseyLast state to switch to reflective license plates1932 - ArizonaOnly state that produced copper license plates
1903 - Massachusetts:The first license plate issued in North America
1903 - Massachusetts: The first license plate issued in North America
1917 - Arizona:First graphic on a license plate in America
1917 - Arizona: First graphic on a license plate in America
1935 - Maine:First slogan on a license plate: VACATIONLAND(Image: Maine 1936 license plate)
1935 - Maine: First slogan on a license plate: VACATIONLAND (Image: Maine 1936 license plate)
1937 - Connecticut:First state to offer vanity plates(Image: Connecticut 1938 vanity plate)
1937 - Connecticut: First state to offer vanity plates (Image: Connecticut 1938 vanity plate)
1939 - Arizona:First person ever honored on any license plate in  America:  Marcos de Niza
1939 - Arizona: First person ever honored on any license plate in America: Marcos de Niza
1941 - Georgia:First reflective general issue plate and first plate to use decals
1941 - Georgia: First reflective general issue plate and first plate to use decals
1918 - FloridaLast state to issue state-wide license plates
1918 - Florida Last state to issue state-wide license plates
1942 - DelawareLast state to issue porcelain plates
1942 - Delaware Last state to issue porcelain plates
1992 - New JerseyLast state to switch to reflective license plates
1992 - New Jersey Last state to switch to reflective license plates
1932 - ArizonaOnly state that produced copper license plates
1932 - Arizona Only state that produced copper license plates

Please take a look at the picture, and then let us know what ILVTOFU means.

What is the first thing that comes into your mind? ;)

Below, you can read how DMV censored this Colorado vanity plate.

What's on the plate?

Continued: Colorado VS. Tofu

DMV censors vegans

Denver, CO:

Some time ago, the Colorado DMV refused to issue a vanity plate to a 38 year-old Kelley Coffman-Lee. She wanted a custom license plate with the letters 'ILVTOFU'.

"My whole family is vegan so tofu is like a staple for us. I was just going to have a cool license plate and the DMV misinterpreted my message,"

Spokesman for the Department of Revenue, Mark Couch, said:

"'FU' is on a lengthy list of letter combinations barred by the division. Think of it as 'eff you'. We don't allow 'FU' because some people could read that as street language for sex.

A committee meets periodically to update the list so that that plates stay free of letters that abbreviate gang slang, drug terms or obscene phrases made popular in text messaging."

05: How license plates are made - You don't want to be making them...

We all know that license plates are usually made in prisons. Take a look at the video, and see the complete process of making license plates.

USPS postal truck
USPS postal truck

06: US Post service doesn't have plates

It's not fair!

United States Post Service (USPS) vehicles don't have license plates. Here's an interesting quote:

"USPS is exempt from vehicle licensing requirements and does not have to pay parking tickets or municipality fees. It also has power of eminent domain and its own police force." So, they have a nice setup there - no license plates, no parking tickets, their own insurance...

But, don't think they're completely without any registration marks - all USPS vehicles have their internal identification number painted on the rear side of the vehicle.

Steve Jobs Mercedes SL55 AMG no plates
Steve Jobs Mercedes SL55 AMG no plates

07: Steve Jobs never had any license plates on his car

Maybe he was a mailman?

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, never had any license plates on his silver Mercedes SL55 AMG. The reason why he didn't want plates on his car is yet to be revealed. Sources state that in four years he never got a single ticket for driving without his license plate. How's that possible? Well, he wasn't a mailman, that's for sure. There's a loophole in the California vehicle law. In California, when issued a license plate number, you have six months to put the plates on your car. Steve Jobs simply changed cars every six models, and he always bought a new model Mercedes SL55 AMG. Well, he could afford it...

California NOPLATE license tag
California NOPLATE license tag

08: 'NO PLATE' vanity tags causing system meltdown

NO PLATE, MISSING, NONE, VOID, XXXXXXX

This is not just a popular urban myth, this actually happened to a man named Robert Barbour. He requested personalized license plates from the California DMV in 1979. The DMV form asked to list three possible choices for his plates, and he entered:

1. SAILING

2. BOATING

3. NO PLATE

The third "NO PLATE" option meant, if he can't get the first or the second plate, then he didn't want personalized plates at all.

Well, officials at the DMV didn't understand his intentions, so they sent him vanity plates with the words "NO PLATE" written on them.

About a month later, he started to receive loads of parking tickets, from all over the States. Even from places he never been to. In total, he received about 2,500 tickets. He alerted the DMV about the problem, and he responded to every citation with a form letter.

So, why did this happen? Well, law enforcement agencies usually used "NO PLATE" when citing a parked vehicle that had no plates.

And, DMV computers finally found a matching address for a car with the famous "NO PLATE" license plate...

Other similar cases were recorded by the owners of the plates "MISSING", "NONE", "VOID", "XXXXXXX", "NOTAG"...

P.S.

You can buy your own "NO PLATE" replica by clicking on the image above.

Delaware number 6 plate
Delaware number 6 plate

09: Delaware Low Digit Frenzy

$675,000 license plate!

Delaware is quite specific, when it comes to their license plates. In Delaware, it's allowed to sell or transfer your license plate to another Delawarean. Be it inside the family, be it to a complete stranger. Another thing, that's somewhat special for Delaware, are the low-digit license tags. Delaware issues plates with one-, two-, three-, and four-digit numbers, and those are prestigious in Delaware for some residents.

In 1935, The Delaware General Assembly reserved number 1 plate for the Governor, number 2 for the Lieutenant Governor, and number 3 for the Secretary of State. All other numbers were released to general public.

Pictured, is the 2008 Delaware number 6 license plate. It was sold on an auction for $675,000! As you can see, it's white on black, a replica of the 1942-era.

10: Most expensive license plates in the US - Collector plates only

Click thumbnail to view full-size
1913 - North Carolina - $10,000A rare plate, made from porcelain, very few have survived trough the years1906 - Virginia - $12,000Same as 1913 N.Carolina - porcelain plate that broke easily1913 - Idaho - $13,000Unusually large for American plates - 15 1/4" by 6 1/14"1905 - Vermont - $15,000Baked enamel over steel - deep cobalt blue background1909 - Delaware - $20,000Made from porcelain and enamel1906 - West Virginia - $25,000Made of a particularly thin aluminum, much less durable than other plates1922 - Hawaii - $30,000Creative design for its time - rare, since cars were rare on Hawaii1912 - Mississippi - $35,000Rare, since cars were rare back then in Mississippi - there are more 1912 plates than 1913 plates out there1913 - Mississippi - $50,000For a long time, collectors were unaware of the Mississippi 1913 plates. Only two are known to exist.1921 - Alaska - $60,000Rare, since there were little cars in Alaska. The sale occurred in 2000, in a parking lot in Biddeford, Maine.
1913 - North Carolina - $10,000A rare plate, made from porcelain, very few have survived trough the years
1913 - North Carolina - $10,000 A rare plate, made from porcelain, very few have survived trough the years
1906 - Virginia - $12,000Same as 1913 N.Carolina - porcelain plate that broke easily
1906 - Virginia - $12,000 Same as 1913 N.Carolina - porcelain plate that broke easily
1913 - Idaho - $13,000Unusually large for American plates - 15 1/4" by 6 1/14"
1913 - Idaho - $13,000 Unusually large for American plates - 15 1/4" by 6 1/14"
1905 - Vermont - $15,000Baked enamel over steel - deep cobalt blue background
1905 - Vermont - $15,000 Baked enamel over steel - deep cobalt blue background
1909 - Delaware - $20,000Made from porcelain and enamel
1909 - Delaware - $20,000 Made from porcelain and enamel
1906 - West Virginia - $25,000Made of a particularly thin aluminum, much less durable than other plates
1906 - West Virginia - $25,000 Made of a particularly thin aluminum, much less durable than other plates
1922 - Hawaii - $30,000Creative design for its time - rare, since cars were rare on Hawaii
1922 - Hawaii - $30,000 Creative design for its time - rare, since cars were rare on Hawaii
1912 - Mississippi - $35,000Rare, since cars were rare back then in Mississippi - there are more 1912 plates than 1913 plates out there
1912 - Mississippi - $35,000 Rare, since cars were rare back then in Mississippi - there are more 1912 plates than 1913 plates out there
1913 - Mississippi - $50,000For a long time, collectors were unaware of the Mississippi 1913 plates. Only two are known to exist.
1913 - Mississippi - $50,000 For a long time, collectors were unaware of the Mississippi 1913 plates. Only two are known to exist.
1921 - Alaska - $60,000Rare, since there were little cars in Alaska. The sale occurred in 2000, in a parking lot in Biddeford, Maine.
1921 - Alaska - $60,000 Rare, since there were little cars in Alaska. The sale occurred in 2000, in a parking lot in Biddeford, Maine.

Plates that caused trouble to their owners - Think twice when you order a vanity plate!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Plate that caused trouble to Andrew Burg from Marina del ReyLaw enforcement agencies were instructed to write "NONE", if the cited vehicle didn't have any plates. Are you brave enough to order this plate?"NOTAG" caused trouble for Jim Cara from Elsmere, Delaware.Richard Turner of Beverly Hills got tickets for his plate as well...Scottie Roberson from Hunstville, Alabama received $19,000 in fines because of his "XXXXXXX" plates.
Plate that caused trouble to Andrew Burg from Marina del Rey
Plate that caused trouble to Andrew Burg from Marina del Rey
Law enforcement agencies were instructed to write "NONE", if the cited vehicle didn't have any plates. Are you brave enough to order this plate?
Law enforcement agencies were instructed to write "NONE", if the cited vehicle didn't have any plates. Are you brave enough to order this plate?
"NOTAG" caused trouble for Jim Cara from Elsmere, Delaware.
"NOTAG" caused trouble for Jim Cara from Elsmere, Delaware.
Richard Turner of Beverly Hills got tickets for his plate as well...
Richard Turner of Beverly Hills got tickets for his plate as well...
Scottie Roberson from Hunstville, Alabama received $19,000 in fines because of his "XXXXXXX" plates.
Scottie Roberson from Hunstville, Alabama received $19,000 in fines because of his "XXXXXXX" plates.

License plates marketplace

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The "Bible" for U.S. License Plate Collectors - One of the best books on license plates

License Plates of the United States: A Pictorial History, 1903 to the Present
License Plates of the United States: A Pictorial History, 1903 to the Present

Although the price is high, it's worth every penny.

Here are a few quotes from satisfied customers:

"The corner stone publication for anyone collecting or interested in the license plates of the united states. With a color photo of each state's license plates,each year, since inception of their production. Key information about unique characteristics of license plates produced by each state. Written by a long time, well informed, serious collector."

"Jim Fox is extremely precise with his information. Excellent guide for collectors, includes wonderful color pictures of actual plates for all U.S. states."

"If you collect License Plates from the USA, you must have this book."

 

Do you have anything to share? - Comments, related stories, etc... Love to hear it!

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    • Cinnamonbite profile image

      Cinnamonbite 4 years ago

      In Florida, we only have the back plate. Which means you can put nothing or anything on the front. When you watch tv shows like Dexter, which are supposedly in Florida, they always have a front plate. I have a plate from Monet's Garden in Giverny, France on the front of my truck.