License Plates: Identifying Vehicles Since 1893

Canada's Northwest Territories license plate cut in the shape of a polar bear. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
Canada’s Northwest Territories license plate cut in the shape of a polar bear. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1901, New York became the first state in the U.S. to require license plates on automobiles.

Here are some things you may not have known about license plates.

The first license plates were issued in France in 1893. Germany followed in 1896 and The Netherlands in 1898.

When plates were introduced in the United States and Canada, the issuance was a matter for individual states and provinces to handle. The only plates issued by the U.S. government are for federal vehicles and for foreign diplomats.

New York’s 1901 introduction required only the owner’s initials be visible on the back of the vehicle. Drivers were responsible for making their own license plates.

Two years later, Massachusetts became the first with state-issued plates. Early on, most states required drivers to get new plates every year, often changing color schemes to allow police to tell the difference.

The United Kingdom began requiring number plates in 1904.

There are three roughly standard sizes around the world. In Europe, most plates are 20 1/2 inches wide by 4.3 inches tall. In Australia, and other countries, the plates are 14.6 inches by 5.3 inches. In the Americas, the plates are 12 inches by 6 inches.

In the U.S and Canada, states and provinces often design their plates with images and slogans promoting their jurisdiction. Wyoming has featured its trademark bucking horse and rider logo on every license plate since 1936. Colorado’s plate features the Rocky Mountains, while the plate from Canada’s Northwest Territories is cut in the shape of a polar bear.

Our question, what slogan is featured on the license plates from the state of Idaho?

Today is ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand. It’s World Malaria Day and DNA Day.

It’s National Plumbers’ Day, Hairstylist Appreciation Day and National Crayola Day.

It’s the birthday of inventor Guglielmo Marconi, journalist Edward R. Murrow and singer Ella Fitzgerald.

Because our topic doesn’t have a particular year associated with it, we will spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 2012, the top song in the U.S. was “We Were Young” by fun. featuring Janelle Monae.

The No. 1 movie was “Think Like a Man,” while the novel “The Lost Years” by Mary Higgins Clark topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


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