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Interesting Historical Facts about License Plates You Should Know

Did you know that the first-ever license plates were made from porcelain that was baked over ceramic and iron? It was then followed by leather and wood. What’s more, did you know that during World War 1, license plate makers had to resort to soybean-based fiberboard license plates because metal was used for war efforts during that time?

Yes, as trifling as they appear to be, license plates (or number plates) actually have quite a rich history that many of us don’t know. Some are quite interesting, and would be great to discuss when you’re running out of topics when making small talk. And while we can’t promise that it’s enough to impress a stranger and get his or her phone number, at the very least, you get to show you have a brain between your ears (you’re welcome). Here are some interesting facts about license plates you should definitely know::

  • France was the first country to introduce ‘registration’ plates in 1893, but it was actually in Netherlands that started a nationally-registered license plate in 1898. They called it “driving permit” that time. Still, there are some historians that contest this, saying that it was in Baden, Germany, where the first license plates were issued. We still don’t know which is true.
  • It seems many “firsts” in the license plate business started in the US. For instance, New York was the first state in the U.S. to require vehicles to bear license plates (1901), although…
  • It was in Massachusetts where the first state-issued plates was issued by the government in 1903. It was numbered numerically, with the “1” license plate issued to Frederick Tudor. During that time, Tudor was working with the highway commission and was the nephew of Henry Lee Higginson. Higginson, who had a lot of influential friends and the founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, submitted a petition in 1903 about his problem entitled, “A Petition Relative to Licensing Automobiles and Those Operating the Same.”
  • Interestingly, Frederick Tudor’s “1” plate is still actively registered to a member of his family 113 years later.

  • Aside from these facts, the first graphic image to appear on a license plate also started in the US. The image was actually a potato for the state of Iowa, which appeared in 1928.
  • And here’s another first in the US: The first-ever personalized plate (vanity plate) was issued in Pennsylvania using the driver’s initials in 1931.
  • One of the most interesting vanity plates was “ILOVETOFU”, which had a sexual connotation to it. Also, there were some vanity plates that have caused quite a commotion with the police. These plates, such as “No Plate,” “No Tag,” and “Missing” became a problem when it came to filling out the ID Plate section form. What’s more, they also became a problem for the owners. One interesting case was the “No Plate” license plate. The man who owned it in 1979 received over 2,500 unpaid citations for cars that had “No Plate” designations by the police.
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