License Plates Day is celebrated on April 25 to celebrate the first-ever issued license plate in the U.S. in 1901. Prior to this, there was no official marking or designation on any vehicle. The lack of acknowledgment hurt the vehicle owners because horses and carriages had more rights, and they could be denied access to roads. With the passage of the law, New York became the first state to issue a license plate on vehicles, and the trend was swiftly picked up by the entire West Coast states. Today, there are more than 250 million registered vehicles in the country, and each of them has a unique number plate.
History of License Plates Day
It’s amazing to think that today’s norms are yesterday’s discoveries. It wasn’t until the 20th century that someone thought of distinguishing vehicles on the basis of number plates. In 1901, New York Governor Benjamin Odell Jr. signed a new bill into a law that required motor vehicle owners to be registered with the state. Initially, the bill included directions about the design of the plate, which were later scrapped after the big automobile boom of the ‘50s. Individuals could design their own plates, as long as the characters were three inches high. On May 2, 1901, George F. Chamberlain became the first person to receive a license plate for his vehicle. A week after the law came into effect on April 25, 17 people had already applied for licenses. Within a year, the number of license plates in America climbed up to 1,566.
Although individually marking vehicles at the time came at a cost and effort to both authorities and citizens, it was also a relief. Without proper marking or acknowledgment, vehicle owners were harassed by laws that differed in each state. The U.S. took its lead from the Netherlands and France, which started a national database for license plates in the early 1890s.
License plate historian Keith Marvin notes that the license plate fashion parade was a spectacle of the past, with owners resorting to the use of metal, leather, and even wood to adorn their plates. The license plating took a turn from the initials of the owner to state numerals as their numbers increased. Subsequently, the state took over the issuance, designing, and database of license plates. On April 25, people take their cars for a stroll and display their unique plates in pride. License plate exhibitions are held across the country, and passionate souls come together to share their love for the interesting history of license plates.
License Plates Day timeline
New York’s Governor passes the first law mandating the use of license plates on vehicles.
1,566 automobile owners register their vehicles in the first year after the law is passed.
Massachusetts becomes the first state to distribute state-issued license plates to vehicle owners.
The Petersen exhibition opens up in Los Angeles to present vintage license plates and other historic automotive parts.
16.1 million new vehicles are registered in the U.S. in one year.
License Plates Day FAQs
How can I get a license plate?
License plates are issued by the state. You can get a license plate from your county’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
Is it legal to drive my car without a license plate?
You are allowed to drive your newly bought car without registration or license plate. In most states, you are required to get a permanent plate within 90 days of purchase of the vehicle.
Do I need a rear license plate?
It depends on where you live — 31 U.S. states require both front and rear license plates, whereas 19 mandate only the front plate.
License Plates Day Activities
Read the legislation
The License and Registration Act was the beginning of a new era in America. This landmark legislation changed the status of automobiles in the country. Following the recognition from the state, cars went from being an embarrassment to the riches to a household necessity. License Plates Day is a great day to brush up on that old history and honor the legislators behind this change.
Study road safety laws
When was the last time you acquainted yourself with any laws, let alone road safety laws that impact us all? It’s time to pick up the rule book and go by the page to absorb all safety laws and measures that you can adopt to become a better co-passenger of the road.
Be the change
With a swipe of a pen, New York’s governor ushered in a new set of laws in the country which benefited the vehicle owners and the government. On the anniversary of his most impactful decision, emulate his life’s teaching and be the change that you wish to see in the world.
5 Fascinating Facts About License Plates
The oldest plate
The first-ever license plate issued by the state of Massachusetts in 1903 still holds an active registration.
Vehicles owned and operated by the United States Postal Service are exempted from bearing a license plate.
The uniqueness of Pennsylvania
Vanity plates were introduced to the U.S. by Pennsylvania in 1931.
Potato for the win
The first-ever graphic license plate was that of a potato, issued by the state of Iowa in 1928.
The vanity of Virginia
Virginia issues the most number of vanity plates, customized as per the owner; while Texas comes last in the list.
Why We Love License Plates Day
It’s an opportunity to get creative
Customizable license plates and vanity sets are unique spoils of America. Most vehicle owners see license plates as an extension of their personality. On April 25, you have a chance to spruce up your own set and fill it with details that no one else has yet.
It’s unique for all
There have been a couple of hundred million unique license plates on the road ever since the first plate was issued in 1901. In a world where everything can be copied and originality has been reduced to a buzzword, our license plates stay true to the promise of being one of a kind.
It goes into the national database
Maintaining a central registry of every vehicle ensures accountability in times of need. The unique identity helps in keeping a trace of the vehicles and keeps a census of the automobiles on the road.
License Plates Day dates