See 200 vintage license plates for all the American states & beyond

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Vintage 1930s license plates

States standardize license plate size (1955)

The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) Dec 8, 1955

The automobile license plate finally is settling down after fifty-four carefree years in which it has come in all shapes and sizes.

A standardized, 6 by 12-inch plate, in which even the bolt holes are fixed down to 1/16th of an inch, has been agreed on by the forty-eight States, the District of Columbia, the provinces of Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Photo by Dolfilms/Deposit Photos
Photo by Dolfilms/Deposit Photos

The target date for its universal use: October 1, 1957. And why should license plates be standardized? L. S. Harris, executive director of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, said today there are several advantages.

AIDS MANUFACTURERS

First, he said, it’s a big help to manufacturers. Since they have had to serve a variety of plates — including Tennessee’s, cut out in the shape of the State they have tended to put brackets on any old way.

In the future, the rear license plate probably will be slipped on from inside the trunk. Second, it should help the police. They figure it will be easier to light, and better protected from mud. Third, it should help motorists, Harris said, by being easier to install and, since it will be locked in the trunk, harder to steal.

Photo by Mliss/Deposit Photos
Photo by Mliss/Deposit Photos

ONE PLATE OR TWO

Most manufacturers will begin by working on where to put the rear plate. That’s because every member of the sixty-five organizations in the Vehicle Administrators’ Association has laws calling for rear plates. Only two-thirds of them require front plates, too. No one knows whether the trend is toward one or toward two plates.

Look at New York. Legally, it’s a two plate state. Yet beginning with the war, New York passed emergency legislation saying that this year we’ll do with one. Each year, it has passed similar emergency measures.

Old and antique US license plates (3)

BIG SAVINGS

Sure, they know the war is over. But they also know they can save a half-million dollars in materials if they don’t make a front plate. New York probably had the first license plates, back in 1901. [Editor’s note: Some sources say that a man named Earl Russell received the first NY license plate back in 1901 for his 12-hp Panhard automobile.]

In those days, an automobilist went down, registered his car with the county clerk, got a number and went home and made his own license, usually out of leather and ordinary house numbers.

Not until around 1913 did states realize they had a potential mint here, and started making license plates to raise tax money.

Maine's first license plates from 1905 - Shown in 1964

NEW LAWS SEEN

Are more standardizations in the works? Harris says “Yes” in the field of law enforcement. A new code is being agreed on by all the States, and if you want a one-word description, Harris has it: Tougher.

“A good idea,” Harris said. “For too long we have paid too little attention to the problem of traffic violations, and I’m hoping this code will help.

“If someone stepped out on Pennsylvania Avenue” — the main drag between the Capitol and the White House — “and fired a pistol into the air, every cop in town would come running. And yet, compared with the fellow who barrels through a red light, he’s not nearly as dangerous.”

Old and antique US license plates (4)

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1950s license plates: Florida, Michigan, North Dakota, Georgia, Minnesota, Ohio, Idaho, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Illinois, Montana, Pennsylvania

Old license plates from 1956 (6)


Vintage 1956 license plates: Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Alaska

Also Canadian plates: Quebec, Saskatchewan, NWT, Yukon

Old license plates from 1956 (1)


Vintage 1950s license plates: Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska

Old license plates from 1956 (2)


Colorado, Louisiana, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine, New Mexico

Old license plates from 1956 (3)


Vintage 1956 license plates: Arkansas, Kansas, Nevada, California, Kentucky, New Hampshire

Old license plates from 1956 (4)


Old ’56 license plates: Delaware, Maryland, New York, Washington DC, Massachusetts, North Carolina

Old license plates from 1956 (5)


1956 state license plates: Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee

Also Canadian plates: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick

Old license plates from 1956 (7)


1956 car license plates: Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia

Also Canadian plates: Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island

Old license plates from 1956 (8)

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Rusty old US license plates

1940 New Mexico, 1956 California, 1967 Texas

Vintage American state license plates


1954 Idaho, 1956 Pennsylvania, 1959 Arizona 

Vintage American state license plates


1937 New Mexico, 1957 Wyoming, 1951 South Dakota

Vintage American state license plates


1932 Ohio, 1937 New Mexico, 1967 Montana

Vintage American state license plates


1932 California, 1973 Arizona, 1945 California

Vintage American state license plates


Old ’53 license plates color schemes: Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Wyoming

Also Canadian plates: Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon

Vintage license plates from 1953 (1)


Vintage ’53 license plates: Alabama, Iowa, Arizona, Kansas, Arkansas, Kentucky

Vintage license plates from 1953 (2)


Calssic car license plates from 1953: California, Louisiana, Colorado, Maine, Connecticut, Maryland

Vintage license plates from 1953 (3)

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Old license plates: Nevada, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Tennessee 

Also Canadian plates from 1953: Manitoba, New Brunswick

Vintage license plates from 1953 (8)


Old-style 1953 license plates: Delaware, Massachusetts, Washington D.C., Michigan, Florida, Minnesota

Vintage license plates from 1953 (4)


Auto license plates from 1953: Georgia, Mississippi, Idaho, Missouri

Vintage license plates from 1953 (5)


Vintage Illinois, Montana, Indiana & Nebraska license plates

Vintage license plates from 1953 (6)


1953 license plates: New Jersey, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, New York, Vermont, North Carolina, Virgina

Also Canadian plates: Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island

Vintage license plates from 1953 (9)


Vintage license plates: North Dakota, Washington, Ohio, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Wisconsin

Also Canadian plates: Quebec, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories

Vintage license plates from 1953 (10)


Vintage ’65-’66 license plates: Minnesota, Alabama, Maryland

Old 60s license plates USA (1)

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Old ’61-’62 license plates: New York

Old 1961 license plates


1965 license plates: Oregon, Georgia, Delaware, Arkansas, Wisconsin, New Hampshire

Old 60s license plates USA (2)


Classic car ’65 license plate colors: Hawaii, Alaska, West Virginia, New Jersey, Louisiana, Illinois

Old 60s license plates USA (3)


Old ’60s license plates: Washington, Utah, Iowa, Ohio

Old 60s license plates USA (5)


1960s license plates: Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico 

Old 60s license plates USA (6)


Vintage special license plates: Historic and more

Historical South Dakota, Oregon State Senator, 1975 Canal Zone (former U.S. territory of the Panama Canal Zone), Iowa antique plate, Ohio, Kansas, Arizona historic vehicle, South Carolina antique auto, Kansas antique car, Maine 1968, Illinois, Bicentennial decorative plate, South Carolina 1973, Iowa antique plate, Alaska 1975

Old and antique US license plates (2)

Wall of old license plates
Photo by winona911 via Twenty20
Photo by mwarholik via Twenty20
Photo by mwarholik via Twenty20

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