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History of State License Plates

A Classic Collectors Item: State License Plates


Classic cars are a favorite among collectors and even hold deep roots in pop culture — think the Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger or The General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard. But what many don’t realize is that license plates are just as much a part of automotive history and as the vehicles they’re on. In fact, they have a unique story of their own dating back to the early 1900s.


When the vehicle boom took over America, there was no such thing as license plates, but as more drivers took to the roads, it became necessary for authorities to enforce driver accountability — hence the birth of the license plate. In 1901, New York governor, Benjamin Odell Jr. signed into law, a bill that required owners to register their motor vehicles, and as they say, the rest is history.


License plates started as homemade tags made from leather, enamel and even wood that held owners first and last initials. As more drivers needed vehicle registration this system evolved into the random strings of numbers and letters on metal plates that we use today. To celebrate nostalgia and learn more about these prized collector’s items, CarRentals put together this guide that looks at the evolution of their favorite license plate designs in the U.S. — while giving you juicy tidbits about their humble beginnings.



history of license plates

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