Did Washington State Really Require Drivers to Make Their Own License Plates?
Did Washington Drivers Once Have To Make Their Own License Plates?
Have you ever heard the story that in the early 1900s, Washington State required drivers to make their own license plates?
It sounds a little far-fetched, but it’s actually true.
Let’s look back at this fascinating piece of American history and find out how it all happened right here in Washington State.
The Year was 1905
It all began in 1905 when the state of Washington passed a law requiring drivers to register their vehicles with the state and then display license plates.
According to The Washington DOT website, here's how the unique history of Washington State license plates played out at the start of the century:
The Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) was created by the Legislature and was put under the direction of the Secretary of State (SOS). The SOS personally signed all licenses.
Vehicles were assigned license numbers for a yearly flat fee of $2. In the first year, 763 license numbers were issued, resulting in revenue of $1,526.
Plates were not issued by the DMV, vehicle owners had to make their own. They could paint or fasten the numbers to wood, metal, or leather. If they didn't want a plate, they could stencil the numbers on the front and rear of the vehicle.
The first vehicle licensed belonged to Mr. S.A. Perkins of Tacoma. On May 2, 1905, he licensed a 30 HP Pope-Toledo Touring car. He retained his license number, B-1, for many years.
Washington State's experiment with DIY license plates lasted until 1915 when the legislature changed the license laws, requiring applications to be filed with a county auditor.
A temporary license plate was furnished for use while waiting for plates to be mailed from Olympia. From 1915 to 1916, Tacoma Rubber and Stamp Company made license plates from wood or leather.
The number of licenses increased to 46,000 vehicles by 1915.
It may seem hard to believe today, but back in 1905, Washington State really did require drivers to make their own license plates.
This experiment is long gone, but its legacy still lives on in our vintage cars and hand-painted license plates. If you ever see one in the wild you are a lucky person.