The History of Vehicle License Plates

Vehicle license plates

If you own a car, then you ought to have a license plate to authenticate your ties or the matters of ownership with your vehicle? Is it the only purpose why license plates were developed, or the very need for their existence came onto the thought horizon of humans or is there some more complex and significant purpose behind it? Every country on earth requires their residents or the area that their government has control over to register each and every vehicle, and to authenticate it, the vehicle owners have to put a license plate both at the front and the back of their vehicles.

What is It with License Plates?

The license plates are everywhere and so common that people don't even bother to slow down for a minute to question their existence? What was the purpose behind it, when and where it first came into effect? A license plate can play an array of essential roles to keep us safe, but the most evident of them all is tracking down our vehicle when it gets stolen. These are not a bunch of different numbers thrown on a metal sheet and then plastered to the back and front of your vehicle, there is a story there, and a purpose is being fulfilled.     

As the modern vehicle applications continue to bask in the amazing light of new and improved scientific discoveries and technological feats, so do the license plates. Vehicular driving is going to get revolutionized as the IoT (Internet of Things) becomes a solid and debatable topic, so it is not the vehicle itself that is going to get all these new modifications; the license plates are also going to get revolutionized. To better understand the purpose a license plate serves and why it is extremely important, let's have a look at its stretching history, when and where it was developed, and what was the original purpose of doing so.

How the License Plates did Come into Being?

The modern car has a long over-hauling history about how it came into being and its very mechanics, so instead of boring you out with the specifics, let's state the obvious, which is that the first fully functioning and modern automobile was invented and developed in Europe. A German inventor by the name of Karl Benz did present his patent of the Motorwagen, which is also known as the Benz Patent, in 1886. This is the very year that is officially dedicated to the birth year of the modern vehicle. There was not a great deal of these present in the past, and the ones that were present were reserved to be used by wealthy and businessmen.

But after the concept of a modem vehicle and its execution was out there in the open, other players and inventors joined the game, investors poured in heavy money, and Europe became the beating heart of modern vehicle production. These cars started mass-production, and the need for their identification and association with the owner rose; thus, a modern system worthy of achieving this goal would have to be crafted. The sole purpose of this need was to identify the owner and enforce road laws and regulations regarding safety and protection of the public, and personal property were important points as well. France became the first country to invent a license plate in 1893.

France numeric license plate

Giving in to the benefits a license plate had to offer and how easier it became to track the owners and the cars associated with their names, other European countries gave in to this idea, and the Dutch put out a national license plate rule in 1898. By the start of 1901, each and every vehicle in Europe was catching up with the production and provision of license plates on their vehicles, and by that time, the US was catching up with the concept.

License Plate Market Reaching the US

The license plate's initiation and appearance in the US are rather intricate and muddled as each and every state passed down its own set of rules and regulations when it comes to provision license plates by the people on their individual vehicles. The process began in New York when the New York governor Benjamin Odell Jr. on April 25, 1901, passed down the orders that it is mandatory from now on for each and every individual owning a vehicle out there to get it registered by the state using proper channels. So, every individual with a car had to put a license plate at the back of their vehicle bearing their initials.

The first leather car license plate in MinnesotaThe first leather car license plate in Minnesota, 1903 / Minnesota Historical Society

New York state didn’t become practical about enforcing the provision of the license plates until 1909, which means that each and every citizen owning a car had to do it all by themselves until then. The plates were made of leather, pelt, or metal with the initial of the owner’s serving as an identifier. This method was not efficient in dissecting one car from the other and most of these were really alike so the state of New York started mass-producing these license plates on their own by the year 1909. Although the idea of using stamped license plates was first introduced by West Virginia.

Massachusetts was among the pioneer states in the USA that initiated an official process of developing license plates once people started registering their vehicles in the year 1903. It proved to be a solid move that allowed other states to follow in the footsteps, and the whole process caught the attention and was widely adopted in all of the US.

Some of the US states do not use some letters on the license plates - most commonly the letters I and O, except on vanity plates, to not confuse observers with the numbers 1 and 0.

By the year 1931, the state of Pennsylvania offered what is known as the first self-personalized license plate. However, it was not until 1965 that vanity plates or plates carrying a private number were introduced, but it is interesting to note that it was the state of Pennsylvania that first allowed the citizens to put their initials over the government-issued plates.

The Popularity of Private License Plates

This trend kicked off in the US but was soon adopted by other regions as well. The concept is plain and simple, which lurks on a process that any individual after the registering of their vehicle and obtaining a government-issued license plate can have a second one that is private with their own initials and such, and it would be as good as the first one where regulations are involved. But the catch here is that the second one can be used to track the first one and so the original owner of a said vehicle.

In modern times the same concept is being practiced where individuals are allowed to customize their number plates, but the government and regulatory bodies can still read the owner's data and track the whereabouts of the vehicle if need be. An added fee has to be paid if you want to go with the individual license plate and customize it according to your needs, but you would have to do some research depending on which region you subside at the moment and what laws and regulations are active around the subject.

Digital Technology Reinventing License Plates

With such advancements taking place in modern times thanks to the achievements of automated technology, it is only valid that the license plate is going to get reinvented into something much more than a piece of metal with letters or numbers on it. The rise of the digital license plate brings into use the principles and applications of modern technology; the concept is that the paperwork and the time that is taken to track owners of the car in extreme regulatory cases could be cut short.

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Digital license plates can record the owner's and the car's data in real-time as these have electric equipment mounted into them that transmits this data directly to the state-controlled data centers or servers controlling the very functioning of these digital license plates.

Digital license plate in CaliforniaDigital license plate introduced in California

Automatic payments can be made by the owners on car mortgage and repair, car and owner information can be made accessible to the state, telemetry, current status of the vehicle and new updates and regulatory changes will also be rolled towards the owner’s so they are aware of the changing situation out there. This is nothing but a solid step that will reinvent the process of tracking, making payments, and viewing the current stats of your car in real-time. But one thing should be kept in mind that this process and all its varietals are just too costly at the moment to be introduced into the main consumer market. That is why some flaws have to be corrected, and some suitable corners are to be cut in terms of the costs before this technology could go live.     

Green License Plates Favoring the Green Future Initiative

The environment always takes a heavy hit whenever man sets his mind to achieve wonders and surpass the current caliber of technology; that is why you must have seen the green initiative is not only buzzing but also being adopted in the business and technology sector rather fast. The purpose here is to reduce the carbon footprint and to minimize pollution. The UK is among the regions that are seriously considering developing green license plates to help the automotive industry and reduce the possibility of current environmental hazards.

The goal is to teach citizens to cut their carbon emission footprint by facilitating the reduction of toll fees and other financial invectives by the state so the citizens get their hands on green license plates and engage in practices that will help to make this world a better place. Even if it is done for the sake of relaxation proposed by the government for such individuals, this incentive will definitely keep the ball rolling and helping the adoption of the green license plates more consistent and thorough.

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