Texas has been registering motor vehicles since 1907 when the Legislature first authorized it. The goal of registration was, and remains, to collect fees to fund the building and maintenance of public roadways. License plates served as proof that the vehicle owner had paid registration fees for the privilege of using the State’s roads. Originally, license plates were solely the responsibility of the vehicle owner and could be made of any number of materials from leather to porcelain to wood. It wasn’t until 1917 that license plate designs were standardized and issued by the State.
Over the years the appearance of license plates has changed greatly. There have been over five dozen different general issue plate designs issued since 1917. In addition to the general issue plate, these days you will also spot specialty plates on our roadways. Specialty plates feature exclusive designs and are often used to raise funds for causes and identify various organizations. They can also be personalized with a unique alphanumeric pattern. In Texas, there’s a plate for every passion!
The “Panoramic Texas” license plate, issued in 2000, featured images of a cowboy, oil wells, and the Space Shuttle. More than 31.5 million of the plates were issued. It was the last plate that was stamped with raised letters and numbers, and the first to use three colors.
In an effort to stop the theft of license plate validation stickers, they are permanently replaced with windshield validation stickers. Windshield stickers had only been used once before in 1947 due to a shortage of license plates.
The Texas Legislature authorizes multi-year license plates in 1973 eliminating the need for registrants to purchase new plates annually. Instead, validation stickers are issued annually and affixed to the license plates.
The Prestige License Plate Act in 1965 allowed Texans to personalize their license plates. Plates could be ordered displaying names, initials, favorite nicknames, or even greetings.
The war effort caused a shortage of the metal used to manufacture license plates. The state looked for other ways to make plates. One idea was to make a soybean based license plate, but it was rejected because cattle kept eating the plates.
Specialty plates were manufactured solely for famed violinist, Dave Rubinoff, from 1939-1953. Since he frequently traveled the country on concert tours, the display of these plates on his vehicle was thought to have been an opportunity to publicize the state.
The Texas Legislature passed a law in 1933 authorizing the Texas Prison System in Huntsville to manufacture license plates.
Prior to the establishment of plate manufacturing facilities at the Huntsville Prison Tag Plant, Texas license plates were purchased on the open market from the lowest bidder. At one time, plates were furnished by companies in Missouri, Minnesota, and California.
The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles makes available a number of specialty plates for purchase. For a complete list of currently available plates, please visit the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles website.
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