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Car Features

The Long History of Car Number Plates

29 Aug , 2018  

Registration plates for vehicles have been around for a long time, and today we’re going to take a detailed look at their history. Read on to find out more.

If you own a vehicle, then you’ve had to deal with registration fees, and they can be a hefty additional cost, but registering a car is integral for matters of liability and public safety. Have you ever wondered how registration came about in the first place, however? Well, today we’ll be looking at the matter.

More specifically, we are going to look at the history of car number plates and their initial purpose compared to what they’re used for today. Instead of focusing on the history of number plates in any single country, we’ll instead go over the global history of these identifying numbers and their gradual evolution.

When you go over this history, you’ll have to keep in mind that motor vehicles used to be far less common than they are today. Back when cars were first introduced, they were reserved only for the exceptionally rich, so registration often wasn’t entirely necessary because of the small number of drivers. Regardless, let’s get into the details.

 

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History of Number Plates on Cars

Before we get to car number plates, you may be surprised to learn that they had a predecessor: the carriage plate. Some countries, like Spain, had previously passed ordinances which outlined the registration of carriages and other vehicles which used animals for power, so plates weren’t entirely new.

The first true automobile is a matter of debate, but many claim that Karl Benz’s design in 1886 was the initial modern example. Of course, cars were by no means a common sight at this time, and it explains why it took around ten years for the first car license plate law in the world to be passed.

 

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France was the first country to create number plates for cars all the way back in 1893, though it didn’t see rigorous enforcement during the first few years as it was restricted to Paris. Germany followed in France’s footsteps three years later in 1896, though it took even longer for national plate standards to be put in place.

The Netherlands was actually the first country to mandate that license plates for cars were a national requirement instead of confining the enforcement of the law to single cities or regions. In the UK, the first requirement for number plates was adopted in 1903 and started being enforced in 1904.

 

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When it comes to America, states adopted their plates individually, though New York was the first one to use them back in 1903, with most states following suit shortly afterward. Initially, it was the owner’s responsibility to acquire or create a registration plate, though the state started creating and distributing them shortly afterwards.

 

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Conclusion

As we all know today, number plates are essential for vehicle identification anywhere you go, though it’s odd to think that they haven’t always been a requirement.

Regardless, we hope that this guide has given you some context when it comes to the early development of number plates.

 

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By  -  
Owner / Editor of Carwitter - French car fiend, hot hatch lover. Follow @car_witter