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Estimate of Registration and
Plate Numbers Assigned Annually, 1907-1917

 

 

1912

 

 

Introduction

This page exists specifically to address the topic of during which calendar years particular D.C. registration numbers displayed on undated porcelain enamel plates were assigned. Information crucial to being able to correctly interpret and use the information presented below appears on a separate page, and should be read before using this data.

Exactly which registration numbers were issued annually from Oct. 1907 through Dec. 1917 (the “porcelain era,”) remains unknown due to a lack of direct evidence. The estimates presented in tabular form below, the derivation of which is explained in the remainder of this page, is based primarily on data presented in a report prepared annually by the city government's Automobile Board and published each fall in the Report of the Commissioners of the District of Columbia for the fiscal year ended the previous June 30. Analysis of the annual report data has included summarizing it by calendar year, not on the originally-reported fiscal year basis, primarily so as to allow license pate collectors that own these plates today to associate a particular year with them. Although these undated, permanent plates were never associated with a particular year (calendar or fiscal) or registration period while they were in use, 100 years later a variety of reasons make associating them with their year of issue relevant.

Estimating plate numbers assigned annually from 1907 through 1917 is difficult for a variety of reasons that are explained as they present themselves in the year-by-year sections below. In general, however, the process begins by determining the number of registrations issued (and, with respect to 1907, plates sold to replace earlier, motorist-provided plates still in legal use) during the year, then assigning plate numbers to those transactions.

Although there was only a single registration classification in Washington throughout the porcelain era, there are two license plate types, which we refer to as “Full-Size” and “Motorcycle.” Full-size plates are most commonly associated with private passenger registrations but were also issued to vehicle dealers, the federal and District governments, and for use on trucks, taxis, and other vehicle types except motorcycles. A separate style of plate is believed to have always been issued for use on motorcycles, except for when a few full-size plates were issued to motorcycle owners in October 1907 when the uniform porcelain plates were introduced and until it was quickly realized that they were inappropriate for use on cycles. There was, however, no separate series of numbers for motorcycles. Instead, blocks of numbers from a single sequence were set aside for exclusive use on motorcycle plates.

The Automobile Board's fiscal 1917 annual report includes a statement to the effect that D.C.'s undated, white-on-black porcelain license plates were first issued on October 8, 1907, beginning at number 1. Until and unless information comes to our attention that contradicts these important facts, they will be accepted as accurate and provide the foundation of our discussion and analysis.

Estimate of Plate Numbers Assigned Annually

Presented in this table is our estimate as to which numbers were assigned annually and upon which type of plate they appeared. Not knowing which blocks of numbers were set aside for use on motorcycle plates after the 5000 series was exhausted in (according to our estimates) October 1911 results in a number of important assumptions having to be made as this table was prepared. Other relevant assumptions are discussed elsewhere on this page. As additional plates, full-size and motorcycle, are reported (because they still exist today or are shown in photographs taken during the period during which they were used), we will continue to refine and update this information.

The highest-number plate documented is presently 65038, and the total number of 1907-1917 registrations documented below is 66,444. DCplates.net is aware of the existence of five motorcycle plates from this era, the numbers of which are 5627, 12612, 12725, 13609, and 16657.

Table of registration numbers estimated to have been issued annually from Oct. 1907 through Dec. 1917
1. We believe that full-size plates of particular numbers up to 2463 issued in October and November 1907 to replace homemade plates already in use were provided to motorists to whom the same number had been assigned from Aug. 1903 through Sept. 1907. Therefore, although we are fairly certain that plates 1 through 2463 were issued between Oct. 1907 and Jan. 1909, exactly when during this period plates with particular numbers were issued is, we believe, indeterminable. See the discussion below about full-size plate numbers assigned in 1907, 1908, and (to a lesser extent) 1909 for additional information.
 

About Certain Estimates

The table shown above is the result of an analytical process that required our having to make a number of estimates about a variety of data types included in the Automobile Board's annual reports. The most important ones, which is to say those that most prominently affect the data shown above, are described in the year-by-year text sections below because in many cases they apply to only one or a few reporting periods. There are, however, two categories of estimates that affect a number of years, and although they do not affect the data as much as others, they are described here in the interest of not repeating the relevant facts in various applicable annual sections. Both estimates relate to the number of registrations of reported totals (for "no-fee" (i.e. government-owned) vehicles and vehicles owned by non-D.C. residents) that were evidenced by motorcycle plates. In other words, in these instances a total number of plates is reported by the Board as having been sold but no distinction is made bewteen full-size and motorcycle plates. This distinction is obviously important as we estimate numbers on full-size and motorcycle plates assigned annually, although the total quantity of affected numbers is relatively insignificant.

No-Fee Vehicles. The first instance in which we have been compelled to estimate how many plates of reported totals were evidenced by motorcycle plates vs. full-size plates relates to registrations issued without a fee for use on government-owned vehicles. The following table shows the population:


Cal.
Year



Months

Total
No-Fee
Veh.


Unspecified
Plate Type

or

Full-
Size

 

Cycle

1907
Oct.-Dec.
-
-
-

-

1908
all
5
5
-
-
1909
Jan.-June
6
6
-
-
July-Dec.
10
-
8
2
1910
Jan.-June
4
-
4
0
July-Dec.
14
14
-
-
1911
all
44
44
-
-
1912
all
77
77
-
-
1913
Jan.-June
59
59
-
-
July-Dec.
42
-
32
10
1914
Jan.-June
46
-
39
7
July-Dec.
34
34
-
-
1915
Jan.-June
42
42
-
-
 
July-Dec.
no data about no-fee vehicles reported
1916
all
no data about no-fee vehicles reported
1917
Jan.-June
no data about no-fee vehicles reported
 
July-Dec.
539
539
-
-

As is evident from this table, a distinction was made regarding the plate type assigned to no-fee vehicles only for fiscal years 1910 and 1914. That leaves two problems: 1) From 1908 through 1917 there are 820 no-fee vehicles for which the plate type is unspecified, and 2) from July 1915 through June 1917, a two year period during which the number of government-owned vehicles appears to have skyrocketed, there are no statistics about how many such registrations were assigned. They were, however, presumably included in the statistics identified as "Automobile and motorcycle tags issued to residents of the District of Columbia," so hopefully we have captured them in our analysis.

This table showns the composition of no-fee registrations, by plate type, for the two fiscal years for which the breakdown is known:


Cal.
Year



Months

Total
No-Fee
Veh.

 


Full-Size
 

 

Motorcycle

1909
July-Dec.
10
 
8
80.0%
 
2
20.0%
1910
Jan.-June
4
 
4
100.0%
 
0
0.0%
total fiscal 1910
14
12
85.7%
2
14.3%
1913
July-Dec.
42
 
32
76.2%
 
10
23.8%
1914
Jan.-June
46
 
39
84.8%
 
7
15.2%
total fiscal 1914
88
71
80.7%
17
19.3%

In light of data shown above, the following estimates (in bold) have been made as to the plate type issued in evidence of no-fee registrations during the periods indicated:


Cal.
Year



Months

Total
No-Fee
Veh.


Full-
Size

 

Cycle

 

Basis of Estimate

1907
all
no reported no-fee registrations
1908
all
5
4
1
use fiscal 1910 split
1909
Jan.-June

6

5
1
use fiscal 1910 split
July-Dec.
no estimate necessary
The fiscal 1910 split is

1910

Jan.-June
no estimate necessary
85.7% full-size, 14.3% m/c
July-Dec.
14
12
2
use fiscal 1910 split
1911
all
44
37
7
assume 83%/17% split
1912
all
77
62
15
use fiscal 1914 split
1913
Jan.-June
59
48
11
use fiscal 1914 split
July-Dec.
no estimate necessary
The fiscal 1914 split is
1914
Jan.-June
no estimate necessary
80.7% full-size, 19.3% m/c
 
July-Dec.
34
27
7
use fiscal 1914 split
1915
Jan.-June
42
34
8
use fiscal 1914 split
 
July-Dec.
see 1915 section below
 

1916

all
see 1916 section below
 
1917
Jan.-June
see 1917 section below
 
 
July-Dec.
539
510
29
see next paragraph

Regarding the allocation of the 539 no-fee 1917 registrations between plate types, we have diverged from our early basis because if we estimated that about 80% of these registrations were used on motorcycles, the result would be an estimate of about 100 government-owned motorcycles being registered during the final six months of 1917, which we believe is unrealistic. Therefore, we have based our estimate of the number of registered no-fee motorcycles on the ratio of resident-owned cycles to vehicles that used full-size plates as discussed in the 1917 section below. It is possible that by late 1917 there may have been some new class of vehicle owner, other than governments, that was entitled to no-fee plates. Perhaps the federal government altered the manner in which it registered its vehicles with the D.C. Automobile Board between mid-1915 and mid-1917 (a period for which we have no information about the number of no-fee vehicles registered).

As a result of this work, in the year-by-year sections below we have classified as motorcycle a total of 81 (9.9%) of the 820 no-fee registrations for which the vehicle type is unknown.

Non-Resident Vehicles. The regulation that since mid-1905 had allowed out-of-District residents to register their vehicles with the Automobile Board using their home state license plates, thereby not requiring them to purchase a D.C. plate, apparently was rescinded as of January 16, 1913. This change was brought about due to problems encountered in establishing reciprocity with nearby states, especially Maryland, a topic that is addressed on a separate page.

Specifically, regulations governing the operation within Washington of non-D.C.-registered vehicles owned by non-D.C. residents appear to have been changed twice during calendar year 1913. Both the January 16 and July 21 provisions apply to both drivers licenses and vehicle registrations, although we have addressed only the latter.

The first change, the “January 16 provision,” appears to have required (among other things) that non-residents operating their vehicles within Washington pay to the Automobile Board for a D.C plate the same amount that they paid to their home state in the form of a vehicle registration fee. There was no registration fee in D.C. at the time, so these fees were likely considered “plate fees” by the Board. This regulation was presumably difficult to administer due to the various ways registration fees were determined in various states, apparently resulting in the adoption of the “July 21 provision” six months later, which required non-residents only to follow the same vehicle-related regulations as applied to D.C. residents, including payment of a $2 plate fee and display of a D.C. plate.

Each of these provisions, and statistics reported annually by the Board as a result of their implementation, must be analyzed in order to estimate how many license plates were issued due to their application.

The January 16 Provision

This language, the Jan. 16 provision, appears in the Automobile Board's fiscal 1913 report:

“January 16, 1913, the police regulations were amended by adding to the end of section 2, Article XXVI, the following: “ Provided , That a non-resident of the District of Columbia shall not be allowed to operate a motor vehicle in the District of Columbia expect in every case upon the terms and conditions and payment of fees and further precedent compliance within said District of Columbia of registration of such motor vehicle with the secretary of the automobile board for the time prescribed by the State or Territorial law of the applicant's residence for a resident of the District of Columbia operating a motor vehicle in said State or Territory; And provided further , That the law of the District of Columbia and its regulations shall in all other respects apply in all such cases and to all such persons.”

We find the primary provision of this new regulation to be confusing, and we believe that its execution and enforcement being so cumbersome is the reason for it having been superseded six months later. If this assumption is accepted, however, we find it curious that presentation of the July 21 provision in the fiscal 1914 report does not include a statement to the effect that the Jan. 16 provision was being rescinded.

Our interpretation of the Jan. 16 provision is as follows:

“January 16, 1913, the police regulations were amended by adding to the end of section 2, Article XXVI, the following: “ Provided , That a non-resident of the District of Columbia shall not be allowed to operate a motor vehicle in the District of Columbia expect in every case…” Up to this point the language is fairly clear, except that we don't know whether Jan. 16 is an effective date or the date a new regulation was passed. We assume the former, or that both are the same.

”…upon the terms and conditions and payment of fees and further precedent compliance within said District of Columbia of registration of such motor vehicle with the secretary of the automobile board for the time prescribed by the State or Territorial law of the applicant's residence for a resident of the District of Columbia operating a motor vehicle in said State or Territory;” This is the confusing part. We believe that this language says that the D.C. registration regulation to be applied to a vehicle owner from any particular state while said non-resident vehicle owner operates his or her vehicle within D.C., and to be enforced by the Automobile Board, will be all terms and conditions of vehicle registration, including fees, that would be applied to D.C. residents if they were to take their D.C-registered vehicle into the same state. More specifically:

  • “Upon the terms and conditions and payment of fees and further precedent compliance” is the reference to the registration provisions of any jurisdiction other than the District of Columbia;
  • “within said District of Columbia of registration of such motor vehicle with the secretary of the automobile board” is where the D.C. Automobile Board is called (although not very clearly) to apply the regulations referenced;
  • “for the time” is a confusing reference, but probably indicates that registration (i.e. reciprocity) time limits that exist in any particular state will in turn be applied by D.C., which essentially was already covered in “upon the terms and conditions” earlier in the provision; and
  • “prescribed by the State or Territorial law of the applicant's residence for a resident of the District of Columbia operating a motor vehicle in said State or Territory” is fairly clear, indicating that regulations that would be applied to D.C. resident in a particular state will be applied to residents of that state that bring their vehicles into Washington.

And provided further, That the law of the District of Columbia and its regulations shall in all other respects apply in all such cases and to all such persons.” This appears to be a standard qualifier, intended and included to make clear that, in the absence of explicit guidance, all laws that apply to D.C. residents apply to everyone.

The intention of this provision was probably primarily to exact revenge on Maryland for requiring that D.C. residents that wished to travel into that state register their vehicles there. Although D.C. did not have a registration fee at this time, residents of Maryland and other states that wanted to bring their vehicles into the District were essentially required to pay to the D.C. Automobile Board the same registration fee they had paid to their home state. (A separate page upon which the reciprocity issue is addressed may be reached by clicking here.)

The fiscal 1913 Annual Report quote continues: “Complying with the above-quoted amendment there was paid for ‘enamel identification number tags' $1,939.58, the States wherein the motor vehicles were [based?] being shown in detail in the [list] following: Connecticut, $20; Georgia, $2; Indiana, $2; Maryland, $1,603.08; Massachusetts, $10; New Jersey, $5; Rhode Island $15; Texas, $2; Virginia, $278; West Virginia, $2.50; Total, $1,939.58.” That the fees quoted are those of the various states and do not represent multiple applications of the $2 D.C. plate fee is evidenced by the presence of numbers not divisible by $2. For example, in Rhode Island at the time the registration fee was based upon the vehicle's horsepower. The $15 in receipts associated with that state could be comprised of a single 31 h.p.-40 h.p. vehicle, the registration fee for which was $15; single examples of a vehicle rated at up to 20 h.p., for which a $5 fee was assessed, and a 21 h.p.-30 h.p. vehicle, the registration fee for which was $10; or three vehicles of up to 20 h.p.

We are therefore left to estimate how many vehicles are represented by the collection of $1,939.58 in out-of-state-based fees collected from February through June 30. This is easier said than done, because even in the case of a seemingly simple amount like the $15 Rhode Island-related remittance we have no way of knowing whether this relates to one, two, or three vehicles (not to mention the possibilities when the unlikely inclusion of Rhode Island-based motorcycles are included). We also don't know how many of the plates issued to non-residents were full-size and how many were motorcycle. To reiterate the impact of this entire text section, we believe that from February through June 1913 some unknown number of plates, of unknown types (full-size or motorcycle), were issued upon receipt of payments that total $1,939.58.

To complicate the situation even further, there is a possibility that registration transactions associated with the $1,939.58 in non-resident receipts are included in the other (i.e. D.C. resident) fiscal year 1913 transactions reported by the Board. We do not, however, believe this to be the case because although this distinction is not made clear with respect to vehicle registration/plate fees and the quantity of corresponding plates issued, it is made clear regarding amounts collected for the issuance of operators licenses and the quantity of corresponding licenses issued. We assume that statistics for the two transaction types are summarized in the report consistently, and therefore that the unknown number of non-resident transactions are separate from the 4,036 other registration transactions processed during the fiscal year.

We have assumed that the average registration fee paid for the vehicles for which a total of $1,939.58 was collected during the period of Feb.-June 1913 is $5. Therefore, we have estimated that 388 D.C registrations were issued to non-residents. As for whether they were full-size or motorcycle plates, for each month (a level of detail not presented on this page but used for a number of calculations) we have estimated the percentage of motorcycle plates at 50% of the ratio of resident cycle plates to all plates issued to D.C. residents, a relationship determined based upon known results of sales to residents and non-residents during both halves of fiscal year 1918, the only year for which this information is known.

We'll use February 1913 as an example. The Automobile Board report for fiscal year 1913 indicates that of the $1,939.58 collected from non-residents for registrations from February through June 1913, $215.92 was collected during February. That amount is 11.13% of the total collected. Because 11.13% of 388 is 43, we have estimated 43 as the number of plates sold to non-residents. Also in February, 39, or 14.0%, of plates sold to D.C. residents and of which the format (full-size or motorcycle) is known were cycle plates, so we have assumed that 7.0% (50% of 14.0%) of the non-resident plates sold that month were cycle plates. Therefore, we have estimated that of the 43 plates issued to non-residents during the month, 40 were full-size plates and 3 were motorcycle plates .

In conclusion, for the period of February through June 1913 we have estimated that 354 full-size and 34 motorcycle D.C. plates were issued to non-residents of the District of Columbia. These amounts have been integrated in our calendar year 1913 analysis presented below.

The July 21 Provision

The second instance in which we have been compelled to guess how many plates of reported totals were evidenced by motorcycle plates vs. full-size plates relates to registrations issued to non-D.C. residents from July 1913 through June 1915. Annual reports of the Automobile Board for fiscal years 1914 and 1915 indicate, by state of origin, dollar amounts collected from out-of-District residents for the $2 plate fee they were obliged to pay, effective July 21, 1913, upon registering their machines in D.C. By dividing these amounts by two we can calculate the number of plates issued. We do not, however, know how many of these plates were full-size and how many were for motorcycles, so we are left to make an estimate of this relevant distinction.

For July 1913, the month during which the regulation regarding registration of non-resident vehicles in D.C. was changed (with the adoption of the July 21 provision), two amounts are shown for vehicles based in Maryland and Virginia. We have assumed that the first of the two amounts associated with each jurisdiction represent registration proceeds of July 1-20, levied under the January 16 provision (and based on the home state registration fee), and the second represents fees collected under the July 21 provision from that date through the end of the month (based on the $2 D.C. plate fee). We have associated other (i.e. non-Maryland and non-Virginia) July collections with the later portion of the month.

For each six-month period from July 21, 1913, through June 30, 1915, we have simply divided non-resident registration transaction proceeds by two (i.e. $2) to determine the number of plates sold. Most importantly, as we did for the period of February through June 1913 (as discussed above), we have estimated the number of motorcycle plates (and therefore the number of full-size plates) sold during each month at 50% of the ratio of resident cycle plates to all plates issued to D.C. residents, a relationship determined based upon known results of sales to residents and non-residents during both halves of fiscal year 1918, the only year for which this information is known. (See the February 1913 example above.)

As a result, amounts in the Estimated Full-Size and Estimated Motorcycle columns in this table are used in the 1913, 1914, and 1915 sections below:


Period


Year

Revenue
Reported

No. of
Regis.

Estimated
Full-Size
 

Estimated
Motorcycle

July 1-20
1913
$167.50
34
31
3
July 21-Dec. 31
1913
1,366.00
683
631
52
Total July-Dec.
1913
 
717
662
55
             
Jan. 1-June 30
1914
2,002.00
1,001
918
83
July 1-Dec. 31
1914
2,072.00
1,036
972
64
Total Jan.-Dec.
1914
 
2,037
1,890
147
             
Jan. 1-June 30
1915
3,344.00
1,672
1,577
95

 

Presentation of Year-by-Year Estimates

1907

What follows is an explanation of our estimate as to which registration numbers were assigned during the portion of calendar year 1907 during which porcelain plates were issued, which appears to have been Tue., Oct. 8 through Wed., Dec. 31, as well as information used and assumptions made to arrive at our conclusion. Certain 1907 information is also relevant to our discussion of 1908 registration number assignments. Our discussion of 1907 activity is lengthier and potentially more confusing that all later years due to uncertainty as to exactly what happened during the early October 1907 transition from the prestate era to the porcelain era, as well as questions about exactly what happened with respect to motorcycle plates at this time (and through mid-1908).

Unlike all other years in the porcelain era of 1907-1917, the number of plates sold in late 1907 does not correlate to the number of registrations issued because during Oct. and Nov. 1907 plates were provided to motorists with existing valid registrations as well as those purchasing a new registration. Therefore, whereas the first text section in 1908 and later sections is entitled Number of Registrations Issued, for 1907 it is Estimate of the Number of License Plates Sold to include both transaction types. First, however, we will specifically address the transition period.

Oct. 1907 Prestate-Porcelain Transition

The Automobile Board reported (in 1917) that the first porcelain plates were issued on Mon., Oct. 8, 1907. Because what occurred in early October was simply the replacement of one style of plate for another, details of the transition are not documented, nor can the exact number of prestate-type transactions processed in October, if any, be determined. If indeed the first porcelain plates were not issued until one week into October, prestate registrations may have been issued from Mon., Oct. 1 through Mon., Oct. 7. However, perhaps no registrations were assigned during this eight-day period, with would-be registrants told to wait one week until the new plates were ready for distribution. It seems more likely, however, that anyone that required a registration through the end of business on Oct. 4 was told to make their own plate under the old (i.e. prestate) regulations, or perhaps a few of the porcelain plates were distributed early. We simply don't know what happened.

This uncertainty is relevant because October 1907 registration statistics reported by the Board in its fiscal 1908 annual report form a foundation for all estimates of registration number assignments to later years. Nevertheless, without definitive information as to what occurred in early October, we are left to guess.

Activity reported for the entire month of September (27 auto and 15 motorcycle registrations) has been associated with the prestate era. For October, the Board reported having sold 973 full-size and 23 motorcycle plates, and having collected $986 for this activity. The plate fee charged was $1, so if total reported collections were less than $973 we could have assumed that some registrations were issued without the associated fee, essentially marking them as prestate registrations. However, the collection of some amount other (but not lower) than $973 indicates that the transition wasn't as smooth as may have been expected. This discrepancy is addressed in the Motorcycle Plate Distribution Delayed section below.

It should be noted that the amount collected for plate fees in November and December 1907 (and later months) equals the number of full-size plates sold. For example $378 was collected in November for 378 full-size plates, a number higher than usual due to motorists complying with the new plate law after the Oct. 31 deadline. In December, $90 was collected for the sale of 90 full-size plates, and $61 and $37 were collected in January and February 1908, respectively, for the same number of non-motorcycle transactions in each month.

October, however, presents a problem. Our interpretation of what happened in this month, which affects our estimates of all later registration number assignments, is as follows. First, we have assumed that of the 973 reported non-motorcycle registration transactions, none were conducted under the prestate system. Therefore, we are assuming that either the issuance of new registrations evidenced by porcelain plates began sometime earlier in October than reported by the Board, or that the issuance of new registrations was temporarily suspended from Oct. 1 through the end of the day on Oct. 7 (or whatever day preceded the day that porcelain plates were first sold).

To summarize, therefore, we have associated all reported registration transactions reported by the Board through Sept. 30, 1907 with the prestate era, and all transactions of Oct. 1907 and later with the porcelain era even though the Board reported in 1917 that the first porcelain plate was not sold until Oct. 7.

It is also worth noting that many vehicle owners delayed the purchase of their new license plate until the end of October, or even missed the deadline and came into compliance with the new law during November. An October 23, 1907, Washington Post article entitled "WARNING TO AUTOISTS - Machines Must bear License Tag or Owners Will Be Arrested" noted that "as yet only about 500 owners have called at the District building to get their tags. Commissioner West issued his order [that those without a new plate as of November 1 would be subject to arrest] so as to stir up those who have been backward in this matter."

Motorcycle Plate Distribution Delayed

The situation with motorcycle plates must also be addressed before we summarize the number of plates sold and possible numbers assigned during 1907. The Automobile Board's intention had been to issue the same style (i.e. size and construction) of plate for use on all types of vehicles. However, apparently shortly after plates of the first batch were issued it became clear that they were not suitable for motorcycles. This Washington Times article on the subject was published on Sat., Oct. 12, the final day of the first week that the new plates were distributed:

Auto Tags Too Long For Motor Cycles
“The Commissioners are in receipt of a communication from Harry Seamark, a bicycle and motorcycle dealer, calling their attention to the inconvenience entailed by the size of the new tags. The letter states that while the tags are all that could be desired for an automobile, they are too long for a motorcycle and endanger the rider, besides being in the way when dismounting. The width of the tag brings it into contact with the rear mud guard, and in the case of a spring frame destroys the enamel and displaces the number. The writer recommends that a smaller tag, made of leather, be used to obviate these inconveniences.”

We believe that 13 motorcycle owners were provided with a full-size plate during this first week of their availability. This assumption is based upon $986 having been collected in $1 plate fees during October even though only 973 vehicles upon which full-size plates would have been displayed were registered. We therefore have assumed that of the 23 motorcycle transactions recorded during the month, full-size plates were sold to the first 13 motorists, and no plates were provided to the remaining 10. These individuals, and those registering cycles in later months, were presumably told to make their own plates until a small version of the full-size plate was ready. An October 23 Washington Post article indicates that “Complaint having been made that the motor cycle tags were too large, tags about half the size of those in use at present are being made.” In this case, “the motor cycle tags” are the full-size plates issued for use on all vehicle types.

Three motorcycles were registered in each of November and December 1907, and no fees were collected for these transactions, indicating that plates were not issued. See the 1908 section below for information about the April 1908 introduction of distinctive motorcycle plates.

Estimate of the Number of License Plates Sold During 1907

According to the Automobile Board's annual report for fiscal year 1908 (July 1907-June 1908) 1,441 full-size plates were sold through the end of December 1907. To this amount we have added the 13 motorcycle transactions discussed above, to arrive at a total of 1,454 full-size plates sold during 1907.

Estimate of 1907 Plate Numbers

Although there is no proof, we believe that the first 1,454 D.C. plates had various numbers between 1 and 2463 (or some similar number) as opposed to having been assigned sequentially from 1 through 1454.

Exactly which numbers one concludes were on those first 1,454 (i.e. original 1907) plates depends on one's interpretation of a Sept. 15, 1907, Washington Star-News article that indicates that personnel of the Automobile Board had been at work for several months “rearranging the new numbers [license plates] for automobiles.” We believe this means that the new porcelain plates, of which 2,500 numbered 1 through 2500 had been procured, were distributed to individuals to whom the same number had been assigned during the prestate era, from August 1903 through the end of September 1907. Therefore, the first 1,454 plates likely had various, non-sequential numbers from 1 to about 2463, the highest number thought to have been assigned during the prestate era. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the sale of plates to motorists with existing registrations during October (and apparently into November) was simply that: the distribution of a uniform plate to display a number already in use. Because this was not a registration transaction there would be no need to assign a new number, and in fact we believe it would have been inappropriate to do so. As a result we believe that whether any plate numbered below about 2464 was issued during late 1907 or sometime between January 1908 and early January 1909 is indeterminable.

If one wishes to make any estimate about which numbers within the 1-2463 range were among the first plates assigned, it is reasonable to assume that most of the estimated 1,200 vehicles in use when uniform plates were introduced were those registered more recently, and therefore with higher numbers. Thus, it is more likely, under this number assignment scenario, that a plate numbered in the low 2,000 series was issued in 1907 as opposed to a plate with a lower number, which may have been issued during 1908 (or perhaps even 1909) for the second time if the original assignee didn't claim it in Oct. 1907 due to no longer residing in Washington or owning a vehicle.

The first batch of porcelain enamel plates ordered by the Automobile Board consisted of 2,500 plates numbered 1 through 2500 likely because prestate era numbers were between 2000 and 2500 by the time the plates were ordered, presumably in June. Specifically, the Washington Post reported on May 28, 1907, that plate numbers were then at 2229. (That the Post reported this by stating “At present there are 2229 automobile licenses in use” is, however, inaccurate and misleading, as discussed below.) The same article indicates that bids for the plate supply contract were to be opened on June 6, but whether this occurred is unknown.

Newspapers: Misinterpreting Registration Statistics for Over 100 Years

A September 15, 1907, Washington Star-News article about the upcoming distribution of uniform license plates states that about 2,200 vehicles were registered (with owner-provided plates) as of September 1907. That number seems high, for in The Automobile Register and Road Book for Maryland, District of Columbia, and Adjacent Territory published in 1906 by the Automobile Register Co. there are listed only 862 valid registrations, with the lowest and highest numbers being 2 and 2136. If this source is to be relied upon as an accurate summary of active registrations, only 40% of the 2,136 registrations issued since the motor vehicle law took effect in August 1903 were still valid by whatever point in (presumably) 1906 the data was compiled for publication. It is entirely possible that what the Star-News meant to report was that about 2,200 registrations had been issued since the motor vehicle law took effect. Confusion between the number of registrations issued during a particular period and the number in force at any particular moment occurs in news reports even today, and it appears to have occurred with the Star-News Sept. 15 article.

The number of registered vehicles in all U.S. jurisdictions increased dramatically during the first decade of the twentieth century, and it is possible that 862 D.C. registrations were valid at some time in 1906 and about 2,200 were valid by the fall of 1907. However, that the Star-News statement is inaccurate is clear when we consider that only 973 license plates were sold during October. Most of these were purchased by motorists whose vehicles were already registered, with probably only a few (likely 8%-10%) representing new registrations. Another 378 plates were sold during November, again most of these probably to those replacing their old home-made plates. If we assume that 10% of plates sold during October and November were for new registrations, we can conclude that there were about 1,200 valid registrations when the porcelain era began, not 2,200.

The Star-News source for its mid-Sept. estimate of valid registrations was almost certainly a representative of the Automobile Board, someone who may indeed have thought that there were about 2,200 valid registrations. Because registrations issued since 1903 were permanent, however, the Board, because it doesn't seem to have kept track of registrations relinquished upon the sale or disposal of vehicles, actually had no idea how many District of Columbia motor vehicle registrations were valid at the time. (By valid we simply mean plates being used on the vehicle to which they were originally assigned. There was nothing for motorists to do to keep their permanent registrations valid except for to leave them on the correct vehicle.) This confusion as to the number of vehicles registered in D.C. existed continually throughout the porcelain era and until the undated permanent plates were abandoned at the end of 1917. We know this because 1917 news reports indicate that during that year the Board had no idea of how many 1918 plates to order, not knowing how many registered vehicles there were. (It turns out that they underestimated the number.) Similarly, a 1909 Washington Post article about automobile use in the Nation's Capital indicates that “the number of these machines which daily travel over our streets has become so large that it is almost impossible to keep account of them.”

A total of 1,364 full-size plates are believed to have been sold during Oct. and Nov. 1907. Thereafter the number of monthly sales decreased to levels that are presumed to represent only new registration transactions. Specifically, the quantity of full-size plates sold through the end of the city's 1908 fiscal year are as follows: Dec. 1907, 90; Jan. 1908, 61; Feb., 37; March, 91; April, 62; May, 122; June, 65. Special motorcycle plates were introduced in April 1908, and assuming plates were provided to the 36 motorcycle owners that registered from October 1907 through March 1908, when special plates were not available, a total of 197 of the new, smaller plates are thought to have been sold during fiscal year 1908.

When the Star-News indicated in its Sept. 15 report that there would be “a few hundred [full-size plates] left over” after plates were distributed to all holders of existing registrations, it based this conclusion on there being about 2,200 valid registrations at the time, which in fact there was not. In fact, with only 1,364 plates sold during October and November, there were 1,136 plates left to use for new registrations over the coming months. Our analysis indicates that 1,892 full-size plates had been sold through June 30, 1908, so even at the end of the fiscal year there were still about 608 plates on hand.

1908

Calendar year 1908 is comprised of the second half of fiscal year 1908 and the first half of fiscal 1909. The plate fee was doubled to $2 on or about April 1, 1908, and distinctive motorcycle plates began to be issued in late April.

Number of Registrations Issued During 1908

Full-Size plates. Automobile Board reports that include portions of 1908 indicate that 1,001 full-size plates were distributed during the year. In addition, five plates were issued from July through December for no fee for use on government-owned vehicles, although we do not know how many of them, if any, were motorcycle plates. (No-fee plates, if any were issued from January through June, are not reported in the fiscal 1908 annual report.) As discussed above, we have estimated that one of the five no-fee plates was of the motorcycle variety, so our total estimated number of full-size plates issued during 1908 is 1,005.

Motorcycle plates. Twenty motorcycles were registered during January and February 1908 (ten in each month), but no fee was collected, indicating that no license plates were issued. Although no motorcycle registrations were issued during March, this appears to have been an important month in the history of distinctive motorcycle license plates in the District of Columbia. The following March 8, 1908, Washington Times article indicates that since October 1907, when it was determined that the then new porcelain plates were inappropriate for use on motorcycles, cycle owners had been working together, apparently with the Automobile Board, to design a suitable marker for their machines:

“Motorcyclists of the District are casting about for a design for a uniform motorcycle tag bearing the number required by law. Until about three months ago [although this reference is likely to the prestate era, which by early March was five months in the past] cyclists were allowed to attach their numbers in any way they saw fit, but this led to such confusion that in December [October, actually] a uniform license was issued. This was found too large for convenience when attached to a motorcycle and met with a storm of protest. At the request of a body of cyclists it was decided to alter the design at an early date and suggestions are in order for a uniform tag which can be attached to all makes of cycles. One design which has met with decided favor among those who have seen it is on exhibition at the T.N. Mudd agency on New York avenue. Several designs have been submitted, but the one which looks to be the most practicable is a small tag carrying a plain number. The cyclists are determined that a suitable license shall be adopted this trip (sic) and have asked that all samples be submitted to Mr. Mudd. A meeting will be called in the near future to consider suggestions and to draw up a petition asking that the favorite one be adopted.”

Whether their “favorite” was indeed approved is unknown, but that by the following month the plates had been ordered, manufactured, and delivered suggests that the design process occurred during March. Beginning in April the same $2 plate fee charged to users of full-size plates was also assessed on cycle owners, indicating that the issuance of motorcycle plates had begun. This is corroborated by the following brief article in the April 29, 1908, Washington Post: “Permit Clerk Woodward is distributing the new tags for motor cycles. They are much smaller than those for automobiles. The large tags have been found inconvenient for motor cycles. The police have been instructed to inform owners of motor cycles that the tags are ready. Unless they are procured the motor cyclist will be liable to arrest.”

According to Automobile Board reports, a total of 276 motorcycle registrations were processed from April through December of 1908. To this amount we have added 49, assuming that plates of the style introduced in April were provided to individuals that registered their cycles from October 1907 through March 1908. Also, as discussed above we have estimated that a single cycle plate may have been issued for no fee during the second half of 1908, bringing our estimated total of motorcycle plates issued during the year to 326.

Estimate of 1908 Plate Numbers

Full-Size plates. The first batch of uniform Washington, D.C. license plates was numbered from 1 through 2500, and we believe that 1,454 of them were issued during 1907 but that their numbers could have been anywhere within the range of 1 through about 2463 (as discussed above). Therefore, according to our estimates 1,046 plates of the first batch of 2,500 remained at the end of 1907, slightly more than enough to accommodate the 1,005 full-size plates believed to have been sold during 1908. We therefore believe that numbers assigned during 1908 could be anywhere between 1 and approximately 2463.

Motorcycle plates. The first batch of D.C. motorcycle plates consisted of 600 small, apparently white-on-black porcelain enamel plates numbered 2501 through 3100 that began to be distributed during April 1908. The block of numbers set aside for display on motorcycle plates was taken from the same sequence of numbers as was used on full-size plates because there was no distinction between vehicle or registration types during the porcelain era – all registrations were simply “motor vehicle registrations.” Numbers in the first block of cycle plates began at 2501 because when they were ordered only full-size plates numbered 1 through 2500 had been procured. We assume that the first 326 numbers, 2501 through 2826, were assigned to motorcycle owners that registered their vehicles during 1908.

1909

Calendar year 1909 is comprised of the second half of fiscal year 1909 and the first half of fiscal 1910.

Number of Registrations Issued During 1909

Full-Size plates. Automobile Board reports that include portions of 1909 indicate that 1,629 full-size plates were distributed during the year, representing a 62.1% increase compared to the previous year. Included in the total are eight government-owned vehicles known to have been of the kind to use full-size plates. Six public vehicles of which the vehicle type (full-size or motorcycle) is unspecified were also registered during 1909, and as discussed above we have estimated that one was assigned a motorcycle plate. Therefore, we believe that 1,634 full-size plates were sold during 1909.

Motorcycle plates. A total of 357 motorcycle plates are known to have been sold during 1909, including two during the second half of the year specifically identified as being issued for government-owned vehicles, representing a 9.8% increase compared to the previous year. We have estimated that during the first six months of the year a single motorcycle was issued for which no fee was charged (as discussed above), so our total estimate of cycle plates issued during the year is 358.

Estimate of 1909 Plate Numbers

Full-Size plates. As discussed in the 1907 section, we believe that the first 2,463 of the initial batch of 2,500 full-size plates were used either to replace home-made plates of motorists still using their vehicles originally registered from Aug. 1903-Sept. 1907, or for new registrations issued since early Oct. 1907. However, which particular numbers were used for each of these purposes is unknown.

We believe that 2,459 full-size plates had been sold through the end of 1908. If this, and the premise that the first 2,463 plates were assigned non-sequentially, are accepted, then there were 4 presumably randomly-numbered plates of the 1 through 2500 batch left to issue in early 1909, plus 37 sequential plates numbered 2464 through 2500. After these numbers were assigned, numbers began to be assigned sequentially at 3101, because 2501 through 3100 had been made on motorcycle plates.

To summarize, we believe that of the 1,634 full-size plates sold during 1909, 4 had indeterminable numbers between 1 and 2463, 37 were of the sequence 2464 through 2500, and the remaining 1,593 were numbered 3101 through 4693.

Motorcycle plates. The first batch of 600 motorcycle plates would have been depleted during 1909 with the issuance of 274 plates numbered 2827 through 3100. Based upon the existence of motorcycle plate number 5627 (in the white-on-red, vertical format) and the fact that the entire 5000 series is omitted from a registration listing book in which numbers higher and lower are included, we have assumed that all numbers from 5000 through 5999 were made on motorcycle plates. Therefore, the remaining 84 motorcycle plates issued in 1909 are thought to have been those numbered 5000 through 5083.

1910

Calendar year 1910 is comprised of the second half of fiscal year 1910 and the first half of fiscal 1911.

Number of Registrations Issued During 1910

Full-Size plates. Automobile Board reports that include portions of 1910 indicate that 2,030 full-size plates were distributed during the year, representing a 24.6% increase compared to the previous year. Included in the total are four government-owned vehicles known to have been of the kind to use full-size plates. Fourteen public vehicles of which the vehicle type (full-size or motorcycle) is unspecified were also sold during 1910, and as discussed above we have estimated that two were motorcycle plates. Therefore, we believe that 2,042 full-size plates were sold during 1909.

Motorcycle plates. A total of 472 motorcycle plates are known to have been sold during 1910, representing a 32.2% increase compared to the previous year. We have estimated (as discussed above) that of the 14 government-owned vehicles registered during the second half of the year, two may have been assigned motorcycle plates. Therefore, our total estimate of cycle plates sold during 1910 is 474.

Estimate of 1910 Plate Numbers

Full-Size plates. The first 306 numbers believed to have been issued during 1910 are 4694 through 4999. Numbers 5000-5999 are thought to have been made on motorcycle plates, so we believe that after plate 4999 was assigned during March, numbers on full-size plates advanced to 6000. Therefore, the remaining 1,736 numbers assigned during 1910 were likely 6000 through 7735.

Motorcycle plates. We believe that the 474 motorcycle plates sold during 1910 were numbered 5084 through 5557, continuing the issuance of the 5000 series, which is thought to have been introduced in early November 1909.

1911

Calendar year 1911 is comprised of the second half of fiscal year 1911 and the first half of fiscal 1912. It is important to note that 1911 is the year in which our estimate of plate numbers assigned annually begins to break down due to a lack of data as to which numbers were made on motorcycle plates that began to be issued in (according to our estimates) October 1911 after number 5999 was assigned. It is at this point that we begin to have to simply guess the number of plates made for motorcycles at various intervals. For additional information, see our discussion below of motorcycle plate numbers assigned during 1911.

Number of Registrations Issued During 1911

Full-Size Plates. Automobile Board reports that include portions of 1911 indicate that 2,853 full-size plates were distributed during the year, representing a 40.5% increase compared to the previous year. In addition, 44 government-owned vehicles were registered during 1911 but the type of plate assigned, full-size or motorcycle, is unspecified. As discussed above, we have estimated that seven of these no-fee registrations were issued for use on motorcycles, so we believe that a total of 2,890 full-size plates were distributed during 1911.

Motorcycle plates. A total of 565 motorcycle plates are known to have been sold during 1911, representing a 19.7% increase compared to the previous year. Furthermore, we believe that seven of the 44 no-fee registrations issued during the year may have related to motorcycles, bring our total estimate of cycle plates issued in 1911 to 572.

Estimate of 1911 Plate Numbers

Full-Size plates. Numbers continued to be assigned sequentially, and taking into account the numbering of motorcycle plates, 1911 is one of few years in which it appears that full-size plates were numbered in a continuous sequence for the entire year. We believe that 1911 numbers began at 7736 and ended at 10625.

Motorcycle plates. Our analysis indicates that the first 442 motorcycle plates sold during 1911 consisted of remaining plates in the 5000 series, namely 5558 through 5999. At this point, the identification of blocks of numbers set aside for display on motorcycle plates begins to be based solely on numbers on motorcycle plates known to exist today and gaps in a list being compiled of numbers on known full-size plates.

The existence of motorcycle plates numbered 12612 and 12725 has been verified. The highest known full-size plate below 12612 is 11035, and the lowest known full-size plate higher than 12725 is 13992. Although the gap in full-size plates between 11035 and 13992 is 2,957 numbers, we have simply guessed that the 12000 series, numbers 12000 through 12999, was set aside for use on motorcycle plates. This estimate, and similar ones made for later motorcycle number blocks, will have to suffice until data about cycle plate numbers is found or until numbers on more plates are identified to narrow the gaps in numbers between known full-size and cycle plates.

Using our third block of motorcycle plate numbers (this one having been estimated as opposed to the first two (2501-3000 and 5000-5999) having been based on at least some type of documented evidence), we believe that upon assignment of cycle plate number 5999, the remaining 130 plates of this type issued during 1911 may have been numbered 12000 through 12129.

1912

Calendar year 1912 is comprised of the second half of fiscal year 1912 and the first half of fiscal 1913.

Number of Registrations Issued During 1912

Full-Size plates. Automobile Board reports that include portions of 1912 indicate that 3,330 full-size plates were distributed during the year, representing a 16.7% increase compared to the previous year. In addition, 77 government-owned vehicles were registered during 1912 but the type of plate assigned, full-size or motorcycle, is unspecified. As discussed in detail above, we have estimated that 62 were registered with full-size plates, bringing our total of estimated full-size plates sold for 1912 to 3,392.

Motorcycle plates. A total of 695 motorcycle plates are known to have been sold during 1912, representing a 23.0% increase compared to the previous year. Furthermore, we believe that 15 of the 77 no-fee registrations issued during the year may have related to motorcycles, bringing our total estimate of cycle plates distributed in 1912 to 710.

Estimate of 1912 Plate Numbers

Full-Size plates. As discussed in the estimate of motorcycle plate numbers issued during 1911 above, we have guessed that numbers 12000 through 12999 were made on motorcycle plates and therefore were not available for use on passenger cars and other vehicles registered with full-size plates. Therefore, the first 1,374 full-size plates sold during 1912 are thought to have been numbers 10626 through 11999. After the 12000 series, full-size numbers would have resumed at 13000. However, due to the existence of motorcycle plate number 13609, we have assumed that only 500 numbers, 13000 through 13499, appeared on full-size plates, after which we believe the next 250 numbers (including 13609) were displayed on cycle plates. If full-size plate numbers resumed at 13750, as we believe, the final 1,518 full-size plates issued during 1912 would have been marked 13750 through 15267.

Motorcycle plates. Based upon assumptions discussed above regarding motorcycle plate numbers issued during 1911, we believe that numbers 12130 through 12839 appeared on motorcycle plates sold during 1912.

1913

Calendar year 1913 is comprised of the second half of fiscal year 1913 and the first half of fiscal 1914. The regulation that since mid-1905 had allowed out-of-District residents to operate and register their vehicles with the Automobile Board using their home state drivers license and license plates, respectively, thereby not requiring them to purchase a D.C. plate and license, was rescinded as of January 16, 1913. Beginning in February, annual reports of the Board therefore begin to include statistics as to the number of D.C. license plates and operators licenses issued to non-D.C. residents.

Number of Registrations Issued During 1913

Full-Size plates. Automobile Board reports that include portions of 1913 indicate that 3,005 full-size plates were distributed during the year. Included in the total are 32 government-owned vehicles known to have been of the kind to use full-size plates. Fifty-nine public vehicles of which the vehicle type (full-size or motorcycle) is unspecified were also sold during 1913, and as discussed above we have estimated that 11 were motorcycle plates. Also not included in the 3,005 are plates sold to non-residents because we do not know how many were full-size plates and how many were motorcycle plates. For non-resident transactions of February through June we know only the amount collected, $1,939.58, not the number of plates issued. As discussed above, we have estimated that 354 full-size plates and 34 motorcycle plates were issued from February through June. For the second half of the year, based on a separate discussion presented above, we have estimated that 662 full-size plates and 55 motorcycle plates were issued to non-D.C. residents.

It is worth noting that 1913 is the first year for which the number of full-size plates sold for use on privately-owned, non-motorcycles owned by D.C residents is segregated between automobiles and trucks. Of the 2,973 full-size plates known to have been sold for non-government use, 2,698 were used on autos (2,563 powered by gasoline and 135 by electric batteries); 258 were used on trucks (211 gasoline and 47 electric); and 17 were steam-powered cars and trucks.

We believe that a total of 4,070 full-size plates were sold during 1913:

Vehicle Type

Qty.

   
Automobiles
2,698
 
Trucks
258
 
Steam-powered vehicles
17
 
Government-owned, July-Dec. registrations
32
   
sub-total
3,005
 
Government-owned, Jan.-June registrations
49
 
estimated
Non-resident, Jan.-June registrations
354
 
estimated
Non-resident, July-Dec. registrations
662
  estimated
Total
4,070
 

Motorcycle plates. A total of 605 motorcycle plates are known to have been sold during 1913, including ten identified as being issued for use on government-owned vehicles during the second half of the year. In additon, we have esitmated that of the 59 vehicles registered during the first half of the year for which no fee was charged but the types of which are unrecorded, 10 may have been motorcycles. As for non-resident transactions, we have estimated that 34 of the 388 plates sold during the first half of the year, and 55 of the 717 during the second half of the year, were for use on motorcycles. Therefore, our total estimate of motorcycle plates distributed during 1913 is 704.

Estimate of 1913 Plate Numbers

Full-Size plates. The sequence of numbers utilized during 1913 has been divided into two batches due to the early 2009 discovery of a motorcycle plate with a number (16657) previously assumed to have been used on a full-size plate. This development caused us to segregate a group of 250 numbers and assume they were used on cycle plates. Two of the plates relevant to this may be seen elsewhere on this site by clicking here. Motorcycle plate number 16657 is shown near the bottom of the page whereas number 16912 appears on a full-size plate displayed on a vehicle pictured near the middle of the page. Changes will continue to be made to estimates presented throughout this page as evidence of new plates surfaces.

We believe that the first 1,382 full-size plates sold during 1913 were numbered 15268 through 16649, and we have guessed that the next 250 numbers were made on motorcycle plates. The final 2,688 plates sold during 1913 would therefore have been numbered 16900 through 19587.

Motorcycle plates. Two blocks of registration numbers, each comprised of 250 numbers, are assumed to have been set aside for use on motorcycle plates during this era due to the existence of plates with numbers within these ranges, and according to our estimates all 500 of these plates were issued during 1913. We believe that as the year began, the first 160 numbers assigned were 12840 through 12999 (beginning where numbers left off at the end of 1912, of course). Then, all numbers in the two 250-number blocks, 13500 through 13749 and 16650 through 16899, were assigned.

The next block of registration numbers thought to have been used for motorcycle plates, due to the lack of any evidence of full-size plates within this range, is 20000 through 20249. Therefore, we believe the final 44 cycle plates issued during 1913 were marked 20000 through 20043.

1914

Calendar year 1914 is comprised of the second half of fiscal year 1914 and the first half of fiscal 1915.

Number of Registrations Issued During 1914

Full-Size plates. Automobile Board reports that include portions of 1914 indicate that 3,651 full-size plates were distributed during the year. Included in the total are 39 government-owned vehicles known to have been of the kind to use full-size plates. Thirty-four public vehicles of which the vehicle type (full-size or motorcycle) is unspecified were also sold during 1914, and as discussed above we have estimated that seven of them were motorcycle plates. Regarding non-resident transactions, as discussed separately above, we have estimated that of the 2,037 plates sold during 1914, 1,890 were full-size and 147 were for use on motorcycles.

Of the 3,651 full-size plates known to have been issued, 3,264 were used on autos (3,138 powered by gasoline and 126 by electric batteries); 340 were used on trucks (336 gasoline and 4 electric); 8 were steam-powered cars and trucks; and 39 were government-owned vehicles registered during the first half of the year.

We believe that a total of 5,568 full-size plates were sold during 1914:

Vehicle Type

Qty.

   
Automobiles
3,264
 
Trucks
340
 
Steam-powered vehicles
8
 
Government-owned, Jan.-June registrations
39
   
sub-total
3,651
 
Government-owned, July-Dec. registrations
27
 
estimated
Non-resident, Jan.-June registrations
918
 
estimated
Non-resident, July-Dec. registrations
972
  estimated
Total
5,568
 

Motorcycle plates. A total of 633 motorcycle plates are known to have been issued during 1914. This quantity includes seven machines identified as being registered for government service, for which no fee was charged. Not included in this total is our estimate of seven cycle plates estimated to have been included in the 34 vehicles registered during the second half of the year for which no fee was charged but the types of which are unrecorded, as well as 147 plates estimated to have been sold to non-residents. Therefore, our estimated total quantity of cycle plates issued during 1914 is 787.

Estimate of 1914 Plate Numbers

Full-Size plates. As occurred in 1912 and 1913, our analysis has led us to conclude that the sequence of numbers assigned during 1914 was likely interrupted by groups of numbers set aside for use on motorcycle plates. We believe that the first 412 full-size plates sold during 1914 were numbered 19588 through 19999. As discussed in the final paragraph of the 1913 section above, we believe that the first 250 numbers of the 20000 series may have been set aside for use on motorcycle plates. It is worth noting, however, that this is the first batch of numbers assumed to have appeared on cycle plates that has been segregated only on paper: no plates (full-size or cycle) from this range of numbers are known.

We also believe that due to the need for additional cycle plates, the segregation of two groups of numbers also would have affected the sequence of numbers that appeared on full-size plates assigned during 1914. Therefore, after number 19999 was assigned we believe that 2,750 full-size plates numbered 20250 through 22999 and 23500 through 25499 were issued, after which the final 406 plates sold during the year would have had numbers 26000 through 26405.

Motorcycle plates. We believe that the first 206 motorcycle plates assigned during 1914 were numbered beginning at 20044 and ending at 20249, the end of a block of 250 numbers set aside for cycle plate use in 1913. We have estimated that the next group of numbers to appear on cycle plates, a batch of 500 plates, was numbered 23000 through 23499. The next batch of 500 numbers assumed to have been made on cycle plates begins at 25500, so we believe the final 81 cycle plates that may have been issued during 1914 would have been numbered 25500 through 25580.

1915

Calendar year 1915 is comprised of the second half of fiscal year 1915 and the first half of fiscal 1916. An additional complication to estimating registration numbers issued annually presents itself for fiscal year 1916, which therefore affects our 1915 work. In its fiscal 1916 and later annual reports, the Automobile Board dramatically reduced the level of detail provided about registration transactions. Whereas reports through fiscal 1915 include data by vehicle type and month, beginning with fiscal 1916 the total number of license plates sold during the year (July 1 through June 30) is segregated only by whether the purchasers were D.C. residents. The entire coverage of registration statistics for the 1916 fiscal year, exactly as reported by the Board, is as follows:

Automobile and motorcycle tags issued to residents of the District of Columbia: 7,147
Automobile and motorcycle tags issued to non-residents of the District of Columbia: 4,597

It's not much with which to work, especially compared to the more extensive data that we have for earlier periods.

Estimate of Number of Registrations Issued During 1915

Unlike earlier years, we begin our discussion of the possible quantity of registrations issued during calendar year 1915 (and, more specifically, during the second half of the year) by estimating how many plates were sold during the two halves of a particular fiscal year, in this case fiscal 1916. Because an estimate of this nature has heretofore not been required, we have chosen to address it prior to our by-now routine estimates of how many plates issued during particular six-month periods were evidenced by full-size plates vs. motorcycle plates.

To divide quantities of resident and non-resident plates known to have been sold during fiscal year 1916 into the first and second halves of that period we have used data from the previous fiscal year, 1915. Specifically, we have determined that of the total quantity of full-size and motorcycle plates sold (i.e. excluding no-fee plates) during that period, 38.3% were sold from July through December and the remainder, 61.7%, were sold from January through June. These percentages were used to estimate that of the 7,147 plates sold to residents during fiscal year 1916, 2,737 were sold from July-Dec. 1915 and 4,410 were sold from Jan.-June 1916. Likewise, we have estimated that of the 4,597 plates sold to non-residents during fiscal 1916, 1,761 were sold during the second half of 1915 and 2,836 were sold during the first half of 1916.

Full-Size Plates. We have estimated that 8,767 full-size plates were sold during 1915, representing a 57.4% increase compared to the previous year. Specifically our analysis has resulted in estimates that 4,463 transactions occurred from January through June, and 4,304 from July through December.

Detailed registration statistics for the first half of the year (the final half of fiscal year 1915) indicate that 2,852 full-size plates were sold during that period, comprised of 246 trucks, 2,603 autos, and 3 steam-powered vehicles. Also registered were 42 government-owned vehicles and 1,672 vehicles owned by non-D.C. residents. Regarding the government-owned vehicles, we have estimated (as discussed above) that 34 used full-size plates. Regarding vehicles registered by non-residents, we have estimated (also discussed above) that 1,577 were evidenced by full-size plates.

Regarding the second half of 1915, to divide our calculated six-month quantities of resident and non-resident plate sales between full-size and motorcycle plates we have used data from fiscal year 1918, the next year for which the composition of plate sales by format (full-size and motorcycle) for both resident and non-resident motorists is known. Specifically, during fiscal 1918, 94.6% of plates sold to D.C. residents were full-size and the remainder were motorcycle, whereas 97.4% of plates sold to non-residents were of the full-size format. Therefore, of the 2,737 plates estimated to have been sold to D.C. residents during the second half of calendar year 1915, we believe that 2,589 were full-size and 148 were motorcycle. As for the 1,761 plates thought to have been sold to non-residents, we have estimated that 1,715 were full-size and 46 were motorcycle.

We have estimated that a total of 8,767 full-size plates were sold during 1915:

Vehicle Type

Qty.

   
Automobiles, Jan.-June registrations
2,603
 
Trucks, Jan.-June registrations
246
 
Steam-powered vehicles, Jan.-June regis.
3
 
sub-total
2,852
 
Government-owned, Jan.-June registrations
34
  estimated
Autos, trucks, steam-powered, and govern-      
-ment-owned, July-Dec. registrations
2,589
 
estimated
Non-resident, Jan.-June registrations
1,577
 
estimated
Non-resident, July-Dec. registrations
1,715
  estimated
Total
8,767
 

Motorcycle plates. We have estimated that 671 motorcycle plates were sold during 1915, representing a 14.7% decrease compared to the previous year. Specifically our analysis has resulted in estimates that 477 transactions occurred from January through June, and 194 from July through December.

Detailed registration statistics for the first half of the year (the final half of fiscal year 1915) indicate that 374 motorcycle plates were sold during that period. Although no non-resident and government-owned transactions are identified as having resulted in motorcycle plates being issued, some of this activity undoubtedly involved cycles. We have estimated that eight of the government-owned vehicles were motorcycles, and that 95 non-resident transactions resulted in motorcycle plates being issued.

For the second half of 1915 we have had to estimate the number of total fiscal 1916 registrations sold in each half of that year (i.e. from July through Dec. 1915 and Jan. through June 1916), and also how many were evidenced by full-size and motorcycle plates. This analysis, because it involves both plate styles, is discussed above and therefore is not repeated here. The result is an estimate that of the total 591 motorcycle plates thought to have been sold during fiscal year 1916, 194 were sold (148 to residents and 46 to non-residents) during the second half of 1915 and 397 were sold from Jan.-June 1916.

Estimate of 1915 Plate Numbers

Full-Size plates. Due to the need for additional blocks of registration numbers for use on motorcycles plates, and despite any evidence that these numbers actually were set aside for that purpose, we have taken from the continuous sequence of 8,767 numbers that otherwise would have appeared on full-size plates sold during 1915 two separate blocks of numbers and assumed that they were made on motorcycle plates issued during the remainder of the porcelain era. These blocks of 500 and 1,000 numbers were chosen due to no full-size plates within them having yet been identified and based upon the timing of the need for additional motorcycle plates. The ranges are 28000 through 28499 and 34000 through 34999, and if full-size plates with numbers within these ranges come to our attention, or if we learn about motorcycle plates outside of these ranges, we will modify the results of our analysis accordingly.

Therefore, we have estimated that the first 1,594 full-size plates issued during 1915 are numbered 26406 through 27999. The next group, comprised of 5,500 numbers between two blocks of numbers theorized to have been made on motorcycle plates, is 28500 through 33999. The final 1,673 full-size plates issued during 1915 would therefore have been 35000 through 36672.

Motorcycle plates. As discussed immediately above, we have assumed that during 1915 two blocks of 500 numbers were set aside for use on motorcycle plates, although it appears that numbers from only the first (beginning at 28000) were actually needed before the end of the year. We believe that the first 419 numbers assigned for use on motorcycles were 25581 through 25999. The final 252 plates issued, numbers 28000 through 28251, come from the next batch of numbers dedicated to cycle plate use: 28000 through 28250.

1916

Calendar year 1916 is comprised of the second half of fiscal year 1916 and the first half of fiscal 1917. As discussed in the 1915 section above, for fiscal 1916 the Automobile Board changed the manner in which it reported registration statistics in its annual report. Regarding statistics that affect calendar year 1916, the fiscal 1916 data is listed in the 1915 section, and fiscal 1917 data is as follows:

Automobile and motorcycle tags issued to residents of the District of Columbia: 9,528
Automobile and motorcycle tags issued to non-residents of the District of Columbia: 5,965

It is interesting to note that the Automobile Board ran out of porcelain enamel license plates during August 1916. Cardboard plates were issued for at least a few weeks until more porcelain plates arrived from the manufacturer, identified in a Washington Post article about this occurrence only as “a Baltimore firm.” The article indicates that “a shortage in sheetiron, caused, it is said, by the war,” resulted in the shortage of metal plates, adding that “out-of-town owners of cars are the ones most affected by this action,” apparently because most new registrations issued during the summer months went to non-residents. Receipt of a shipment of 2,000 new permanent plates from Baltimore on Thursday, August 22, solved the problem.

Estimate of Number of Registrations Issued During 1916

We begin our discussion of the possible quantity of registrations issued during calendar year 1916 by estimating how many plates were sold during the two halves of fiscal 1917, with the first half (the second half of calendar year 1916) being most relevant. We also will reference estimates as to the number of plates sold from Jan.-June 1916 in the 1915 section above. We have chosen to address this timing allocation prior to estimating of how many registrations issued during particular six-month periods were evidenced by full-size plates vs. motorcycle plates.

To divide quantities of resident and non-resident plates known to have been sold during fiscal year 1917 into the first and second halves of that period we have used data from fiscal year 1915. Of the total quantity of full-size and motorcycle plates sold (i.e. excluding no-fee plates) during that period, 38.3% were sold from July through December and the remainder, 61.7%, were sold from January through June. These percentages were used to estimate that of the 9,528 plates sold to residents during fiscal year 1917, 3,649 were sold from July-Dec. 1916 and 5,879 were sold from Jan.-June 1917. Likewise, we have estimated that of the 5,965 plates sold to non-residents during fiscal 1917, 2,285 were sold during the second half of 1916 and 3,680 were sold during the first half of 1917.

Full-Size plates. We have estimated that 12,525 full-size plates were sold during 1916, representing a 42.9% increase compared to the previous year. Specifically our analysis has resulted in estimates that 6,849 transactions occurred from January through June, and 5,676 from July through December.

Estimating the number of registrations evidenced by full-size plates issued during 1916 requires that we make several estimates due to the lack of detailed transaction data. Based upon an analysis of fiscal 1916 registration activity discussed in the 1915 section above (because the first half of fiscal year 1916 was the second half of calendar year 1915), we believe that from January through June 1916, 4,102 plates were sold to residents and 2,747 to non-residents.

Regarding the second half of the year, to divide our calculated six-month quantities of resident and non-resident plate sales between full-size and motorcycle plates we have used data from fiscal year 1918, the next year for which the composition of plate sales by format (full-size and motorcycle) for both resident and non-resident motorists is known. Specifically, during fiscal 1918, 94.6% of plates sold to D.C. residents were full-size and the remainder were motorcycle, whereas 97.4% of plates sold to non-residents were of the full-size format. Therefore, of the 3,649 plates estimated to have been sold to D.C. residents during the second half of calendar year 1916, we believe that 3,451 were full-size and 198 were motorcycle. As for the 2,285 plates thought to have been sold to non-residents, we have estimated that 2,225 were full-size and 60 were motorcycle.

Motorcycle plates. We have estimated that 655 motorcycle plates were sold during 1916, representing a 2.4% decrease compared to the previous year. Specifically our analysis has resulted in estimates that 397 transactions occurred from January through June, and 258 from July through December.

As discussed in the calendar year 1915 section above, we have estimated that 397 motorcycle plates were sold during the first half of 1916. For the second half of the year we have had to estimate the number of total fiscal 1917 registrations sold in each half of that year (i.e. from July through Dec. 1916 and Jan. through June 1917), and also how many were evidenced by full-size and motorcycle plates. This analysis, because it involves both plate styles, is discussed above and therefore is not repeated here. The result is an estimate that of the total 784 motorcycle plates estimated to have been sold during fiscal year 1917, 258 were sold (198 to residents and 60 to non-residents) during the second half of 1916, and 526 were sold from Jan.-June 1917.

Estimate of 1916 Plate Numbers

Full-Size plates. Our estimates indicate that the 12,525 full-size plates sold during 1916 were numbered 36673 through 49197.

Motorcycle plates. We believe that of the 655 motorcycle plates assigned during 1916, the first 248 were numbered 28252 through 28499, and the remaining 407 were 34000 through 34406.

1917

Calendar year 1917 is comprised of the second half of fiscal year 1917 and the first half of fiscal 1918. At the end of calendar year 1917 the issuance and use of undated porcelain-enamel plates was suspended in favor of dated, embossed steel plates issued for use beginning Jan. 1, 1918.

As opposed to the limited statistics reported by the Automobile Board for fiscal years 1916 and 1917, for 1918 (only the first half of which we are concerned) the scope of data was increased slightly to segregate full-size and motorcycle plate sales. Sales statistics for fiscal year 1917 are provided in the 1916 section above, and statistics for the period of July 1 through Dec. 31, 1917, are as follows:

Automobile tags sold to District of Columbia owners: 4,816
Automobile tags sold to nonresident owners: 2,580
Motorcycle tags sold to District of Columbia owners: 276
Motorcycle tags sold to nonresident owners: 70
Tags [type unspecified] sold without fee: 539

Estimate of Number of Registrations Issued During 1917

Full-Size plates. As with 1915 and 1916, estimating the number of registrations evidenced by full-size plates that were issued during the first half of 1917 requires that we make several estimates due to the lack of detailed transaction data. Referenced in the 1916 section above is our rationale for estimating that during the first half of 1917, 9,033 full-size plates were sold: 5,469 to residents and 3,564 to non-residents.

For the second half of the year, the Automobile Board annual report tells us that 7,396 full-size plates were sold, as well as 539 plates of unspecified style (full-size or motorcycle) for use on government-owned vehicles. Although the composition of the District and federal government's motor fleets may not, at the time, have been representative of the population of vehicles at large, the lack of a more reasonable indicator upon which to base an estimate as to how many of the 539 no-fee plates were full-size and how many were motorcycle has caused us to use the ratio of identified full-size and cycle plates sold to D.C. residents during the second half of the year to make an estimate. Therefore, because 94.6% of plates sold during this period (of which the format is known) were of the full-size style, we have assumed that 94.6% of the no-fee plates, or 510, were also of this format.

In summary, we have estimated that 16,939 full-size plates were sold during 1917, which represents a 35.2% increase compared to the previous year.

Motorcycle plates. As discussed in the calendar year 1916 section above, we have estimated that 526 motorcycle plates were sold during the first half of 1917: 410 to residents and 116 to non-residents. According to the Automobile Board's fiscal 1918 report, 346 cycle plates were sold from July through December 1917, a number to which we have added an estimated (as discussed above) 29 no-fee plates. Therefore, we believe that a total of 901 motorcycle plates were sold during 1917, which represents a 37.6% increase compared to the previous year.

Estimate of 1917 Plate Numbers

Full-Size plates. Our estimates indicate that the first 6,802 full-size plates assigned during 1917 were numbered 49198 through 55999. We believe that the entire 56000 series was set aside for use on motorcycle plates, so the balance of full-size plates assigned in 1917 would have been 57000 through 67136. The highest documented full-size plate is number 65038.

Motorcycle plates. We believe that the first 593 motorcycle plates assigned during 1917 were numbered 34407 through 34999, and that the remaining 308 were taken from the 56000 series, namely 56000 through 56307.



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