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License Plates and Registration Numbers
from March 1940 to March 1950

 

 1940 Passenger plate no. 61-441

1940

March 1, 1940-March 31, 1941

1940 Passenger plate no. 882

1940 Commercial plate no. B 476 1940 sample plate

The only notable historical fact about 1940 District of Columbia license plates is that they were used for a 13-month period, not the standard (for the era) 12-month period. The extra month of use was required in order to shift the term of the registration year from March 1-Feb. 28 to April 1-March 31 (as explained on our introductory page).


Just the Facts...
   
Registration year
1940 (April 1, 1940-March 31, 1941)
Registration year designation
"EX-3-31-41"
Color scheme
black on an orange background
Dimensions:
 
Five- and six-digit plates
6" x 12.5"
 
Plates with fewer than five digits
6" x 9 "
 
Motorcycle plates
presumably 3 11/16" x 8"
Composition; number per vehicle
embossed steel; issued in pairs
By The Numbers...
Registration Statistics:
Passenger
147,709
   
Motorcycles
836
   
Trucks
15,512
   
Buses
1,382

1940 Registration Numbers
Passenger. An overview of registration numbers used from Jan. 1935-March 1948 is provided on our page upon which plates of the 1930s are described. Click here to get there. Specifically with respect to 1940, the lowest (five-digit) and highest observed numbers are 52-060 and 181-642.

Non-Passenger. Letter prefixes that appear on Commercial (Truck) plates (A and B are known for 1940) are believed to be indicative of the weight class upon which the registration fee was based.




 1941 Passenger plate no. 73-039

1941

April 1, 1941-March 31, 1942

1941 Passenger plate no. 445

1941 Hire (Taxi) plate no. 21-022 1941 sample plate

Just the Facts...
   
Registration year
1941 (April 1, 1941-March 31, 1942)
Registration year designation
"EX-3-31-42"
Color scheme
yellow on a black background
Dimensions:
 
Five- and six-digit plates
6" x 12.5"
 
Plates with fewer than five digits
6" x 9 "
 
Motorcycle plates
presumably 3 11/16" x 8"
Composition; number per vehicle
embossed steel; issued in pairs
By The Numbers...
Registration Statistics:
Passenger
159,912
   
Motorcycles
796
   
Trucks
15,438
   
Buses
1,665

1941 Registration Numbers
Passenger. An overview of registration numbers used from Jan. 1935-March 1948 is provided on our page upon which plates of the 1930s are described. Click here to get there. Specifically with respect to 1941, the lowest (five-digit) and highest observed numbers are 46-828 and 169-209.

Click on image for detail and caption. Courtesy of the Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library.




1942
April 1, 1942 - March 31, 1943

1943
April 1, 1943 - March 31, 1944

1944
April 1, 1944 - March 31, 1945
Most 1942 (dated EX-3-31-43) plates were revalidated with metal tabs for two additional years, through March 1945.

1942 Passenger plate no. 60-457

1942 Passenger plate no. 111-206 validated for 1943

1942 Passenger plate no. 193-651 validated for 1944

1942 Passenger plate no. 9370

1942 Passenger plate no. 18 validated for 1943

1942 Passenger plate no. 882 validated for 1944

1942 Diplomatic plate no. 474

1942 Diplomatic plate no. 703 validated for 1943

1942 Diplomatic plate no. 792 validated for 1944

1942 sample plate


District of Columbia license plates issued during the spring of 1942 were used for three years, not one as were most previous issues, due to the conservation of metal used in non-military applications during World War II. Dated 3-31-43 plates were revalidated (when properly renewed) with metal tabs for the 1943 and 1944 registration years. The tabs were designed to appear correctly on full-size plates (those 12.5" in length), so they look awkward, partially covering the expiration date legend, on the shorter 9" plates.

 

It is also worth noting that there are two styles in which the expiration date is displayed. Note the variation in this feature on plates 60-457 and 8370 pictured above. Number 8370 exhibits the more unusual style.

The unusual, unexpected varieties in which 1942 Diplomatic plates were made, as pictured, are discussed near the bottom of our page dedicated to this type.


Just the Facts...
   
Registration years and designations:
 
1942 (April 1, 1942-March 31, 1943)
"EX-3-31-43" embossed on plate
 
1943 (April 1, 1943-March 31, 1944)
"44" on white-on-black steel tab
 
1944 (April 1, 1944-March 31, 1945)
"45" on black-on-white steel tab
Color scheme
black on a yellow background
Dimensions:
 
Five- and six-digit plates
6" x 12.5"
 
Plates with fewer than five digits
6" x 9 "
 
Motorcycle plates
presumably 3 11/16" x 8"
Composition; number per vehicle
embossed steel; issued in pairs
By The Numbers...
Registration Statistics:
 
1942
1943
1944
Passenger
145,306
119,211
110,010
 
Motorcycles
544
653
662
 
Trucks
13,690
16,605
15,128
 
Buses
3,014
2,312
2,121

1942-44 Registration Numbers
Passenger. An overview of registration numbers used from Jan. 1935-March 1948 is provided on our page upon which plates of the 1930s are described. Click here to get there. Specifically with respect to the 1942-44 base, the lowest (five-digit) and highest observed numbers are 57-221 and 215-478.


Click on image for caption and credit.

 





 1945 Passenger plate no. 96-746

1945

April 1, 1945-March 31, 1946

1945 Passenger plate no. 2862

This is the only year since 1919 for which only a single D.C. license plate was issued for display on each registered vehicle. Plates were not issued in pairs in order to minimize the use of metal for non-military purposes.


Just the Facts...
   
Registration year
1945 (April 1, 1945-March 31, 1946)
Registration year designation
"EX-3-31-46"
Color scheme
yellow on a black background
Dimensions:
 
Five- and six-digit plates
6" x 12.5"
 
Plates with fewer than five digits
6" x 9 "
 
Motorcycle plates
presumably 3 11/16" x 8"
Composition; number per vehicle
embossed steel; issued singly
By The Numbers...
Registration Statistics:
Passenger
96,474
   
Motorcycles
738
   
Trucks
15,418
   
Buses
2,174

1945 Registration Numbers
Passenger. An overview of registration numbers used from Jan. 1935-March 1948 is provided on our page upon which plates of the 1930s are described. Click here to get there. Specifically with respect to 1945, the lowest (five-digit) and highest observed numbers are 45-173 and 128-020.



 1946 Passenger plate no. 107-817

1946, '47

April 1, 1946-March 31, 1948

1946 Passenger plate no. 143-322 validated for 1947

1946 Passenger plate no. 68

1946 Motorcycle plate no. 326

1946 Passenger plate no. 882 validated for 1947

1946 Bus plate no. 26-580


1946 Commercial plate no. B-9860

1946 Commercial plate no. D-1870 validated for 1947

1946 Hire (Taxi) plate no. 22-273

Washington, D.C. plates issued in the spring of 1946 were used for two registration years. As had been done a few years earlier, revalidation for the second year was accomplished by a dated steel tab made to cover the expiration year designation embossed in the plate.

As there was for 1943 (dated "44") and 1944, the

 

1947 (dated "48") tab used on this base comes in three styles. The passenger variety is made to fit in the lower right corner of the plate whereas a separate non-passenger variety, such as is shown on Commercial (Truck) plate no D-1870 below, is properly placed in the upper right corner. A third style (not shown) is designed to cover the entire left portion of motorcycle plates.


Just the Facts...
   
Registration years and designations:
 
1946 (April 1, 1946-March 31, 1947)
"EX-3-31-47" embossed on plate
 
1947 (April 1, 1947-March 31, 1948)
"48" on black-on-white steel tab
Color scheme
black on a yellow background
Dimensions:
 
Five- and six-digit plates
6" x 12.5"
 
Plates with fewer than five digits
6" x 9 "
 
Motorcycle plates
presumably 3 11/16" x 8"
Composition; number per vehicle
embossed steel; issued in pairs
By The Numbers...
Registration Statistics:
 
1946
1947
Passenger
111,996
139,994
 
Motorcycles
1,064
867
 
Trucks
16,644
17,359
 
Buses
2,159
2,373

1946-47 Registration Numbers
Passenger. An overview of registration numbers used from Jan. 1935-March 1948 is provided on our page upon which plates of the 1930s are described. Click here to get there. Specifically with respect to the 1946-47 base, the lowest (five-digit) and highest observed numbers are 50-915 and 180-246.

 

1942 (exp. 3-31-43) Passenger plate no. 67-387
  1942-44 (exp. 3-31-45)
     
1945 (exp. 3-31-46) Passenger plate no. 67-387
  1945 (exp. 3-31-46)
     
1946 (exp. 3-31-47) Passenger plate no. 67-387
  1946-47 (exp. 3-31-48)
     
1949 (exp. 3-31-50) Passenger plate no. 67-387
 

1949 (exp. 3-31-50)

These four 1940s plates with the same number are direct evidence that plates with nondescript numbers were assigned to the same motorist year after year, although presumably only if the assignee arranged for it. Only the 1948 issue is missing from this set that otherwise covers eight consecutive years.



About 1948-1952 Registration Numbers

With so many six-digit registration numbers that were never needed, why DMV officials decided to revert to a numbering system similar to that of 1927-1934 for 1948 is a mystery. Although plates of this five-year period are not similar in appearance to pre-1935 plates, therir numbering is. Aside from the expansion of the quantity of all-number auto plates from 9999 to 9-9999, most details of the 1927-34 and 1948-52 numbering systems are the same.

Passenger
 
Non-Passenger

Passenger car plates of 1948 through 1952, and the 1953 base, are numbered 1 through 9-9999 (but without leading zeros to the right of the dash) and with certain letters followed by numbers 1 through 9999 (e.g. A-1 through A-9999). Because it was issued for two years, the 1953 base required an additional series that is discussed in the registration number section of that plate's dedicated section because it is unique to that base.

The first series of each year, the all-number plates, are marked 1 through 9999, followed by 1-1000 through 1-9999, 2-1000 through 2-9999, etc. ending at 9-9999. Which of these all-number plates may have been reserved for particular motorists from year to year is addressed below.

The number of possible registration numbers is addressed in each separate year section because that maximum potential differs depending on the number of letters dedicated to passenger plate use. As discussed in the next column, certain numbers were reserved only for non-passenger use.

Reserved Numbers. One of the questions yet to be answered about auto plate numbers (and earlier years) relates to what today is unofficially referred to as the reserved series of passenger registrations. Numbers 1 through 1250 are now the only passenger numbers issued (although higher numbers can be ordered as personalized plates), and individuals to whom these reserved numbers are assigned is specified annually by members of the city council and other officials. Reserved numbers are known to have existed back into the 1930s, and presumably the lowest D.C. registration numbers were reserved for particular individuals since plates were first issued annually in 1918, but which numbers were actually reserved for most years is unknown.

The conventional wisdom (assuming this question has been considered at all) is that all numbers 1 through 9999 were included in the reserved number program, whatever its form, from 1935 through early 1955 (upon the expiration of 1954 registrations). However, that enough D.C. motorists were interested in reserved numbers during these years to justify the use of resources needed to complete the recordkeeping and administrative tasks that would have been required to monitor the assignment of 9,999 numbers annually seems doubtful. It is therefore more likely that some lower span of numbers, such as 1 through 1000, were reserved and carefully assigned annually, and that higher numbers, up to 9999, were randomly assigned. In fact, we know that numbers 1 through 1000 were reserved for asignment by the Board of Commissioners for the 1955 registration year (as discussed separately in our 1955 plate section), so it is reasonable to assume that the same numbers, or a similar group, were reserved in 1954 and earlier registration years.

It is also reasonable to assume that certain registrations with letter prefixes were included, either formally or informally, in the reserved-number program. For example, low numbers such as A-1 through A-10, E-1 through E-10, etc. were likely assigned to VIPs, especially those with surnames that began with particular letters, and is not unreasonable to assume that these numbers went to the same motorists year after year.

Click here to read about how even nondescript five-digit numbers were assigned to the same motorists from year to year.

 

After a period of more than ten years during which the registration type of most vehicles was clearly marked on the plate, the embossed type designations were abandoned for 1948 in favor of letter prefixes.

A letter B prefix was used to identify Bus plates throughout this era. Numbers were assigned sequentially beginning at B-1 annually.

A letter C prefix was used to identify Commercial (Truck) plates throughout this era. Numbers were assigned sequentially beginning at C-1 annually, and when they reached C-9999 a serial letter was added after the C, presumably beginning at CA-1 and proceeding as high as necessary.

A letter D prefix was used to identify Dealer plates throughout this era. Numbers were assigned sequentially beginning at D-1 annually, and throughout this era many dealers riveted their registration certificate to the back of the plate in a clear plastic sleeve.

Plates that begin with DPL were assigned to members of the Diplomatic Corps throughout this era. Numbers were assigned sequentially beginning at DPL-1 annually.

A letter G prefix was used to identify plates affixed to D.C. Government-owned vehicles for the 1948 through 1951 registration years. Numbers were assigned sequentially beginning at G-1 annually. For 1952 and later years a separate, distinctive D.C. Government plate was issued, and the letter G became a passenger plate prefix.

A letter H prefix was used to identify Hire (Taxi) plates throughout this era. Numbers were assigned sequentially beginning at H-1 annually.

A letter L prefix was used to identify Livery plates throughout this era. Numbers were assigned sequentially beginning at L-1 annually. Most DMV documents in which Livery plates are discussed make the distinction that plates of this type were issued for use on "sightseeing, funeral cars, chartered busses, etc."

A letter M prefix was used to identify Motorcycle plates throughout this era. Numbers were assigned sequentially beginning at M-1 annually.

A letter R prefix was used to identify Rental Car plates throughout this era. Numbers were assigned sequentially beginning at R-1 annually.

A letter T prefix was used to identify Trailer plates throughout this era. Numbers were assigned sequentially beginning at T-1 annually.

 

Click on image for detail and caption. Courtesy DC Public Library, Star Collection, copyright Washington Post.




 1948 Passenger plate no. 9-2894

1948

April 1, 1948-March 31, 1949

1948 Passenger plate no. 21

1948 Commercial (Truck) plate no. C-3322
1948 Diplomatic plate no. 691 1948 Hire (Taxi) plate no. H-7441

A number of noticeable changes were made to District of Columbia license plates for the 1948 registration year. Most noteworthy, perhaps, is the change in the manner in which they are dated. Whereas since 1939 (exp. 2-29-40) D.C. plates were marked with the expiration date, effective April 1948 the designation was changed to indicate the year of issuance. Despite the change, the registration year remained the same: April 1 through March 31. Click here to reach our page devoted to changes made for 1948, and here to read about the sometimes confusing manner in which the period of use was

 

marked on D.C. plates of 1939 through 1953.

Also for 1948, a uniform plate size was introduced, and passenger car registration numbers began to include letters again (as they had from 1927-1938). Specifically, auto plates were numbered 1 through 9999; then 1-1001 through 1-9999, 2-1001 through 2-9999, etc. through 9-9999; then A-1 through A-9999, E-1 through E-9999, etc. Certain letters were set aside for use on non-passenger plates, such as B, C, and D for busses, commercial vehicles, and dealer-owned vehicles, respectively.


Just the Facts...
Offical correspondence dated
March 20, 1947,
as to plates of registration year
1948 (April 1, 1948-March 31, 1949)
and to be marked
1948
indicates that they are to be painted
yellow on black,
measure
6" x 10",
be made of
carbon sheet steel covered with enamel paint
and be issued
in pairs except for motorcycles and trailers.
By The Numbers...
Registration Statistics:
Passenger
148,418
Motorcycles
1,009
Trucks
20,669
Buses
2,101

1948 Registration Numbers

An overview of registration numbers used from April 1948-March 1955 is provided above.

Passenger. These six prefix letters have been observed on 1948 auto plates: A, E, F, J, K, and N. If it is assumed that no other prefix letters were used this year and including the 99,999 plates without a letter prefix (numbers 1 through 9-9999), there are a total of 159,993 possible passenger registration number combinations. The highest observed number is N-985.

Non-Passenger. Refer to the text above for information about to which non-passenger types plates with prefix letters B, C, D, G, H, L, M, R, and T, as well as DPL, were assigned.

1948 D.C. plate no. 787 on a 1948 Pontiac Sport Coupe parked on 34th St. S.E. in May 1948.

 




 1949 Passenger plate no. K-494

1949

April 1, 1949-March 31, 1950

1949 Passenger plate no. 787

1949 Commercial plate no. 3-C779
1949 Diplomatic plate no. 894 1949 Dealer plate no. 3901

1949 Hire plate no. H-9229
1949 Sample plate

A July 1950 Evening Star article indicates that “During the year that ended last April, 215,700 sets of license tags were handed out at the Department of Motor Vehicles and Traffic - 15,000 more than in the previous year. And 85,000 car titles were issued - 2,500 more than during the year before.” “...About 350 sets of tags and a like number of titles are passed out each day.”


Just the Facts...
Offical correspondence dated
February 17 , 1948,
as to plates of registration year
1949 (April 1, 1949-March 31, 1950)
and to be marked
1949
indicates that they are to be painted
black on yellow,
measure
6" x 10",
be made of
carbon sheet steel
and be issued
in pairs except for motorcycles and trailers.
By The Numbers...
Registration Statistics:
Passenger
158,851
Motorcycles
1,005
Trucks
20,785
Buses
2,130

1949 Registration Numbers

An overview of registration numbers used from April 1948-March 1955 is provided above.

Passenger. These seven prefix letters have been observed on 1949 auto plates: A, E, F, J, K, N, and P. If it is assumed that no other prefix letters were used this year and including the 99,999 plates without a letter prefix (numbers 1 through 9-9999), there are a total of 169,992 possible passenger registration number combinations. The highest observed number is P-6930.

Non-Passenger. Refer to the text above for information about to which non-passenger types plates with prefix letters B, C, D, G, H, L, M, R, and T, as well as DPL, were assigned.








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