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Registration Number Requests

 

Addressing requests made by vehicle owners for certain registration numbers has been a task faced by DMV employees since vehicles first began to be registered more than 100 years ago. The appeal of low or otherwise relevant (sometimes only to an individual) plate numbers is more pronounced in some places than in others, and it is this appeal that prompted states, beginning with Connecticut in the late 1930s, to allow motorists to select their own registration number in the form of personalized (or "vanity") plates.

A reltively small collection of correspondence in which D.C. residents appealed to the Commissioners and officials of the Dept. of Vehicles and Trafiic for particular registrations during the 1950s and 1960s has been preserved at the National Archives. Presented on this page is a sample of these documents, in which motorists requested both low and general-issue numbers. Because many of the requests, especially for general-issue numbers, were denied based upon a 1955 directive that such numbers be issued in strict sequence, it is reproduced here:

DEPARTMENT OF VEHICLES AND TRAFFIC

February 15, 1955
TO HEADS OF DEPARTMENTS:
 

On May 21, 1954, the Board of Commissioners in Order No. 54-1100 adopted a new numbering system for the 1955 District of Columbia motor vehicle identification tags. It is provided that except for tags numbered from 1 to 1000, all passenger car tags will have two letters and four figures, commencing with AA-10-00 and ending with AZ-99-99.

The order further provides that all tags except 1 to 1000 and diplomatic tags SHALL BE ISSUED IN STRICT SEQUENCE AND SHALL NOT BE HELD OR RESERVED FOR ANY APPLICANT FOR REGISTRATION. (underscoring supplied.)

Department heads are asked to bring this matter to the attention of their employees with the further advice that in view of this order, it will be useless for such employees to attempt to secure a special number, such as telephone, house, or trick number for a friend or friends. Employees of the Department of Vehicles and Traffic have been directed to disregard all such requests and to issue all numbers strictly on a first come, first served basis.

Geo. E. Keneipp
Geo. E. Keneipp
Director of Vehicles and Traffic

In most cases below we have provided both the motorist's request and an official's reply. However, in a few instances in which only one or the other was available but has been deemed to be of interest, it has been included. Note that the use of italics indicates the presence of a signature. Also, in most instances the form of the official's reply is a carbon copy of a typed but unsigned letter. In these cases the respondent's identity may have been assumed, in which case it is shown within brackets.


Let's begin with a typical exchange in which a particular general-issue number is requested. In this case, one can only speculate as to the relevance of the letter series.

February 7, 1962
1930 Columbia Rd., N.W.
Apt. 620
Washington, D. C.

Honorable Walter N. Tobriner
President, Board of Commissioners
Room No. 504
District Building
Washington, D. C.

Dear Mr. Tobriner:

If possible please reserve 1962 D. C. license plates BN 111 or any BN with three numbers alike for 1959 Pontiac Bonneville registered in the name of: ROBERT L. and NETA V. LINE, 1930 Columbia Road, N. W., Washington, D. C.

Sincerely yours,
Neta V. Line
NETA V. LINE
(Mrs. Robert L. Line)

February 8, 1962

Mrs. Robert L. Line
1930 Columbia Road, N.W.
Apartment 620
Washington, D. C.

Dear Mrs. Line:

This will acknowledge your letter of February 7 in which you request that I reserve, if possible, D. C. License Plates BN 111 or any BN with three numbers alike for your automobile.

Under an existing Commissioners' Order the sale and distribution of license plates must be made on a first come, first served basis. I am sorry that I cannot comply with your request.

Sincerely yours,
[Walter N. Tobriner]
President
Board of Commissioners, D. C.


Here is another early 1962 exchange, again without an indication of why the desired two-letter prefix is of interest to the requestor. The Commissioner provided a little more information to this correspondent.

414 Douglas St., N. E.
Wash. 17 D. C.
January 22, 1962

Mr. Tobriner
Washington, D. C.

Dear Sir,

I am a Government employee, a home owner, and for the last five (5) years I have been trying to secure an AA license plate, any number is desired.

I would appreciate the opportunity of getting one very much.

Thank you very much
(Mrs.) Bertha M. Miles
414 Douglas St., N. E.
Wash. 17, D. C.

January 24, 1962

Mrs. Bertha M. Miles
414 Douglas Street, N.E.
Washington 17, D. C.

Dear Mrs. Miles:

Receipt is acknowledged of your letter of January 22, 1962 requesting a license plate prefixed with the letters AA.

I regret that I cannot assure you that you will receive such a license plate because under an existing order of the Board of Commissioners, license plates shall be mailed or sold over the counter on a consecutive -- first come, first served basis. This order was passed by the Commissioners several years ago because of the tremendous number of requests for plates with people's initials, or for other special reasons, that it completely disrupted the routine of assigning and recording license plates. Accordingly, at that time, the Commissioners saw fit to pass this order and I do not have authority to set it aside.

I trust you will understand our position in this matter.

Sincerely yours,
[Walter N. Tobriner]
President
Board of Commissioners, D. C.


This exchange is typical of those in which a reserved-number plate assigned by the Commissioners was requested. By the late March date that the motorist wrote to them, however, they likely had assigned all of their available numbers for the 1961 registration year.

Mr. Robert E. Harvey
4000 Mass. Avenue, N. W.
Apartment 421
Washington 16, D. C.

25 March 1961

Board of Commissioners, District of Columbia
District Building
14th and E Streets, N. W.
Washington 4, D. C.

Gentlemen:

Various articles in the local press have conveyed the impression that the low numbered tags may be requested from year to year. The possibility of having the same tag number from year to year appeals to me. In fact, I wonder why the practice is not followed for all tags.

I respectively submit a request for one of the low numbered tags.

Very truly yours,
Robert E. Harvey

March 27, 1961

Mr. Robert E. Harvey
4000 Mass. Ave., N. W.
Apartment 421
Washington 16, D. C.

Dear Mr. Harvey:

This will acknowledge your letter of March 25, 1961, requesting a low numbered tag.

The Board of Commissioners issues a number of these tags to District and Federal officials, members of the Judiciary and certain members of the Legislature. The remainder are issued by the three Commissioners individually on a purely personal basis.

In view of the foregoing, I regret that it is not possible to accede to your request.

Sincerely yours,

Secretary
Board of Commissioners, D. C.


An interesting feature of this request is the motorist's incorrect understanding of the format of registration numbers to be used for 1959, as well as an apparent belief that it would be more difficult to get lettered plates than it would to secure a low-number registration.

January 30, 1959
American Pharmaceutical Association
Office of the Secretary
2215 Constitution Ave., N. W.
Washington 7, D. C.

Mr. Geoffrey M. Thornett, Secretary
Board of Commissioners
District of Columbia

Dear Mr. Thornett:

Ever since I became a resident of the District of Columbia, I have enjoyed the privilege of having assigned consecutive low numbers to my two cars which are used at times in the interest of the Government of the United States. The numbers assigned to me at present are AG100 and AG101.

It is my understanding that there is to be some revision in the procedure this year which makes assignment of the lettered numbers more difficult but that you can assign un-lettered numbers where special consideration may be justified.

The basis for the assignment of special numbers in the past has been my service as a consultant to the Surgeons-General of the Army, the Navy and the Public Health Service. These services will continue and, at times, it is very helpful to have easily recognized license numbers for recognition of my car on the part of those who may have to be met in connection with duties assigned.

May I therefore respectfully request that a set of low numbers, without letters, be issued to me when my car licenses are renewed for this year.

Thanking you in advance for your courtesy in this matter, I am

Sincerely,
Robert P. Fischelis
Secretary and General Manager


February 3, 1959

Mr. Robert P. Fischelis
Secretary and General Manager
American Pharmaceutical Association
2215 Constitution Ave., N. W.
Washington 7, D. C.

Dear Mr. Fischelis:

Receipt is acknowledged of your letter of January 30, 1959, concerning tag numbers for your two cars which you stated are used at times in the interest of the Government of the United States.

With respect to the issuance of tags AG100 and AG101, the Director of Motor Vehicles informs me that he is required to issue tags in strict sequence this coming year and therefore it will be impossible to accede to your request.

With regard to the issuance of un-lettered tags, you are advised that they are assigned by the individual Commissioner and is a matter over which I have no control. The only way that I know that you can be assigned an un-lettered number is by making a direct request to one of the Commissioners.

Sincerely yours,
[Geoffrey M. Thornett]
Secretary
Board of Commissioners, D.C.


The transfer of reserved-number registrations was generally not permitted, although the Commissioners occasionally allowed them under special circumstances. We don't have a copy of the request made in the case herein illustrated, but its contents are evident in this record of a formal action taken by the Board on August 30, 1960, which had been recommended on June 26 by Mr. G. A. England, Director of Motor Vehicles, apparently at the behest of the Engineer Commissioner.

August 30, 1960

SUBJECT: Reassignment of auto license plates numbered 130 from the name of John A. Reilly (deceased) to his widow for the remainder of this registration year.

ORDERED: That not withstanding the provisions of Section 20, paragraph (c), of Part III of the Traffic and Motor Vehicle regulations of the District of Columbia, the Director of Motor Vehicles be and is hereby authorized to transfer motor vehicle identification tags numbered 130 from the name of John A. Reilly (deceased) to Mr. Reilly's widow for the remainder of this registration year (March 31, 1961).

JUSTIFICATION: The loyalty and devotion of the late John A. Reilly to the civic welfare of the District of Columbia is well known to all. Mr. Reilly has had license plates numbered 130 assigned to him, and now his widow requests permission to continue to use these license plates from the time she transfers to her name the motor vehicle of her late husband until the end of this registration year (March 31, 1961).


A list of those to whom low registration numbers were assigned in 1958 indicates that Mr. Reilly was president of the Second National Bank


That a District of Columbia police officer could not obtain a specific but nondescript general-issue registration number despite a formal request made of the Commissioners suggests that Order No. 54-1100 shown above, and later orders with the same purpose, were rigorously followed.

February 13, 1958
Board of Commissioners of the District of Columbia
Old District Building
Washington, D. C.

Gentlemen:

Upon seeking permission from the Department of Motor Vehicles to obtain District of Columbia tag No. RM-983 or RS-983 for my automobile, I was advised that permission must be obtained from the Board of Commissioners of the District of Columbia for such request. Will you, therefore, please accept this as a request for District of Columbia tag No. RM-983 or RS-983.

Very truly yours,
Robert S. Morris, Jr.
Private Robert S. Morris, Jr.
No. 12 Precinct
1437 Montana Avenue, N. E.
Washington, D. C.
 

February 14, 1958

Private Robert S. Morris, Jr.
1437 Montana Avenue, N.E.
Washington, D.C.

Dear Private Morris:

Receipt is acknowledged of your letter of February 13, 1958, requesting the issuance of tag nos. RM-983 or RS-983.

Under date of August 15, 1957, the Commissioners issued Order No. 57-1582, stating in part as follows: "...All tags, except 1 to 1200 and diplomatic tags, shall be issued in strict sequence and no employee of the District of Columbia Government shall honor any request for special combinations of letters or numbers, nor shall any such employee attempt to obtain any special combinations of letters or numbers."

Therefore, I must inform you that your request is denied.

Sincerely yours,

Secretary
Board of Commissioners, D. C.


As is evident in this correspondence about registration number 356, some requests for special numbers were formalities that followed more informal communications. In his response, the Commissioner's secretary references the governance structure change that occurred in 1967 when the three-member Board of Commissioners was replaced by a nine-member City Council.

Perkins McGuire
800 Seventeenth Street, N.W.
Washington 6, D.C.
November 8, 1967

Mr. F. E. Ropshaw
Secretary, Board of Commissioners
District of Columbia
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. Ropshaw:

Katherine and I certainly enjoyed meeting you the other night with Phil.

For a number of years I have had D.C. license plate No. 356, which was issued by the Engineer Commissioner. Of course being a human being, I would like to hang on to it if possible. Any counsel or advice you could give me would be appreciated.

I am sure the above is an imposition but, after all, you suggested that I do it and I am just the kind of guy who takes you at your word.

I am leaving for Europe Thursday morning and will probably be back around the 7th or 8th of December.

Kindest regards,
Perkins McGuire


November 21, 1967

Perkins McGuire
800 Seventeenth St., N. W.
Washington, D. C. 20006

Dear Mr. McGuire:

This is in reply to your letter of November 8, 1967, requesting consideration for license plate No. 356, which was formerly issued to you by the Engineer Commissioner.

I assume that the assignment of the special numbers will be made by Commissioner Washington. I know, however, that in this phase of reorganization he has not yet had an opportunity to give this matter his attention. Your letter has been referred to the appropriate office for consideration.

Sincerely yours,
F. E. Ropshaw
Acting Secretary
to the Commissioner

Making a heartfelt appeal for District of Columbia registration number 356 was apparently an annual ritual for Mr. McGuire, for our lists of reserved-number assignees of 1968 through 1974 all show him as the recipient of this number. In years in which these lists include a notation as to the affiliation or employment of the recipient, he is referenced as "consultant."


Although we do not have the response sent to the motorist whose 1958 reserved-number appeal appears below, if indeed one was sent, we believe it is quite representative of the hundreds and hundreds of letters that must have been received by the Commissioners annually throughout the 1950s and mid-1960s as each new registration year approached.

February 27, 1958
Col. A. C. Welling
Engineer Commissioner
District Building
Washington, D. C.

Dear Col. Welling :

Your immediate predecessor as Engineer Commissioner, Brig. General Thomas A. Lane, was kind enough to issue or assign to me District of Columbia automobile tag #637 when he was in office.

I was indeed happy and honored and very grateful to him. I not only appreciate the significance of this low number, but also the duties and responsibilities imposed upon the person to whom one is assigned, particularly in view of the limited number at your disposal.

I am wondering if you would permit me to again enjoy District tag #637 for the forthcoming year.

Assuring you of my appreciation of any consideration you may find worthy of my request, I remain,

Very truly yours,
Simon F. McHugh

Our list of individuals to whom registrations 1 through 1200 were issued in 1958 indicates that Col. Welling did indeed see to it that number 637 was assigned to Mr. McHugh.


When it comes to requests for certain general-issue registration numbers, a change in the configuration sometimes thwarted any hope for the fulfillment of a special request. Here, Georgetown University experiences such a situation. It is noteworthy that the tone of Rev. Collins's letter suggests that GU-series auto plates, possibly GU-200 through GU-250, were assigned to the University for the 1963 registration year.

Georgetown University
Washington 7, D.C.
December 18, 1963

Mr. Walter N. Tobriner
President of the Board of Commissioners
Room 504
14th & E Street N.W.
Washington D.C.

Dear Mr. Tobriner:

It is respectfully requested that license plate numbers GU 200 to GU 250 be reserved for Georgetown University automobiles. If possible, I should like to reserve fifty additional numbers in sequence for our commercial vehicles. The "GU" prefix is preferred, but if that is not possible a "GT" prefix would be acceptable.

Sincerely yours,
T. Byron Collins
T. Byron Collins, S.J.
Business Vice President


December 20, 1963

Reverend T. Byron Collins, S.J.
Business Vice President
Georgetown University
Washington, D. C. 20007

Dear Father Collins:

I have for reply your letter of December 18, 1963, requesting that license plate numbers GU 200 to GU 250 be reserved for vehicles of your University.

I regret to advise you that it will not bepossible to comply with this request in view of the fact that the format for the 1964 license plates will be changed from that of prior years. The District will no longer have plates with three numerals preceded by two letters. The new design calls for one numeral and one letter, followed by three numerals.

Sincerely yours,
[Walter N. Tobriner]
President
Board of Commissioners, D. C.


In this case, that the two correspondents were on a first-name basis indicates that the requestor was likely using his friendship with the DMV Director to indirectly win the favor of the Commissioners for a three-digit plate for his new car. With such a brief reply provided by the DMV Director, one wonders whether the three-digit plate had already been promised, perhaps between Feb. 16 and 26, and that this correspondence was completed just to fulfill procedural requirements.

American Automobile Association
National Headquarters
Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street
Washington 6, D.C.
February 16, 1951

Mr. George E. Keneipp
Director of Motor Vehicles and Traffic
301 C Street, N. W.
Washington, D. C.

Dear George:

Just a note to ask you if it is possible to set aside a three number license plate for us.

We have license number 1095 on a Mercury 1950 club coupe. We expect delivery of a 1951 Mercury club coupe shortly after March 1 and would like, if possible, to have the three number tag assigned for use on the new car. The present car is registered in Dorothy's name and I think we will continue that type registration with the new car.

We shall appreciate your consideration of this request.

With best wishes and kind regards.

Sincerely yours,
James L. Reardon
James L. Reardon, Director
National Automotive Service


February 26, 1951

Mr. James L. Reardon, Director
National Automotive Service
American Automobile Association
Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street
Washington 6, D. C.

Dear Len:

I have referred your letter of February 16, 1951 to the Board of Commissioners, which makes assignment of three number tags.

With best regards, I am

Sincerely yours,
Geo. E. Keneipp
Director of Vehicles and Traffic



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