There are three types of tabs for each of these two years. The most common, "lower right corner" style was used to validate passenger and certain non-passenger plates, examples of which are pictured immediately above. They are embossed steel and measure 1-3/8" x 4-3/4". A separate "upper right corner" style was used to validate plates of certain non-passenger plates, an example of which is shown on Diplomatic plate number DPL-703 pictured here. Note that these tabs include both the date and year designation, e.g. "31-44," to compliment the manner in which the expiration date legend appears on the plate. The third style was used exclusively on motorcycle plates. These are square and include "D.C." and the entire expiration date legend in a manner consistent with the 1946 plate pictured here.
Tabs issued for both 1943 and 1944 include a serial number and were issued in pairs (except for those used to validate motorcycle and trailer plates, of course). Although the serial number appears on the corresponding registration certificate it does not match the license plate number.
1940s License Plate Development Timeline
During this era the standard license plate development timeline called for decisions about license plates (or validation tabs or windshield stickers) to be issued for any particular April-March registration year to be made 10-13 months before they would be issued, which is to say at about the same time that plates of the previous year were being introduced. Specifications would be issued in the spring, contracts would be awarded shortly thereafter, and production of the plates (or tabs) would begin in the summer and end a few months later so that they were ready in plenty of time for the Feb.-Mar. replacement season.
Although we don't have documentary evidence that provides the complete story as to how validation tabs came to be issued to revalidate 1942 (EX-3-31-43) plates for the 1943 and 1944 registration years, we have enough to provide the basic facts. The process of determining what plates and/or validation devices would be used for the 1943 registration year occurred during the three-month period of Dec. 1941 through Feb. 1942, a few months earlier than would normally be expected, likely due to concerns about the availability of raw materials required for their manufacture. At the time yellow-on-black 1941 (EX-3-31-42) plates were nearing the end of their useful lives and the production of new 1942 plates had been completed, a process that required 299,200 pounds of 24-gauge steel, delivered in the form of 55,000 sheets measuring 12-5/8" x 62", each one allowing for the manufacture of five pairs of full-size plates.
Wartime Restrictions Prevent Manufacture of 1943 Plates Nationwide
Even before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor marked the official entry of the United States into World War II the conservation of metal for non-military purposes was already on the minds of officials of public and private sector institutions. On Dec. 4, 1941, just three days before Pearl Harbor, D.C. Purchasing Officer Roland M. Brennan wrote to Mr. Maury Maverick, chief of the State and Local Government Requirements Branch of the Division of Civilian Supply within the U.S. Office of Production Management (OPM) to inquire as to whether the city government would be limited in the amount of steel it could purchase for the manufacture of road signs and 1943 license plates. (On Jan. 16, 1942, the OPM and the Supply Priorities and Allocation Board were combined to form a new federal agency, the War Production Board, referenced below.) Specifically, Mr. Brennan inquired as to whether any allocation policies had yet been established by the OPM for 1943 uses of steel. Although a Dec. 8 reply indicates that a decision on this question was forthcoming "Consider use of 1942 tags for 2 years. Also consider only one tag for 1943, instead of two" written by hand on the typed letter, presumably by Mr. Brennan (perhaps during a telephone conversation with a representative of the OPM) indicates that the outlook for a sufficient supply of steel was not promising.
At a meeting at the OPM office on Dec. 15 Mr. Brennan "was informed that a limitation order will be issued shortly, which will prohibit the use of sheet steel for 1943 automobile identification plates throughout the United States" according to a letter that he wrote to the commissioners the following day. Enough metal likely would be available to make validation strips or tabs, and Mr. Brennan provided the commissioners with three suggestions "to meet the emergency."
One option was to issue for 1942 only one plate of pairs already produced for that year, with the plate withheld from each pair modified and issued for 1943 or a later year. This conservation method was utilized by New York and Rhode Island, with the former revalidating the 1942 plate with a strip tab for 1943 and then issuing the leftover 1942 plates for the 1944 registration year. Rhode Island took a similar path, issuing windshield stickers to revalidate its dated "42" plates for 1943 and then the second plate of each 1942 pair for 1944.
Another suggestion was to use the 1942 plates for two years, with "some evidence of payment of the weight tax prior to the beginning of the second year [i.e. a windshield sticker]; consideration might also be given to the use of a clip [i.e. a tab] or strip. It is understood that California is using a strip which forms part of the tag." In fact, California revalidated its 1941 plates with a strip tab for 1942, a corner tab for 1943, and a windshield sticker for 1944.
The third suggestion, applied most widely in South Carolina but also in limited applications in other states and D.C., was to require that obsolete plates be turned in so that they could be re-stamped and repainted for future use. "In this connection," wrote Mr. Brennan, "I am informed that such a plan may be feasible. Sample tags are now being reconditioned, and upon completion such tags will be made available for inspection." This unusual method of license plate recycling was employed on a limited basis in D.C. A few 1946-47 non-passenger plates that were made from 1945 plates are held by collectors today.
D.C. Officials Approve Tabs for 1943, 1944
Mr. Brennan's Dec. 16 letter to the commissioners was forwarded by them on the 17th to Mr. W. A. Van Duzer, Director of Vehicles and Traffic, who responded on Dec. 18 to the effect that "this matter is being given careful consideration by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators in consultation with the Office of Production Management." He then proceeded to address each of Mr. Brennan's suggested remedies for the metal shortage. Regarding the proposal that plates be issued singly he reiterated his objection, citing an instance earlier in the year in which he and a representative of the Metropolitan Police Department had concluded that "from an enforcement standpoint it would be undesirable to use only one plate." In response to a telephone conversation between Mr. Van Duzer and Mr. Harvey G. Callahan of the police department on Dec. 29 this objection was reduced to writing and provided to the commissioners as an attachment to a memo on this general topic.
Mr. Van Duzer also objected to the use of windshield stickers, indicating that they would be easy to counterfeit. As for tabs, he thought that this validation method "should be given consideration, but by the use of an emblem, similar to the one used by the American Automobile Association and the Keystone Automobile Club, which should contain, probably, the seal of the District of Columbia and the tag number." Regarding the suggestion that expired and unissued older plates be recycled by being repainted and re-stamped, he wrote "I have talked this matter over with Mr. Slack, of the Lorton Reformatory, and find that it would not be feasible to re-roil the plates and then re-stamp them with the new number, as the metal would break."
This pencil drawing (on paper glued to thin cardboard) of a proposed "strip" tab for use during the 1943 registration year and another one in contrasting colors proposed for the following year accompanied a Dec. 29, 1941, memo from the DMV director to the commissioners. Although a plate-wide validation strip ultimately was not used, D.C. officials referred to the smaller tabs issued for 1943 and 1944 as "strips" in all of their correspondence and directives on the matter.
After discussing the matter with the city's auditor and tax collector, on Dec. 29 Mr. Van Duzer sent to the commissioners a letter in which he recommend the issuance of strip tabs for 1943. Although ultimately they were not issued, the intention was that these strips would be fashioned from 1941 plates that within three months would become plentiful scrap metal. "We have gone over this matter with Mr. Slack, of Lorton Reformatory, who states that these strips can be made at the Reformatory from the 1941 tags, which will be turned in, and by obtaining additional dies." The intention was to issue only one strip tab per paid of plates. Mr. Van Duzer had by this time already laid the ground work for the collection of 1941 plates, then still in use, through the city's gas stations. "I have talked with Mr. Harry Wainwright, Executive Director, Retail Gasoline Dealers' Association, who states that gasoline dealers will be glad to cooperate with the District authorities in collecting 1941 license plates. It would be my recommendation that all motorists be advised of the necessity of using strips for 1943 tags and that in order to obtain metal for this purpose they are requested to turn in their 1941 tags to their gasoline dealer the first time gasoline is purchased after April 1st," he wrote. "I believe that well over 100,000 sets of 1941 tags will be turned in, and by using only one strip per car there will be sufficient metal to take care of the 1943 registration, with the exception of the issuance of new tags or replacement of stolen or lost tags." Mr. Van Duzer estimated that by the date of his letter his department had issued about 3,000 duplicate plates to replace lost and stolen plates.
Unfortunately we lack early January to mid-February 1942 documentation on this subject, the period during which a decision was made to use corner tabs instead of strip tabs and to not collect and recycle 1941 plate for use in their production. The tabs ultimately issued for 1943 and 1944, pictured near the top of this page, are made from a much heavier stock than was used for license plates so it is likely that when the smaller device was chosen it was determined that they needed to be made of a more durable material.
The commissioners approved of the plan to issue tabs (which in official documents are referred to as "strip license identification tags") for both the 1943 and 1944 registration years on Feb. 25, 1942. Their colors were chosen based upon a formal recommendation made five days earlier by Mr. Van Duzer, who had based his recommendation on a non-D.C.-specific Feb. 13 press release of the War Production Board's Division of Materials that reads "Next year's auto license plates probably will be limited to black and white and domestic earth colors, such as red oxides, ocher, umber, sienna and a small amount of iron blue, the Protective Coatings Industry Advisory Committee has been told. Yellow traffic markings on streets and highways also are on their way out. Emergency specifications that contain no chrome yellow pigment are being discussed by WPB officials and the industry. White paints with a high reflectance value will be substituted. Both moves are part of the pigment conservation program designed to set up specifications which will contain a minimum of strategic raw materials."
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