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©2019 by Eric N. Tanner
Cities had the authority to pass ordinances requiring automobile registration until the first state law took effect on January 1, 1909. Cleveland was the first to begin registering automobiles in 1902, and more cities joined each year. Motorcycles were not covered under state law until 1914, so city ordinances continued to provide for motor registration on a local basis for five additional years (1909-13).
Although the city of Akron had an automobile speed ordinance prior to 1903, an amended ordinance was passed on June 15, 1903, requiring a $1 fee and a number, probably in aluminum figures, issued by the Mayor. Issuance of numbers began almost immediately; 24 were issued as of June 30, the day before the mandatory enforcement date, and #13 had been issued. The Akron Beacon Journal reported on Wednesday, July 1, 1903, "With 39 registrations the automobile ordinance, requiring registration of all horseless vehicles and the carrying of a four-inch number at the rear of every machine, went into effect Wednesday morning." Another article two days later reported that 46 licenses had been issued. Licenses were perpetual through 1908.
It is believed that an ordinance requiring the licensing and numbering of motorcycles was passed as early as December 2, 1907, according to references found in a later ordinance. The Akron Beacon Journal reported on May 24, 1909, that "H.C. Horn, 37 South High street, postponed the matter of getting a license for his new motor cycle and had to pay out the biggest part of a $5 bill in fines and costs..." Another article on July 2, 1910, had the headline "MAYOR BILL TAKES OUT CYCLE NUMBER". This story went on to say that "Saturday morning, Mayor Sawyer pulled out of his pocket $1. 'Here,', he said to Clerk Barton, 'take this and give me a number for my motorcycle.' His number will be 'S. 8'..."
Ordinance #3204, passed April 22, 1912, and published in the Akron Beacon Journal on April 29 and May 6, amended and repealed the analogous sections in the Revised Ordinances of the city of Akron passed on December 2, 1907. Motorcycle owners were to register their vehicles with the Mayor and pay a $1 fee. The mayor issued numbers, in aluminum figures 4" high and 2 1/4" inches wide, to be placed by the owner on the rear of the machine in a horizontal line on a dark background, spaced 1 1/2" apart.
Whereas previously, licenses had been perpetual, with this new ordinance, all licenses were to expire on January 1 annually. Licenses issued in 1911 or earlier would become null and void immediately, while licenses issued in 1912 before passage of the ordinance would be valid until January 1, 1913. Licenses issued in December of each year would be extended to the second January 1st following. It appears that there were no changes to the fee or the style or method of issuance of numbers.
A final article in the same newspaper on June 5, 1912, states that "About 300 motorcycle licenses have been issued during the last few days by William Owen, city purchasing agent, and more are coming in every day. It is believed that there are about 450 machines in the city..."
An article in The Horseless Age on January 17, 1906, states: "Statistics show that eighty-nine licenses for automobiles were issued at Canton, Ohio, during the year 1905." An undated, unmarked leather plate #108 has been reported and is believed to be from about 1905.
Ordinance #611, passed on January 28, 1901, listed speed limits only. A 1902 article in Water & Sewage Works, Volume 23, states that "The Cincinnati ordinance of January 28, 1901, is practically a reproduction for automobiles of the bicycle ordinance of August 17, 1896, and requires a lantern..." No license or registration was mentioned at this time. A second ordinance, #876, passed on June 30, 1902, dealt only with automobiles in the public parks.
Ordinance #1065, passed on April 8, 1903, repealed Ordinance #611 and required registration and plates. When the ordinance was introduced at the city council's March 2 meeting, it required the payment of an annual $3 license fee and "also a tag with numbers 4 inches tall to correspond with his license, which tag must be conspicuously attached to his machine and which will cost 50 cents per figure," according to The Horseless Age on March 14, 1903. Despite this report, it appears that initials may have replaced numbers in the final version that passed.
A December 1903 article in the Municipal Journal and Engineer states that "In Cincinnati, the licensing is similar to Cleveland, but the fee is $3 and 50 cents for each initial of the owner to be placed on the auto. The license must be renewed yearly at $3..." The Cincinnati Enquirer reports on September 18, 1903, that "City Auditor Parker stated yesterday that 35 automobiles are being run without a license...So far 85 automobile licenses have been paid." According to the Automobile Review on June 15, 1905, Cincinnati "is to have a new automobile ordinance." Rear plates "of dark leather" are to contain the word "Ohio" in a "perpendicular row" and include the year of issuance. Most of the present licenses expire on July 1. Interestingly, on the new plates, "numbers are substituted for initial letters of the owner." From these pieces of the puzzle, we can gather that the annual registration year was most likely July 1 to June 30, and that from mid-1903 through 1905, initials were required from the city at an average cost of $1.50 for 3 letters, to be placed on an owner-provided background.
Ordinance #1074, being considered in the June article above, was passed on September 18, 1905, and effective January 1, 1906, repealing the previous ordinance. This ordinance required owners to pay an annual $5 fee to the City Auditor and display an annual city-issued brass-on-black rear plate. The registration year was now January 1 to December 31. Non-residents having no other city or state license were allowed 48 hours before having to register, otherwise, they were exempted. #216 was issued on February 10, 1906. Known plates are listed in the table below.
1906 Brass on Black #61 - 545
1907 Brass on Black #12 - 732
1908 Silver on Green #12 - 844
The Cincinnati Enquirer stated on May 27, 1907, that a revised ordinance was being prepared and that "The present license fee of $5 for an automobile remains unchanged, as also does the tag containing the number of the license, but the wording of this tag clause is changed to read that it shall be made "of metal," instead "of brass," as at present, which will allow it to be made of a cheaper material." That explains the color change from brass on black to silver on green for 1908.
At some later date, Cincinnati got into the motorcycle licensing business. A 1913 motorcycle plate #326 is known, and a 1911 motorcycle plate has been reported. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported on April 26, 1914, that "An ordinance will be introduced in Council Tuesday providing for the repeal of the city motorcycle license law. This now affords the city an annual revenue of approximately $700, and because the license is only $1 it has been no great burden..."
Cleveland could be considered an early automobile manufacturing center, with the following companies in operation here during the pioneer era: Baker (1899-1903), Stearns (1899), White (1900-05) and Winton (1899-1903). Therefore, it's not surprising that this was the earliest city in Ohio to pass an automobile ordinance in 1902.
A 1902 article in Water & Sewage Works, Volume 23, states that "Cleveland requires numbered license tag costing $1...The date of the ordinance is May 19, 1902." According to The Horseless Age on June 25, 1902, "The Cleveland automobile ordinance, compelling owners of all automobiles in the city to equip their machines with numbers and to obtain licenses from the city clerk, became operative last week. The license clerk issued over forty licenses the first day." A Chicago Tribune news article on December 11, 1902, mentions that Cleveland has a rear plate requirement and that the metal steel-gray numbers are city-issued. In a Municipal Journal and Engineer article in December 1903, it is stated that "Clevelanders, owning autos, must register their machines with the city clerk for a $1 fee, and place aluminum figures four inches high on the rear of the machine." Non-residents were allowed one day only.
The October 1, 1902, issue of The Horseless Age reports that "There are now 417 owners in that city..." The Motor Way states on February 15, 1903, that "The city clerk's records show that 476 licenses have been issued to operators." #613 was issued by April 29, 1903. The Horseless Age of August 26, 1903, has this to report: "Up to July 25 the total number of automobile licenses issued in Cleveland, Ohio, was 919. This is an increase of 550 for the past twelve months." #1003 was issued by September 20, 1903. Motor Age gave the following update on January 1, 1905: "During 1904 the number of licenses issued by the city clerk of Cleveland, O., was 497, which brought $497 into the city treasury." As of September 1, 1904, 1,520 licenses had been issued. The Motor Way reports on May 11, 1905, that "April has been a record-breaker so far as the issuing of licenses for new automobiles in Cleveland, O., is concerned. During April, 131 new automobile licenses were issued. The previous high record was made in May, 1903, when 130 were issued." The Horseless Age August 2, 1905, issue reports that "Up to July 24, 2,277 licenses had been issued by the city of Cleveland for both pleasure and commercial automobiles."
The Horseless Age mentions in its April 25, 1906, issue that "The city clerk stopped issuing auto licenses on April 10, the last one being No. 2,526." This was undoubtedly the result of the passage of the 1906 state law on April 2, which prohibited local registration and would have taken effect on June 1. However, with this law declared invalid and eventually repealed, it seems evident that Cleveland city registration resumed after this interruption, based on known plates higher than #2526, although we don't know just when.
Undated, unmarked leather plates are known from #613 to #5985. An unusual metal dated 1907 plate #7 is known, but we have no real idea where it is from (photo in Archives). A later flat metal plate #1222, undoubtedly a motorcycle issue, is known in smaller size. (Photo in ALPCA JUN-99 p.145)
An automobile ordinance was passed on June 16, 1902, but did not require registration or plates. A new ordinance, #21878, was passed on June 6, 1904, requiring owners of automobiles and motorcycles to pay a one-time $1 fee to the city auditor and display 3-inch-tall silver city-issued numerals on an owner-provided dark background on the rear of the machine. The Horseless Age issue of September 21, 1904, states that "The automobile owners of Columbus, O., have been notified by the City Auditor that they must pay their numbering fees. This action had been postponed in anticipation of the passage of a vehicle tax ordinance." That ordinance didn't pass until March 20, 1905, so it would seem that the 1904 ordinance was never enforced.
The 1904 ordinance was repealed by Ordinance #21927, passed March 20, 1905, which made sweeping changes to the usage of all vehicles on Columbus streets, including horse-drawn vehicles. While the license plate requirements remained the same as in 1904 for horseless vehicles, an annual tax was enacted, which is described below. A legal case, Pegg v. Columbus, makes references to this ordinance, which required licenses on all vehicles, including automobiles, motorcycles, bicycles, push carts and horse-drawn conveyances, and lists fees for each category. Licenses were now annual, with the license year being January 1 to December 31, and the fees were reduced each quarter on a prorated basis. Also listed are registration figures for the period August 13, 1906, through November 8, 1906, for each category:
212 automobiles with seating capacity of 1-2 persons ($5.00)
218 automobiles with seating capacity of 3+ persons ($7.50)
8 automobiles for freight or goods ($7.00)
7 motorcycles ($2.00)
Renowned Ohio-based license plate collector James Fox reports having seen an original listing of the registrations from this era, where it was clearly noted that 1-2-seat automobiles received lower numbers in the 3-digit range while 3+ seaters were issued numbers in the 9000 series. He owns a leather plate #9271 which fits this scenario. If this can be verified, these plates would have been the highest possible Ohio city prestates, since even Cleveland never got that high in its numbering!
Another case from this era, Frisbie v. Columbus, mentions a city requirement that owners have "an identification tag to be displayed." The only known plates are porcelains from 1907-08:
1907 White on Blue #17 - 721
1908 White on Blue #1170 - 2359
Motorcycle plates for 1911-13 have been reported but not verified.
The Stoddard-Dayton was manufactured here in 1905. While an automobile ordinance was in effect in November 1902, it did not provide for licensing or registration.
Ordinance #6111 was passed on July 8, 1904, published in the Dayton Daily News on July 15 and July 22, 1904, and became effective on September 1, 1904. It required owners of motor vehicles to pay an annual license fee ($3 for automobiles and $1 for motorcycles) to the Mayor, who issued a license to expire September 1st, and a rear tag. According to the ordinance section about automobiles, "the tag shall bear the license number in figures not less than four (4) inches in length...provided, however, that any licensee hereunder may substitute for the tag furnished him by the Mayor numbers of his own design in white metal, and not less than four (4) inches in length..." The Dayton Daily News reported on September 17, 1904, that "The books show that 125 automobile licenses have been issued, [and] 10 motorcycles..."
Known automobile plates include a 1905 brass-on-black plate #383 with "DAYTON" sideways at left and "1905" sideways at right, and 1907 stencil plates #26 to #32; a 1908 plate has also been reported.
Articles in the Dayton Herald followed the progress of the issuance of motorcycle plates. On December 6, 1910, it stated that "The time for paying the motorcycle licenses has been changed by Council from September to January 1. The fee has been fixed at $2, with the provision that applicants for licenses after July 1 may secure their tags for the remaining six months for $1. The motorcycle license tags will be of the same design as heretofore, the background to be of a different color, however." The December 21, 1910, issue reported that "Owing to a mistake in making the tags, attaches of the mayor's office will be unable to deliver motorcycle licenses until January 20...Secretary Worman, in ordering the tags for 1911, specified a white background with black letters. By some error the manufacturer made the signs or tags of the same colors as the 1910 tags, blue and white. Inasmuch as officials could not easily distinguish the 1910 tag from the 1911 tag, Secretary Worman has refused to accept the newly-made tags and has ordered that the makers comply strictly with the specifications." The corrected plates actually arrived on January 11, 1911.
It was announced on December 11, 1911, that "The 1912 motorcycle license tags, 500 in number, were received at the mayor's office Saturday from the manufacturers in Chicago..." On May 25, 1912, it was stated that "To date 405 motorcycle licenses for 1912 have been issued, just five more than were issued all of last year."
Known motorcycle plates include a 1910 white-on-blue porcelain #287 dated "SEPT. 1, 1910", 1912 white-on-red porcelains #59 to #291 and 1913 yellow-on-blue porcelains #25 to #528. No 1911 black-on-white porcelains are known.
A small 1906 tag #3 with "LICENSED VEHICLE", as well as a 1908 cast aluminum plate #3, are known, and a 1907 plate has also been reported.
East Liverpool (20,387)
A new vehicle license ordinance had been passed in the spring of 1905, covering all vehicles including automobiles, bicycles and horse-drawn vehicles. The annual fee for automobiles was $5. According to the Evening Review on May 31, 1905, "The vehicle ordinance will be enforced...Treasurer Horton will...be furnishing license plates and certificates to all who apply...The license plates arrived this morning from a Toledo firm and cost a total of $21. The different vehucles will have plates of a different design. Those secured for automobiles are very pretty, being of brass and about 3x4 inches..." Due to vehement protests, the ordinance was never enforced, and a new one requiring a $1 flat tax across the board for all vehicles was passed September 13, 1905, after which partial refunds began.
The Elyria Reporter stated on July 26, 1905, that "Automobile license No. 28 was yesterday taken out..." A new revised automobile ordinance was ordered on August 8, 1905. An undated leather plate has been reported.
According to articles in the Elyria Republican, ordinance #1744 was passed on September 20, 1910, requiring motorcycles to register with the City Auditor and pay an annual $1 fee, due September 1 each year. City-issued 3-inch-tall aluminum numbers were to be mounted on an owner-provided dark background on the rear of the motorcycle, and numbers had to be arranged in a horizontal line. Non-residents were allowed 3 days, then were required to purchase a "letter" (probably an aluminum figure from "A" to "Z") for a $1 refundable fee.
A 1913 gray-on-white oval porcelain plate #145 is known, presumed to be a motorcycle plate as its design is very similar to the Lima 1913 motorcycle tags.
Hamilton (35,279) (Und. reported)
An ordinance was passed on August 21, 1906, requiring all vehicles, including horse-drawn, to obtain a license from the Mayor, pay a fee of $10 for automobiles or $1 for motorcycles, and display an annual city-issued rear plate with 4-inch-tall numbers. The fee was prorated quarterly. A 1907 brass plate #96 is known with "HAML" vertically at left and "1907" vertically at right.
The Lima News reported on April 19, 1905, that "The automobile license ordinance is now effective, and every Lima owner...must...get a tag with a number on it...Mr. C. F. Lufkin...secured tag No. 1..."
On June 29, 1911, the Lima News reported that "Up to date but thirty-eight motorcycle license tags have been issued at the city auditor's office. Tomorrow is the last day that machine owners can operate without tags..." The July 11, 1911, issue listed motorcycle owners #1 to 100.
A Lima Daily News article on February 20, 1912, mentions an ordinance requiring annual city-issued motorcycle plates, with the registration year being January 1 to December 31. The $2 fee was to be paid to the City Auditor. The 1912 plates were ordered late because of few funds left in the city treasury during the winter months; therefore, motorcyclists were given a grace period. 253 were issued in 1912. For 1913, 350 plates were ordered. Number 245 was issued on June 23, 1913. 1912 black-on-white (#89) and 1913 green-on-white oval porcelain motorcycle plates #21 to #98 are known, and a 1908 has been reported.
An undated white-on-blue porcelain plate #1049 is known with "LORAIN OHIO" at top, believed to be from 1907.
Various articles in the Mansfield News give us a glimpse into a brief attempt at registration here. An ordinance was passed on May 11, 1903, requiring a city-issued rear "metal number" and a $3 fee to the City Auditor. On July 8, 1903, it was stated that only 2 automobiles had been licensed, and that they were issued license numbers 2 and 3 because #1 was being reserved for the very first automobile owner in Mansfield. Only 5 owners were registered as of July 23, 1903. A final article on September 11, 1903, mentions that the ordinance had been declared invalid in court on September 9 because it hadn't been published enough times!
A new ordinance had been passed "some time ago," according to the Mansfield News-Journal of March 30, 1906, and the license fee was still $3, valid indefinitely. The city issued a rear tag and 28 automobiles had been licensed. As of August 9, 1907, it was reported that 47 licenses had been issued since inception in 1903, which infers that either the new ordinance had been passed in late 1903, or that licenses issued under the first ordinance of 1903 were allowed to continue in force.
Ordinance #26 was passed May 6, 1913, effective July 1, 1913, requiring motorcycle registration and city-issued plates. On the latter date, the Mansfield News-Journal stated that "City Auditor Karl P. Troll yesterday received a supply of the new motorcycle tags. The tags which contain a number, are of steel, 3 by 6 inches. According to the ordinance...every motorcyclist is required to take out a license and purchase a tag to be placed on the rear of his machine. The license costs $1 and the tag 50 cents..." On August 2, 1913, the News-Journal reported that only 95 of the 150 motorcycle tags ordered by the city auditor had been issued.
The Marion Star reported on the lack of automobile registration in this city on July 2, 1907, observing that "The automobile license ordinance did not come up for discussion, although several prominent aut owners had expressed the desire that such a measure be adopted. They state that when they go into other cities without numbers on their automobiles, every policeman they meet stops them and demands an explanation." Perhaps that was the impetus to create a name plate such as the one known to exist. An undated leather plate is known with "MARION" neatly lettered on one side and "588"
scrawled on the reverse side. For additional details, please refer to Marion, Michigan.
A series of articles in the Marion Star reported on the passage of a motorcycle ordinance on September 9, 1912, and the issuance of motorcycle plates in 1912 and 1913. The annual fee was $2. On September 28, 1912, "The license numbers for motorcycles were received by Mayor Walters this morning, and he has already opened the register, and is selling the numbers for licenses. The ordinance...will go into effect next Tuesday [October 1]." As of October 5, 1912, "Mayor Walters' supply of motorcycle license numbers was exhausted, this morning, when No. 50 was sold. The mayor has already sent an order for more tags and they are expected to arrive early next week." The December 30, 1912, issue reported that "Mayor C. D. Walters is in receipt of the motorcycle license numbers for the coming year...The new numbers are in red on a white field..." On January 25, 1913, "Up to the present time, Mayor Walters has sold twenty motorcycle license numbers, which is only about a third of the number sold at the close of last year..." The next news came on July 17, 1913, when "Mayor Walters issued the last of his 150 motorcycle tags this morning and an additional supply has been sent for." Finally, on October 2, 1913, "Up to date, the mayor has issued 165 motorcycle licenses."
An ordinance passed November 20, 1906, required all automobiles to register with the City Auditor. The assigned number was to be displayed on the rear of the vehicle with an "M" prefix and numbers 4 inches tall, in "aluminum on black background." A leather plate #M305 is known, having been found locally.
Various Newark Daily Advocate news articles in 1913 reported on motorcycle plates. On January 22, an ordinance is mentioned requiring a city-issued motorcycle plate for a $1 fee, mandatory by February 1, 1913. On March 14, it is stated that 113 motorcycle plates had been issued in 1912 by the Safety Department at police headquarters.
An automobile speed ordinance was in effect as of April 4, 1905.)
An ordinance was passed in July 1903 requiring city-issued plates. The fee is unknown. The first shipment of plates was received by the City Auditor on July 20, 1903. Two licenses had been issued as of July 29, 1903, and numbers 1 through 9 were issued as of August 1, 1903.
Two articles in the Sandusky Star-Journal give us the report on motorcycle registration and plates here. On September 13, 1911, it was announced that "City Auditor Loth has received the motor-cycle tags ordered some time ago and all owners...will have to get out licenses at $1 each, under the ordinance adopted several months ago..." A longer overview of the situation was published on September 29, 1911: "Here's a little story of how the big city of Sandusky has expended $50 or more to collect approximately $35 [in] license fees. Council early in the summer passed a motorcycle ordinance making it necessary for all motorcycle owners to secure a license tag for each machine operated in the city. The license fee was fixed at $1. Members of the Sandusky Motorcycle club say the membership of their organization has reached the 30 mark and that there are not more than 35 machines owned in the city. That means that not more than $35 will be collected. To date only 21 machines have been licensed. Here's what it cost the city: About $33 for 100 license tags, about $5 for record books and incidentals, and probably some $15 or $20 for legal advertising of the ordinance. Total - between $50 and $55."
An undated leather plate #107 is known with "SPRINGFIELD OHIO" at bottom, probably an automobile plate from before 1909. Also known are 1913 black-on-yellow embossed motorcycle plates #327 to #342 with "SPFD" vertically at left and "1913" vertically at right.
An automobile ordinance of July 7, 1902, did not provide for licensing or registration. But this changed sometime in 1903 - according to a December 1903 article in Municipal Journal and Engineer, "Toledo required owners of autos to pay $4 a year, and to display a three-inch number on each machine." An article in The Horseless Age on November 18, 1903, mentions that the effective date of the new ordinance is being delayed until January 1, 1904. Due to "several delays and the inability of the successful bidder to obtain sufficient aluminum the tags have not been delivered, though the law was passed several months ago." A subsequent article on September 7, 1904, states that "One hundred and seventy-five automobile licenses have been taken out in Toledo, O., during the past six months."
This ordinance appears to have been repealed sometime in 1904: The Automobile reports on September 14, 1905, that "Mayor Finch, of Toledo, proposes as a remedy for auto speeding in the main streets of the city, that a license ordinance be enacted and owners of cars required to display large numbers on the rear of their cars. Ohio has no registration law and Toledo has been without an auto license for a year."
A new automobile ordinance for speed limits only was passed on August 27, 1906. Another ordinance was passed on February 11, 1907, requiring 4-inch-tall city-issued silver numbers (or 3-inch-tall letters for motorcycles) on an owner-provided dark background on the rear of the machine. Plates with numbers signified automobiles while plates with letters identified motorcycles. The annual fee was $2. Non-residents were allowed 1 day before being required to purchase a $5 visitor license, returnable for a refund of $4. The March 7, 1907, issue of Motor Age stated that "Tags will be purchased probably this week or as soon as the legislation providing the fund is passed. The ordinance becomes effective on and after it is advertised, which will be about March 1." This report and a City Council resolution on June 17, 1907, to have the City Auditor purchase 500 additional "License tags" leads us to conclude that the entire plate, not just the numbers or letters, were city-issued. Motorcycles continued to be licensed after 1908. (See ALPCA JUN-95 p.88)
The Packard was manufactured here in 1901-02. A speed ordinance was in effect as of November 1902. 1908 porcelain plates #138 to #148 are known with "1908" sideways at left and "WARREN, O." at bottom.
A September 23, 1903, article in The Horseless Age reports that "Through a lack of definiteness in the local automobile law, the city clerk of Youngstown, Ohio, does not know whether to charge $1, $2 or $5 for licenses. The city council is to act on the matter."
Motorcycle Illustrated mentions in its August 15, 1908, issue, that motorcycle licenses are now required by ordinance, in addition to automobile licenses.