Prestate Information: Grand Rapids 1900-1905

      The first automobile in Grand Rapids was a Woods electric carriage purchased for $1,200 by Dr. Perry Schurtz in late 1897.  Schurtz was a prominent surgeon who lived at 297 Cherry Street at the time, and later moved to 255 Cherry St.  (Neither home is still standing now; both long since replaced by medical office buildings and parking lots across the street from St. Mary's Hospital.)  Dr. Schurtz switched to a Stanhope steamer in 1898, then bought a maroon gasoline-powered Winton touring car in 1899, gaining experience with all three types of motive power common then.  By 1900, he found it handy to have two cars, according to period newspaper reports, but it is unknown whether he kept the Stanhope or traded it for yet something new.  He still owned the Winton as of November 2, 1902.
      By most accounts, Dr. Richard R. Smith was the second person in Grand Rapids to purchase an automobile, although one report gives that honor to Dr. Louis A. Barth, another early auto owner in any case.  August W. Mohnke was the third auto owner, and on September 15, 1900, the fourth automobile in the city was purchased by John T. Byrnes.  Other early automobile pioneers included Dr. Henry Hulst, Lyman W. Welch and Dr. Clarence White.  Without any laws governing autos, license fees or other requirements, these owners were free to drive about town, but they enjoyed this freedom only briefly.
      On September 22, 1900, the first automobile mishap occurred on the outskirts of Grand Rapids, although it did not involve any collision or result in serious harm.  A local agent for a new gasoline automobile, a certain Walter S. Austin, was bringing a sample machine over from Holland, Michigan, where it had been shipped by train from Chicago.  When he stopped the car and made repairs, it caught on fire and he received minor burn injuries.
Mr. Austin went on to become a manufacturer of automobiles and produced the Austin in Grand Rapids from 1902 to 1918.
      At a regular weekly meeting of the Grand Rapids City Council (now called the City Commission) on October 1, 1900, a motion was presented to have the Committee on Ordinances prepare "an ordinance regulating the speed and use of automobiles on the public streets of this city."  It is not known if any particular incident precipitated this request, but with only four automobiles in the entire city of 87,565, the motion appears to have been quite preemptive!  Was concern over Mr. Austin's accident the week before a factor in taking action?  The connection, if any, is lost to history, but the close timing might suggest more than mere coincidence.
      The automobile ordinance was presented to the Council on November 12, 1900, and passed on November 26, 1900.  The timeline and content of Grand Rapids city ordinances with sections relevant to automobile licensing are listed at the end of this page.  The main features of the new ordinance were specific speed limits and the mandatory licensing of every automobile operator in the city.  Several of the components were borrowed from already-existing ordinances.  For example, the 7 miles-per-hour speed limit was the same as that called for in Grand Rapids' bicycle ordinance passed on June 22, 1896.
      In order to obtain an auto license, one had to submit an application to the Mayor, who would then issue an "order" for a license.  The applicant then took the Mayor's order to the City Clerk's office and remitted payment of a license fee of $1.00, whereupon the City Clerk recorded the name and address of the applicant and issued a license which was valid for one year from the date of issue.  These licenses could be more closely equated with today's driver's licenses (allowing one the privelege to operate a motor vehicle on public roads) rather than actual vehicle registration.  No information about the automobile itself, such as the make, model or serial number, was recorded, nor were license plates issued or required.
      It is doubtful any automobiles were actually licensed in 1900.  The number of licenses issued each year was reported in the Annual Reports of the Mayor and City Clerk of Grand Rapids.  The reports' cut-off dates varied, but were generally between April 1 and April 30 of each year.  The report of April 30, 1901, listed no automobile category, while the April 30, 1902, report listed 31 auto licenses issued.  We also have monthly reports in the City Commission records, but the earliest of these containing an entry for automobiles is May 1901.  We know that there were only 4 automobiles in Grand Rapids two months before the first license ordinance was passed on November 26, 1900, so it is very possible that because so few auto licenses were issued, they were merely included under the "Miscellaneous" category that first year.  However, a stronger theory is that auto owners may not have gotten licenses for their cars until after May 1, 1901, due to the highly seasonal nature of motoring in those early days.  Knowing Michigan's winter weather, the likelihood of a driver desiring to take his open automobile out from December through April is rather slim.  We don't know when the first automobile license was actually issued, or even in which year, but presuming there was little incentive to be among the first since no number was issued and no license plates displayed, May 1901 may have been the most likely earliest date of issue.  For more analysis of the number of licenses issued, see "THE NUMBERS SECTION."
      The next significant change in Grand Rapids motor vehicle licensing came with an amendment to the automobile ordinance, first requested by the City Council on July 20, 1903, and passed on September 21, 1903.  This amendment specifically provided for license plates - the first anywhere in Michigan - which were to be obtained or crafted by the auto owner and mounted on the back of each vehicle licensed.  In addition, the license plates were to be registered with and recorded by the City Clerk.
      The most unusual aspect of the license plates was that they were to carry only the initials of the owner, not an assigned number.  For example, Dr. Perry Schurz probably registered "PS" and Lyman W. Welch most likely displayed the letters "LWW".
      The specifications of the new license plates were spelled out in the ordinance, to guide auto owners when fashioning their own plates, and to provide some standardization as to design, size and colors.  It was stipulated that plates were to have plain letters for good visibility from a distance; monograms and fancy fonts were strictly forbidden.  The plate's size was not important, only that the letters were to be a minimum of 4 inches tall and 2 1/2 inches wide.  No date, city name or other descriptive words of any kind were included, just the letter combination.  Colors were subject to some interpretation but the aim was for good contrast:  White letters on a dark background. Interestingly, the Grand Rapids Post article published the next day describes "white initials on a black background", not the "dark" background clearly mentioned in the actual ordinance!  In addition to black, brown, dark blue, dark green and maroon would probably all have been acceptable.
      The rear license plate was not the only item one needed to comply with the new law.  Owners were also required to place the same initials on the glass lens of the headlight(s) of their automobiles, in black letters 1 inch tall and 3/4 inch wide.  Headlamp lens front "plates"?!  Where did Grand Rapids City Council members get the idea for those?  Surprisingly, headlight number requirements were more popular in various cities and states around the country in the early era of automobiles, and Chicago already had a license ordinance which required them.  The councilmen may have acquired a copy of the Chicago ordinance to use as a model for their new law.  Also by this time, there were various motoring magazines published weekly which gave the latest information on automotive developments around the country and in Europe, including new inventions, mechanical improvements and, yes, licensing laws.
      The idea behind having one's initials on a license plate was not for pure vanity or out of any desire to display personalized plates.  The primary motive was vehicle identification, just as it is today.  And the main advantage initials would have over numerals is the difficulty of using fictitous initials.  With numerals, a shady automobile owner desirous of evading the license fee could have made a license plate with a fake number and quite possibly have avoided detection due to the anonymous nature of numbers.  This most certainly did happen in other cities.  But an automobile driver using false initials that didn't match the name of the owner all his friends and neighbors knew by name would face too much scrutiny!
      Several other possible factors that may have made lettered plates easier to administer include:
      1.) Licenses had never been numbered since the first
          ordinance took effect in late 1900, unlike other types
          of city licenses.
      2.) The license year was variable, so some licenses that
          were still valid had already been issued up to 12
          months prior, making retroactive numbering difficult.
      3.) Licenses expired and were renewable annually, so new
          numbers would need to be assigned every year, or if
          owners kept their old numbers, many older numbers would
          fall into disuse over time, making it hard to maintain
          up-to-date records.
      4.) Since Grand Rapids plates had no identification of city
          or state on them, and nor did plates from most other
          locales around the country at that time, numerical
          plates could have been easily confused with prestates
          from other cities or states.
No other jurisdiction is known to have used initials as of September 1903, although six months later, Savannah, Georgia, allowed owners to use their initials in lieu of an assigned number effective March 15, 1904. (A March 13, 1907, amendment abolished Savannah's initials except those previously grandfathered, which could have been valid until September 1, 1910.)  But in 1903, the use of initials was unique!
      Different?  Yes, but not at all unprecedented.  New York State, the first state in the U.S. to pass an automobile registration law on April 25, 1901, required owner-provided plates with initials as well.  New York's initial-plate era lasted until May 15, 1903, when an amended law took effect, requiring numerical plates instead.  Perhaps one of the Grand Rapids councilmen travelled to New York in 1902 or early 1903 and got the idea from seeing the initial plates in use there, or again, had perhaps seen reports in a motoring magazine.  In fact, one Grand Rapids resident, Lyman W. Welch, in addition to having his city license, registered his car in New York in May 1903 probably for business trips or recreational tours.  He might have been able to use his old New York plate for Grand Rapids display, because, ironically, by the time the Grand Rapids amendment was proposed, the New York initials had become obsolete, replaced by numerals.
      There are some curious differences between the original proposed ordinance of February 16, 1903, the recommendations of July 1903 and the final product of September 21, 1903.  The February draft mentions numbers "at least three and one-half inches in length", which increased to four inches tall thereafter.  Alderman Renihan's proposal of July 20, 1903, suggesting black numbers on a white background, was the opposite of the eventual color scheme and that of the February proposed ordinance.  The July 27, 1903, resolution of the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners endorsing Alderman Renihan's request mentioned that numbers would be the preferable identifying marks, not the initials ultimately selected.  The February proposal also called for numbers, and even went into detail about how numbers would be assigned retroactively back to #1.  It lacked the headlamp number provision but included an ambitious requirement of a lamp lighting the rear license number, which may have been that version's undoing.  These points of divergence probably reflect areas of interesting discussion during the Committee on Ordinances' formulation of the first license plate ordinance, and helps explain the delay of passage in its final form.
      To our knowledge, no Grand Rapids pre-state license plate has ever been found.  In fact, one has never even been seen in a period photograph.  The search for any actual plates is frustrated by a number of complications impeding their discovery.  Compared to the relatively large quantity of Michigan plates in existence, even very old ones, only about 205 new Grand Rapids licenses were issued in the 1903-05 period.  Only one plate per vehicle was stipulated, not two, cutting the usual potential of available specimens by half.  Then, the lower survival rate of plates made of materials such as leather and wood, the most common methods used for license plate backings, as contrasted with more durable backgrounds like metal or porcelain, would mean more originals would be lost due to the ravages of time and the elements.  It was also possible for auto owners to follow the provisions of the law by simply painting the letters directly onto the back of the auto body, meaning no physical "plate" would have been created at all.  Any such item would have commanded no interest or value to anyone who came across the auto in the junkyard after its term of useful service, and would have had to be painted over if traded or sold to another owner.  In fact, this method of plate display seems to be surprisingly rare even in this very early era of automobiles.  The most common form of plates were leather pads with house numbers attached, hung by rings or leather straps to the rear axle.  It may have been felt that these were more attractive, or more transferable should the owner buy a newer car.  Finally, the very lack of year, city or state identification may have contributed to some early plates being discarded, with no marking to justify any historical community pride or other reason to save it.  Indeed, if one were found today in an old carriage house or garage, the average person probably wouldn't even know what it is, and might get rid of it!
      The search for even a glimpse of a Grand Rapids prestate license plate in a photograph also has seemingly insurmountable challenges.  While early photos and postcards of old automobiles are common, as nearly every family that bought one was extremely proud of it, these personal pictures were invariably taken from the front or side with family members seated inside, almost never from the rear where the license plate was!  Furthermore, photos that were taken from the front are usually not close-up enough to make out the headlight lens mini-plates either.  Parade photos and street scenes have so far yielded no visual image, generally due to all kinds of obstructions.  Parade pictures focus on marching bands, veterans groups and throngs of spectators, and when the occasional horseless carriage appears, it is either decorated with flowers, banners or flags which obscure its license plate, or horses and/or people following close behind are in the line of vision instead.  Street scenes most often featured streetcars, wagons and horse-drawn carriages, giving a good perspective on just how few automobiles there were in the city traffic mix, and when automobiles are visible, they are closely parallel-parked, leaving their license plates to the imagination.
      Up to this time, it has been assumed by license plate collectors and hobbyists, perhaps rightly so, that all pre-state plates with initials are New York 1901-03 plates.  If one were actually of Grand Rapids 1903-05 origin (not to mention Savannah 1904-07 vintage), no one would be able to tell the difference, as the general design, style and type of construction and materials would theoretically be identical.  Luckily, written ledgers have been found listing almost all of the approximately 3,000 New York automobile registrations issued from April 1901 to May 1903, including the names of the owners, from which the initials may easily be deduced.  No such register of the Grand Rapids city auto licenses has been located.  For now, the only way to authenticate an initial leather plate as a Grand Rapids pre-state would be to document the circumstances of its discovery, such as where it was found and what other supporting objects were found with or near it (such as other appropriate vehicle parts, paperwork or other items closely identified with the original owner), and to match its initials to a known Grand Rapids resident and automobile owner.  Conversely, if a leather plate is found whose initials do not in any way match up with any of the names on the New York State register, that could be an important clue in determining if it is of Grand Rapids descent.  Only the height of the letters themselves would give a clue, provided that the original owners followed the minimum letter of the law:  New York's initials were to be at least 3 inches tall; Grand Rapids at least 4 inches.
      The Grand Rapids ordinance went a step further than its obsolete New York counterpart.  Unlike the New York Legislature, the Grand Rapids City Council anticipated the possibility of more than one automobile owner having the same set of initials, and included in the ordinance a very specific provision in case such a duplication should happen.  The number "2", "3", etc., was to be added after the initials, resulting in a plate number such as "ABC2".  The numerals would correspond with the order in which licenses had been issued to the owners having duplicate initials.  If Albert B. Cromwell had been the first to be issued his license, he would display "ABC" and get to keep that combination.  Apparently, it was not necessary to place a "1" after the initials.  Then, if an Andrew B. Clark came along to license his auto, he would be required to display "ABC2", and so on.
      The ordinance was unusually specific in that the number suffix had to be the same color and material as the letters.  The necessity of explaining this detail seems odd in that we would expect someone having a new license plate made for their newly-licensed automobile to have all letters and numbers attached together at the same time.  The law almost hints at the possibility that duplicate initials might not be discovered by the City Clerk until after the fact, resulting in a numeral having to be added later.  The size of the numeral wasn't specified, but it is assumed that it was intended to be the same size as the letters.  In any case, no other example of U.S. pre-states combining initials and numerals is known (excepting those employing a city or state name abbreviation), meaning that if one were found, it could very likely be a Grand Rapids plate.
      As has been mentioned earlier, no registration lists have survived in Grand Rapids city records or elsewhere, so it is unknown whether any combination initial/number plates were actually issued.  One of the best possibilities might be a father and son who bear the same name (i.e. Jr. and Sr.) - while none are presently known in which both owned automobiles in the 1903-05 period, this is certainly an area for further research.  Another intriguing question is whether Dr. Schurtz himself would have needed to place a "2" on his second car or whether all cars driven by him could have carried the same "PS" combination.  We know he had two cars as of 1900, and the preliminary assignment list of 1905 also has two numbers assigned to him, so it is almost certain he maintained two automobiles throughout the intervening period between 1900 and 1905.  However, since the operator was being licensed, not the automobile itself, Dr. Schurtz may not have been required to purchase a second license.  The license was likely valid for driving any automobile, although it seems remote that he would have switched his plate from one vehicle to another, and the headlight figures were obviously far less portable.  The answer was almost certainly duplicate plates and headlight figures for owners having multiple cars.
      The number of licenses issued nearly doubled each year from 1902/03 to 1903/04, from 55 to 108 automobiles.  The growing popularity of these machines was catching on nationwide as well as in Grand Rapids.  Yet, for reasons not clear, registrations declined to just 95 automobiles in the 1904/05 license year, at a time when the trend should have reached to over 200 automobiles.  There are theories on what might have precipitated the decline, but none seems significant enough to affect the result.
      Grand Rapids was struck by a tornado on March 25, 1904, part of a severe weather pattern which touched off a 100-year flood of the city's west side, lasting through April 1.  The tornado didn't cause any deaths, and destroyed only a very small section of town, including a church, but the excessive rain, added to the heavy snow-melt of that early spring, caused the already-swollen Grand River to overflow its banks and inundate the entire flood plain upon which much of the West Side neighborhood was built.  The 1904 flood was the last great flood in Grand Rapids history; new floodwalls higher than the 1904 crest were begun immediately and completed a few years later.
      For automobile owners, the flood was probably not nearly as devastating as one might initially believe.  For one thing, autos are very portable, so if any were in harm's way as the river waters rose, they could easily be driven to higher ground.  Secondly, there were probably relatively few autos in the west side:  Then, as now, the west side had many factories and beautiful houses, but they were primarily working-class neighborhoods settled by Polish and German immigrants, among others, few of whom could afford an automobile.  The city's wealthier sections were mainly on the East side, now known as the Heritage Hill Historic District, well up the hill from downtown and water's edge.  Most of the city's auto owners had a garage or carriage house to keep their vehicle housed in, since all automobiles in this early period were open-seated affairs with no permanent roof, so direct flooding was probably not responsible for the decrease in the year's registration total.
      Perhaps the economic fallout from the flood affected people's ability to purchase new automobiles and licenses.  Those that may have been considering buying a car, and maybe even saved up money for it, would have had to use that money for housing, new clothes or other necessities.
      The timing of the flood with respect to the registration year also doesn't reflect much direct negative impact.  The flood lasted from March 25 to April 1, 1904, but the 1903/04 license year didn't end until April 26, 1904.  Therefore, any immediate effect from the flood on new automobile licenses and renewals should have affected the total for the old license year as well as the new year.  While such a decrease may well have occurred, and for all we know, the total could have topped 125 had no flood occurred, the 1903/04 total of 108 is still impressive.
      The 1904 decline is especially baffling since Grand Rapids was very active in the national motoring scene early on.  The Grand Rapids Automobile Club was formed several years prior, and was one of the original nine motor clubs which joined together to form the American Automobile Association (AAA) in 1902.  The other 8 were Chicago, Long Island, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, Princeton University, Rhode Island and Utica.  Walter S. Austin was one of the founders of the AAA.
      On April 23, 1904, a large article with photos appeared in the Grand Rapids Evening Press, announcing a grand auto tour being planned by the Grand Rapids Automobile Club.  The tour of three states was to leave August 5, 1904, with a destination of St. Louis, Missouri, for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, and was to involve twelve cars loaded with eighty people.  While the tour did take place as scheduled, the number of cars and people ended up being less than half the original projections, and therefore received very little subsequent news coverage.
      Grand Rapids was also on the cutting edge of the early auto racing world at the time.  The Grand Rapids Racing Club held its first auto race on September 26, 1903, in Comstock Park, drawing about 1,900 spectators.  Comstock Park became a regular stop on the racing circuit for such luminaries as Charles Burman, Earl Kiser, Barney Oldfield, Dan Wurgis and Frenchman Paul LeFevere.

      The main factor contributing to the decline may simply have been that auto owners who had been licensed in 1903 through early 1904 thought they only had to pay their license once.  It might not have occurred to them that they needed to renew their licenses every year upon the anniversary of their initial issuance.  This lack of compliance may have been the impetus to make a change to the ordinance later in 1904.

      On September 26, 1904, a motion was presented to the City Council that the Committee on Ordinances amend the automobile ordinance in order to establish a fixed license year for all auto registrations.  Since 1900, the validity period had been a point of contention for city officials.  From an enforcement standpoint, having everyone's auto licenses expire on different days of the year was an administrative headache, and the system was made more cumbersome by the fact that one couldn't tell by looking at the license plate whether it was current or expired.  Now, over 100 years later, Michigan's staggered registration program based on one's birthday is an indispensable administrative tool, due to the incredible volume of motor vehicle registrations, because it spreads the workload of renewals evenly throughout the year, avoiding long lines at branch offices.  This system works because of variously-colored validation stickers on the license plates, showing the month and year of expiration.  But in 1904, Grand Rapids' variable auto license year didn't agree with the license year of all other city licenses being issued, which ran from May 1 to April 30 annually.  This necessitated new separate forms to be printed, at significant extra cost to the city, since automobile licenses could not use the standardized city license forms.  The concern was great enough to warrant the above-mentioned motion that the license year be fixed to a specific term to match the other city licenses.
      The finished amendment was presented to the Council on March 13, 1905, and passed on May 22, 1905, successfully adopting the May 1st expiration date for all auto licenses.  But the big surprise was a change in the section regarding the display of license plates.  Instead of initials, the city would assign a serial number to be displayed on the license plate, the plate itself to be procured by the motorist as before.  The owner-provided front headlight lens "plates" continued as well, only with numbers instead of letters.  Indeed, this change was major compared to the license year adjustment.  If city officials hadn't pushed for a correction of the license year aberration, would the amendment which resulted in numeric license plates ever have been proposed?
      The next three weeks of 1905 marked a tremendously chaotic time in Grand Rapids automobile license history.  There was a huge clamor for low numbers, a petition to return to initial plates, an increase in speeding arrests, a sudden revelation that no motorcycles had ever registered, a defiant refusal to paint headlamps, a temporary suspension of the issuance of new licenses, and even a request for a refund of license fees paid.   Most importantly of all, a new state registration law was passed by the Senate May 24, 1905, two days after the passage of the Grand Rapids ordinance, and became law on June 14, 1905.
      The Holmes bill, which called for registration by the state, was first introduced in the Michigan legislature on January 12, 1905, and was passed by the house on March 30, 1905.  However, these developments were apparently progressing unbeknownst to the Grand Rapids city leaders when they were considering passage of the amended automobile ordinance.  When the state's automobile bill was passed by the Senate on May 24, the news was a surprising shock in Grand Rapids.  Final passage of the state law was almost certain at this point, since the final vote by the House on the amended version was a mere formality (to ensure a fair system of checks and balances) and did indeed occur the next day.  The Governor was for it, but if he weren't, he would have had to use his veto power, something he wouldn't likely expend political capital on unless it were something really controversial.
      By this time, 109 auto owners had bought their new 1905 licenses or renewed their 1904 plates since March 1st.  A group of them organized a petition to bring before the City Council at their next weekly meeting on Monday night, and circulated three copies for people to sign, one at each of the major automobile dealerships in town.  These owners did not wish to keep their initials out of sentimentality or vanity.  The main objection local automobilists had was the expense and hassle of making new license plates, which amounted to about $2 each, a significant sum in those days.  The burden was especially felt by the 64 owners who had just purchased a new car, and new initial plates, who would then be forced to buy numeric plates, and finally, just a few weeks later, a third new plate with their state-issued number.  The petition asked the Council to amend the ordinance again to allow holders of initial plates to keep using them legally until the state law took effect.  The petition was presented to the Council on May 29, and a motion to reconsider was made, but lost upon the vote of Council members.  This inaction led to the Mayor and City Clerk's office decision to suspend the issuance of all new licenses until the state legislature acted on the Holmes bill.  Leaving the ordinance hanging resulted in problems of enforcement after the state law went into effect, which will be discussed a little later on.
      We examined the actual original petitions at the city archives center, but many of the names were scrawled too illegibly to be a useful record of who the early automobile owners were, if in fact all signees even owned vehicles.  One clearly legible name, Milton M. Morse, was of significant interest because, according to the city directory and a published obituary, he died on May 10, 1898, seven years before the automobile petition was circulated.  He did not have any sons by the same name, either.  One wonders if Milton voted in any elections after his death in 1898 too!
      Not all motorists were eager to return to initial plates.  The race to get the lowest numbers was intense from day 1 - in fact, even hour 1!  At the very same City Council meeting on Monday, May 22, in which the amended automobile ordinance requiring numeric plates was passed, Dr. Casper M. Droste, a member of the Council from the 9th Ward, and the only automobile owner on the Council, requested license number 1 for himself less than twenty minutes after the ordinance passed.  He nearly succeeded.  Such quick action by Dr. Droste infers some forethought on his part, and causes one to wonder whether he was in some way influential in the addition of this section of the ordinance, perhaps expressly for the purpose of procuring a low number.  Remember that the original reason to change the ordinance at all was to standardize the license year so that all registrations would expire at the same time.  Low numbers weren't possible under the old initial system, so the only way to get one was to change the system!
      In the following days, the City Clerk's office was beseiged with requests for low numbers, especially #1 and lucky #7.  Dr. Perry Schurtz, who owned the very first automobile in Grand Rapids and by now had two cars, tried for both #1 and #2.  Dr. Schurtz even threatened to not paint his new license number on his headlights as required by law unless he received a low number.  His argument was more convincing than the motivation behind it:  A long multiple-digit number painted in black upon the light's lens would indeed reduce the amount of light shining onto the road, thereby somewhat defeating the sole purpose of headlamps.  But considering that there were only 150 automobiles licensed in 1905 up to this point, the most likely chance for anyone would be to get a 2-digit number, assuming that numbering started at 1.  All initial plates were already at least two if not three letters, so upon closer examination, Dr. Schurz's argument looks less compelling.
      The almost-humorous land rush for low numbers caught the attention of editorial writers at the Grand Rapids Herald, where on June 4, 1905, the following article appeared:
     "Speaking of automobile numbers," suggested Comptroller French, "I heard a new argument from a doctor yesterday against the virtue in having one of the much coveted little numbers on the rear of your machine.  He says that if you drive into Chicago and the people over there see a little 1 or 2 or 3 on the end of your car, they'll think you're from some little burg like Rockford."  He says the numbers ought to begin at least at 100 and he says he wants one with four numbers in it.  'He probably wants one so big the cops can't read it when he's travelling 50 miles an hour.', insinuated an unkind listener."
Another article in the previous day's Herald satisfied the curiosity-seekers who wondered who was already in the #1 club:
     "The discussion regarding what lucky chauffeurs shall receive the first automobile numbers, yesterday started a query regarding the lucky holders of license No. 1 in other license classes.  The books of the city clerk show the following..."
The list included the following categories:  Dog, Dray and Express, Hotel and Restaurant, Huckster, Meat Dealer, Meat Wagon, Milk Peddler, Milk Dealer, Saloon, and Miscellaneous.  Hack licenses were also issued by the city but not listed here.
      City Clerk John L. Boer decided, after receiving so many pleas and requests for low numbers, that the only fair way to assign them was to issue them first-come first-served on Monday morning, May 29, 1905, the first effective date of the new ordinance.  While a long line at the counter and down the hallway was expected, word had gotten out over the weekend that numbers wouldn't be issued until after the council met that evening, in case the City Council repealed the new ordinance.  That didn't stop a few die-hards who showed up Monday to make their applications, but no line ever materialized.
      Although the effective date of the new ordinance was by law supposed to be one week from the date of passage, the city clerk announced on Monday, May 29, that no numbers would be issued until Wednesday at the earliest.  City officials were buying themselves time while waiting for word of the state law's successful passage by the legislature.  Although final passage by the House had already occurred on Thursday, May 25, this was evidently not announced right away, so it was not until Friday, June 2, that a Lansing news release appeared in the Grand Rapids papers.
      Applications made during the week of May 29 to June 2 were held pending word of the state legislature's action on the new Michigan Motor Vehicle Law, and if it failed to pass, issuance of the Grand Rapids numbers could then commence immediately.  To that end, the City Clerk set up a tentative schedule listing the assignment of the first eleven numbers, which was published in the Grand Rapids Herald on Friday, June 2:
      No. 1. Dr. Casper M. Droste      No. 7. William M. Wurzburg
      No. 2. William Judson            No. 8. W. S. Winegar
      No. 3. George A. Horner          No. 9. Adolph Goetz
      Nos. 4. and 5. Dr. Perry Schurz  No.10. R. E. Dewey
      No. 6. D. B. Shedd               No.11. Ed Morse
      It is doubtful that the Grand Rapids numeric licenses were ever issued.  On Wednesday, May 31, the City Clerk's office was still in limbo, not knowing whether or not to issue any licenses.  The City Council's failure to reconsider the ordinance on Monday night left no clear direction on how to proceed.  So, the Mayor decided to suspend the issuance of licenses for at least a couple more days.  However, the city didn't want to wait indefinitely should the legislature take too long in making their decision.  On Thursday, June 1, Mr. Boer stated "Now nobody knows when we will commence if we ever do at all...".  After June 1, there is no further mention of the status of the possible issuance of numbers until prosecutions were attempted on speed violators July 11, 1905, by which time the state law was in effect.  Chances are that the much-discussed and anticipated Grand Rapids numbered pre-states are the plates that never were.
      One of the aspects of the new 1905 ordinance which could be implemented right away without delay was the new speed limit.  In 1900, the speed limit had been established at 15 MPH outside city limits and 7 MPH within the city, the latter identical to the 7 MPH bicycle speed limit set by an ordinance passed June 22, 1896.  In May 1905, these limits were adjusted in an incongruous manner:  Within city boundaries, they were increased from 7 MPH to 9 MPH, but outside the city, limits instead decreased from 15 MPH to 12 MPH.  Since it was spring, and the start of motoring season, enforcement was stepped up drastically, resulting in numerous arrests on both sides of the city line.  Measurements were usually taken by patrols on bicycles and/or by policemen on foot using a stopwatch to clock how quickly an auto passed specific landmarks.
      Most of the time, the autoists just showed up in court and paid their fines, but they were beginning to feel singled out and unfairly targeted.  They claimed that when they honored the speed limit, they were sometimes being passed by horse-drawn carriages and wagons, which the police turned a blind eye towards.  At the same time, a controversy regarding illegally-operated saloons was brewing, and the automobile owners suggested that if the ordinance concerning licensed automobiles was being so carefully monitored, then the city should crack down equally on the many saloons that had opened without a city license.
      With the spotlight being shone on Grand Rapids' automobile ordinance in the spring of 1905, and the accompanying analysis of details such as registration records, it was discovered that no motorcycles had ever been licensed in Grand Rapids, in spite of the fact that they clearly met the definition of "other similar vehicle" with "motive power" as described in all three ordinances (1900, 1903 and 1905).  This apparent oversight was brought to the attention of the Police Department for investigation into whether cycle owners could be summoned to court for driving without a license.  It was estimated that there were about 40 motorcycles in the city in 1905.  By the time any such investigation was completed, the ordinance would have been void anyway.  If any Grand Rapids pre-states are found, one can be fairly sure that they were not used on motorcycles!
      While many local-to-state automobile registration transitions across the country were relatively smooth, the Grand Rapids situation was anything but!  When states passed laws requiring state registration, these laws either completely superceded local (city or county) registration or allowed their local counterparts to operate alongside the state's law to varying degrees.  These ranged from local governments taxing motor vehicles for raising road funds, sometimes with a city tag displayed, to full-fledged registration by large cities such as Chicago and St. Louis with an established history of city plates dating back before state laws.
      Chapter 196 of the Public Acts of the State of Michigan, passed May 25, 1905, called for the statewide registration of all motor vehicles and the licensing of operators of same.  License numbers had to be displayed on the rear of the machine, and were to match the number on an aluminum disc (or "seal") issued by the Secretary of State.  The one-time fee was $2, valid indefinitely until the vehicle was sold or traded.  The law was very specific about nullifying any local city licensing ordinance, past, present or future, as stated in Section 20:
      "Subject to the provisions of this act, local authorities shall have no power to pass, enforce or maintain any ordinance, rule or regulation requiring of any owner or proprietor of a motor vehicle any license or permit to use the public highways...or that shall in any way affect the registration or numbering of motor vehicles...and all such ordinances, rules or regulations now in force are hereby declared to be of no validity or effect."
      But the Grand Rapids City Council's inaction on May 29, 1905, left the city's brand new ordinance dangling in a sort of neverland.  It was not exactly valid after being superceded by the Michigan state law on June 15, yet it was never officially repealed by the City Council either.  Therefore, it was not until July 11 that the issue came to a head.  Four speeding cases had been assigned to be heard that day in Police Court by Judge Hess.  Since these arrests had occurred after June 15, the date the state law had gone into effect, Judge Hess ruled that these violations were really under the jurisdiction of the state and not the city, and therefore dismissed all four cases.  In the process, his ruling rendered the entire automobile ordinance obsolete, null and void.  There were still cases pending in which speed violators had been arrested prior to the passage of the state law on June 15, such as the case of Dr. William J. DuBois, who was ticketed on May 19.  Although legal opinions differed at the time, it was generally expected that no arraignment could be made if the relevant law had since been repealed by the time the case came to trial.
      Speeding tickets weren't the only thing left over after the end of city automobile licensing.  After all the dust cleared, Mr. W. Linn Murray petitioned the city on July 17, 1905, to ask for the return of license fees of $2, paid on May 19, 1905.  Mr. Murray had the unfortunate luck of having licensed his two automobiles on the Friday before the Monday when Common Council passed the soon-to-be-aborted ordinance, perhaps the last day city automobile licenses were ever issued.  One wonders if he had had time to acquire his "WLM" plates before word of the change to numbers circulated.  The Committee on Claims and Accounts reported back to the Council on July 31, 1905, saying that the committee was split on this issue.  Both majority and minority reports were recommended, allowing Mr. Murray's claim and disallowing it.  Subsequently, Mr. Murray withdrew his petition, giving up on his refund.  Sometimes, fighting city hall is just not worth it!
      Although Grand Rapids licensed automobiles for four years from May 1901 to May 1905, actual license plates were only on the scene a relatively brief time, less than two years (September 22, 1903 to July 15, 1905).  Detroit's auto licensing era was even shorter.  A much larger and older city than Grand Rapids, Detroit had far more automobiles as well, but didn't begin auto licensing until December 1, 1903.  Why did Detroit get such a late start?  Simply, the automobile owners there did not wish to pay extra fees for licenses, be unduly restricted by speed limits and a host of other rules, or be singled out for stepped-up law enforcement.  They organized together and lobbied successfully to block passage of any motor vehicle ordinance for almost two years until they could influence the wording of it to their liking.  Once registration began in December 1903, about 1,500 licenses were issued before the state law took over.
      Detroit and Grand Rapids were believed to have been the only cities in Michigan that had automobile registration in effect as of May 1905.  This would not be at all surprising since these were by far the two largest cities in the state, just as they are now.  Saginaw was the third largest city in 1905, but with a population of 46,610, it was less than half the size of Grand Rapids.  All other cities in Michigan had populations of less than 30,000, and while some may have had such ordinances, their number was probably few.  Had state registration been passed substantially later, such as in 1907 in nearby Illinois or 1908 in neighboring Ohio, considerably more cities and towns would undoubtedly have followed suit by issuing their own auto licenses and/or license plates.
      A clue supporting this initial conclusion is a May 25, 1905, article in the Grand Rapids Herald about the state automobile bill which had just passed the Senate:
     "Senator Mackay of Detroit led the fight against the bill.  He offered an amendment to exempt Detroit and Grand Rapids.  (Senator) Russell (of Grand Rapids) spoke against this, showing that cities could make such local registrations as they wished not in conflict with the state law.  He said Grand Rapids did not want to be exempted."
The mention of exemptions for Detroit and Grand Rapids, but not any other cities, could be taken as a pretty clear indication that there were probably no licensing laws or ordinances in any other cities across the state of Michigan.  Lawmakers, particularly from the larger cities such as Saginaw, would certainly have been aware if ordinances existed from their home constituencies.  However, we have found evidence of automobile ordinances requiring plates from Benton Harbor, Lansing, Port Huron and Lansing, all by 1905, so pre-states in Michigan were more prevalent at this early date than originally assumed.
      The era of Grand Rapids city automobile license plates was over.  However, city auto licenses were nearly resurrected twice!  On April 29, 1909, Alderman Connelly submitted a resolution to the Common Council, here excerpted:
      "Whereas, Under Act No. 196 of the Public Acts of 1905, no provision is made for the licensing or regulating of automobiles by the Common Councils of cities...All of the expense of repairing streets is borne by cities and the fees for licensing automobiles should go into the treasuries of the cities to meet the extra expense caused by the operation of  automobiles therein; therefore, Resolved, That the representatives from this city, both in the senate and house of the state legislature, be and hereby are requested to secure the amendment of said as to authorize the cities and especially those with an excess population over 20,000 to adopt ordinances, providing for the licensing and regulating of all automobiles operated therein..."
      It is apparent that this strategy went nowhere, since a similar proposal reappeared in the mid-1920s.  Again, the city sought to raise funds for road maintenance and improvements particularly along the busiest main arteries.  While each county of Michigan received back its portion of the registration fees collected by the state, this did not include incorporated cities, which were on their own for road funds.  In January 1925, the Board of Supervisors passed the Mayor's resolution that the legislature allow cities to levy an automobile tax, and an amendment was proposed to the Legislature to this effect in December 1926.  It is believed that this measure also failed, since no plates or further news stories on the subject have been found.  But, if it had passed, Grand Rapids would have been back in the automobile licensing business for the second time!
      It is difficult to estimate how many license plates may have actually been made and used by early automobile owners.  Fortunately, we know from the Annual Reports of the Mayor and City Clerk of Grand Rapids exactly how many automobile licenses were issued each year.  These figures are presented in Table 1:
5/ 1/1901 - 4/30/1902    31
4/26/1902 - 4/25/1903    55
4/25/1903 - 4/26/1904   108
4/26/1904 - 4/15/1905    95
4/15/1905 - 4/ 1/1906    97
The report for the fiscal year ending 4/30/1901 contained no entry for automobile licenses.  Although the possibility remains that so few were issued that they were simply lumped in with the "Miscellaneous" category, this seems very unlikely in light of later findings described below.  The prevailing theory is that, even though the ordinance was passed on November 22, 1900, no one took out their automobile license until spring weather returned at the start of the next motoring season in May 1901.
      After these figures were discovered, more specific statistics were found contained in internal monthly reports of the City Treasurer to the City Council, all of which are located in Grand Rapids City Archives.  This is a gold mine of detail because automobile licenses were the only type of licenses to expire one year from the date of issue, instead of on April 30, giving some perspective on the seasonal fluctuation of totals. The monthly breakdown is presented in Table 2:
             1901    1902    1903    1904    1905
January        -       -       -       -       -
February       -       -       1       1       -
March          -       5       4       1       4
April          -       8       3       5      13
May            6      13      19      39      92
June           3      21      19      13       -
July           -       2      15      16       -
August         -       5       4       7       -
September      2       1       -       4       -
October        6       3      40       1       -
November       1       1       5       -       -
December       1       1       1       -       -
TOTAL         19      60     111      87     109
      A comparison of the number of licenses issued by month and by year make for an interesting analysis.  For example, the FY 1901/02 total is reported as 31, but the monthly reports for the same time period tally up to 32!  The discrepancy lies in the annual cut-off date listed for the fiscal year reports, which vary from year to year.  With the 1902/03 fiscal year starting April 26, the 32nd automobile license was probably issued sometime from April 26 to April 30, 1902, but not counted in the FY 1901/02 total.  Meanwhile, adding that one license to the number tallied from May 1902 through April 1903 would give us a total of 56, not the 55 reported for FY 1902/03.  Therefore, one of the three April 1903 licenses, which must have been issued after April 25, was not counted, but saved for the next year's total.  This particular license, for all we know, could very well have been a renewal of the same one from the year before.  How the April licenses are divided in 1902 and subsequent years to match the fiscal year totals is presented in Table 3:
May 1901 to March 1902    24
April 1902                 7 =  31 (FY 1901/02)
April 1902                 1
May 1902 to March 1903    52
April 1903                 2 =  55 (FY 1902/03)
April 1903                 1
May 1903 to March 1904   105
April 1904                 2 = 108 (FY 1903/04)
April 1904                 3
May 1904 to March 1905    84
April 1905                 8 =  95 (FY 1904/05)
April 1905                 5
May 1905                  92 =  97 (FY 1905/06)
      The second challenge in estimating the number of potential license plates is the fact that no new plate would have been made if the license being issued was to the same person as the year before.  The owner would have paid his new fee and merely left his old plate on his car for another year.
      When each of the monthly amounts are added up for the years 1901 through 1905 in Table 2, we arrive at a gross total of 386 licenses altogether.  This would represent the maximum possible number of plates that could hypothetically exist.  But when one factors in how many of these might be renewals of a prior license for the same owner, the number of potential plates drops considerably to a net total of 219.  For example, in August 1904, 7 licenses were issued, but because 4 licenses were issued in the same month the year before (1903), it is a fairly safe assumption that 4 of the 7 were renewals while the remaining 3 were newly-issued licenses, for which new plates had to be fashioned.  Of course, the possibility exists for not all of the old licenses to be renewed, resulting in more than the net total of 219 plates.
      The net figure of 219 could be further reduced by subtracting those that were not renewed, and allowed to expire, prior to the first license plate requirement in October 1903.  For an example of this, note the 6 licenses issued in October 1901.  Of those, it appears that only 3 of those were renewed in October 1902, so it would follow that the other 3 never had license plates.  Taking into account un-renewed licenses prior to October 1903, we end up with a realistic final total of 205 plates.  This total is increasable only by those licenses that have been counted as renewals which actually may turn out to be newly-issued licenses coinciding with old licenses expiring for good in the same month, and decreasable by any late renewals issued after a lapse and any other in-force licenses in October 1903 which were for vehicles already taken off the road by then, therefore no new plate being invested.
      Of the 205, 53 were issued in the last month of issue, May 1905.  In some cases, those owners who paid their licenses in late May might have held off on getting a permanent license plate with initials, since by then, the new ordinance had been passed changing initials to numerals, and word was circulating about passage of the state's automobile license bill, also requiring numerals.  Because of these factors, we estimate the final number at less than 200 actual plates from October 1903 to May 1905.
      Using the above-described assumptions regarding renewals of old licenses, we can estimate the total number of automobile licenses in force in any given month, presented in Table 4:
              1901    1902    1903    1904    1905
January         -      19      60     110      87
February        -      19      61     110      86
March           -      24      59     107      89
April           -      32      54     109      97
May             6      39      60     129     150
June            9      57      58     123       -
July            9      59      71     124       -
August          9      64      70     127       -
September      11      63      69     131       -
October        17      60     106      93       -
November       18      60     110      88       -
December       19      60     110      87       -
This table shows a general steady increase in the number of automobiles, disrupted only by seasonal fluctuations, and two extraordinary events.  First, there is a massive, unprecendented increase of 37 licenses in October 1903, which is directly attributable to the first license plate requirement which became effective that month.  The automobile owners knew that without getting a license plate, their cars would be very conspicuous by the absence of a plate, and by getting a plate but no license, they could be too easily traced by their initials.  They couldn't easily use fictitous initials because their friends and neighbors would wonder why the initials didn't match the person they knew!
      The second aberration is the equally precipitous drop in October 1904, when only 1 out of 40 licenses was renewed!  Unlike the situation of the year before, the reasons for this drastic decrease remain largely a mystery, although the 1904 flood and related events may have played a role.  It may simply have been a matter of owners not knowing they needed to renew their licenses every year.
                 1900*      1904**    GAIN               2000*
Detroit        285,704    317,591    +11.2%            951,270
Grand Rapids    87,565     95,718     +9.3%            197,800
Saginaw         42,345     46,610    +10.1%             61,799
Kalamazoo       24,404     29,782    +22.0%             77,145
Bay City        27,628     27,644      +.1%             36,817
Jackson         25,180     25,300      +.5%             35,316
Battle Creek    18,563     22,213    +19.7%             53,364
Muskegon        20,818     20,897      +.4%             40,105
Lansing         16,485     20,276    +23.0%            114,321
Port Huron      19,158     20,028     +4.5%             32,338
Flint           13,103     14,884    +13.6%            124,943
Ann Arbor       14,509     14,599      +.6%            114,024
 *U.S. Census
**Michigan State Census, June 1, 1904

1a. October 1, 1900, P.387 - Motions and Resolutions
      (9075) By Alderman Renihan:
     Resolved, that the Committee on Ordinances be and it is hereby requested to prepare and submit for the consideration of this Council an ordinance regulating the speed and use of automobiles on the public streets of this city.
      Referred to Committee on Ordinances.
1b. November 12, 1900, P.476 - Ordinance Presented to Council
1c. November 26, 1900, P.502 - Ordinance Passed - Excerpts
    relevant to automobile licenses:
       Section 1. No automobile, autocar or other similar vehicle shall be propelled or driven upon or along any the city of Grand Rapids unless the person...acting as the operator thereof...shall be a person duly licensed by the city of Grand Rapids...
      Section 2. The Mayor...shall have power and authority to and shall issue an order for a license to any and all persons making application to operate any such automobile...Such order for license when issued shall be presented to the City Clerk and on payment of a license fee of one dollar, said City Clerk shall issue a license to such applicant for a period of one year from the date of issue.  The City Clerk shall keep a correct and accurate account of all persons to whom licenses may be issued, giving their name, age, residence, date of issuing and amount paid.
2a. Motion to amend ordinance?  No record of motion located.
2b. February 16, 1903, P.674 - Amendment Presented to Council -
    Excerpts relevant to license plates:
      Section 5...And each of said automobiles, autocars or other similar vehicles shall have placed upon it by the owner or operator thereof in some conspicuous place on the rear of the vehicle, a number of such vehicle in figure or figures made at least three and one-half inches in length, of light color on a dark background, that can easily be distinguished, and over such number to be hung a lamp to illumine the figures at night.  That such numbering of such vehicle shall be registered in the City Clerk's office by and under direction of the City Clerk; the numbers to commence with the first vehicle heretofore licensed under this act and to follow consecutively the licenses thereafter issued to such vehicles, and that the licenses hereafter issued shall state therein the number of the vehicle thereby licensed.
      This amendment shall apply to all vehicles heretofore licensed, as well as to those hereafter to be licensed; and the owner, owners or operators of any vehicles heretofore licensed are required to comply with the provisions of this amendment within thirty days after the same shall have taken effect.
2c. Amendment Failed?  No record of fate of motion located.

3a. July 20, 1903, P.251 - Resolution to Amend Ordinance
      (18810) By Alderman Renihan:
      Resolved, That the Committee on Ordinances be and it is hereby requested to consider and report an amendment to the ordinance governing the operating and speed of automobiles and similar vehicles, requiring each to be numbered and such number to be conspicuously displayed by black figures on white background, such figures to be from 3 to 5 inches in height and proportionate width, such number to be registered with the owner's name and address at the office of the City Clerk.
      Referred to the Committee on Ordinances.
3b. July 27, 1903, P.261 - Supporting Resolution
      (18853) To the Honorable Mayor and Common Council:
      Gentlemen - Under date of July 24 I was instructed to
transmit you the following resolution, which was unanimously adopted by the Board, to-wit:
     "To the Honorable Board of Police and Fire Commissioners:
      Gentlemen - Believing that the efficiency of the police department will be materially enhanced in correcting the reckless driving of automobiles if a distinguishing mark is placed on each vehicle; therefore, be it
      Resolved, That this Board endorse the ordinance proposed to the Council by Ald. Renihan compelling owners of automobiles to register their vehicles and display on each in a conspicuous place a distinguishing mark, preferably numbers, so machines may be readily identified without error, and that a copy of this resolution be transmitted to the Common Council.
      Respectfully submitted,
      Alvah Brown, Chairman Committee on Rules."

  1. F. McReynolds, Secretary Board Police and Fire

      Referred to Committee on Ordinances.
3c. September 8, 1903, P.378 - Amendment Presented to Council
3d. September 21, 1903, P.418 - Amendment Passed - Excerpts
    relevant to license plates:
      Section 5...And every such automobile...shall have placed upon the rear end of such vehicle in a conspicuous place the initial letters of the name of the proprietor thereof in plain white letters (not monograms), upon a dark background, each letter to be at least four inches in length and two and one-half inches in width and also said initials shall be placed upon the glass of the lamp on such vehicle an inch in length and three-fourths of an inch in width in black (not monograms), and in case the initials of the names of two or more persons shall be the same they shall in accordance with the order in which licenses shall have been applied for and issued to them respectively, with the same material and upon the same background, add the number "2," "3," etc., to the initials placed upon the owner's vehicles respectively.  The said initials and numbers shall be registered by the City Clerk when issuing the licenses.  All owners of automobiles and other similar vehicles shall comply with this amendment within 30 days of the time the same becomes operative.

4a. September 26, 1904, P.439 - Motions and Resolutions
      (22807) By Alderman Owen:
      Resolved, That the City Clerk report to the common council
 the number of owners of automobiles paying city licenses the
 present year and the number that paid last year.
      (22808) By Alderman Owen:
      Resolved, That the ordinance relating to automobiles be
so amended as to fix the time and term for which licenses shall run, and that the Committee on Ordinances report to the Council such an amendment.
4b. October 3, 1904, P.453 - Report of City Clerk
      To the Honorable Mayor and Common Council:
      Gentlemen - Pursuant to the resolution of Ald. Owen, file
number 22807, will say, thus far this year 79 licenses for owners
of automobiles have been issued, expiring one year from date of
issue, as ordinance provides, that between now and May 1, 1905,
51 licenses will be subject to renewal.
      Respectfully submitted,
      John L. Boer, City Clerk
4c. March 13, 1905, P.808 - Amendment Presented to Council
4d. May 22, 1905, P.86 - Amendment Passed - Excerpts relevant to
    license plates:
      Section 2...(instead of "for a period of one year from the date of issue) which license shall expire on the first day of May following.
      Section 5...And every such automobile...shall have placed upon the rear end of such vehicle in a conspicuous place the license number thereof, as designated by the City Clerk, in plain white figures upon a dark background, each figure to be at least four inches in length and proportionate in width and also said figures shall be placed upon the glass of the lamp on such vehicle an inch in length and proportionate in width in black figures.  The said number shall be registered by the City Clerk when issuing licenses.
5a. May 29, 1905, P.95 - Petition to Reconsider Presented
       (25364) W.S. Daniels and others, asking for the
reconsideration of the Automobile Ordinance passed May 22nd.
      Referred to the Committee on Ordinances.
5b. May 29, 1905, P.105 - Unfinished Business
       Alderman Swarthout moved to reconsider the action of the
Council relative to the passage of the automobile ordinance.
6a. July 17, 1905, P.232 - Petitions and Communications
      (25897) W. Linn Murray, asking for the return of Automobile
license fees of $2, paid May 19, 1905, and notifying the City of Grand Rapids that he will hold it responsible for any damage or annyoance in operating automobiles under the licenses above mentioned.
      Referred to Committee on Claims and Accounts and City
6b. July 31, 1905, P.274 - Reports of Special Committees
      (26088) To the Honorable the Common Council:
      Gentlemen - Your Committee on Claims and Accounts and City
Attorney, to whom was referred the communication of W. Linn Murray, asking that there be refunded to him license fees for automobile licenses issued May 19, 1905, having had the matter under advisement, make report thereon:
      The said fees paid by said applicant are only nominal in amount and are supposed to have been paid simply for the clerical work of the City Clerk's office in the receiving of application, issuing of license and the incidental work in connection therewith.  At the time of such application the city ordinance was in force and would still be in force but for the subsequent legislation of the state legislature.  Your Committee is unable to see any reason for refunding small license fees of this character, and in fact believe it would be an exceedingly bad precedent, one that has never been followed heretofore.  Your Committee would therefore recommend that said application be denied.
      Respectfully submitted,

  1. Gallmeyer,

      Geo. F. Owen, Committee on Claims and Accounts
      Moses Taggart, City Attorney
      (26089) To the Honorable the Common Council:
      Gentlemen - The undersigned, a member of the Committee on Claims and Accounts, being unable to agree with the majority of the members of said Committee upon the claim of W. Linn Murray, would recommend that said claim be allowed.
      Respectfully submitted,
      Geo. W. Thompson
      Ald. Gallmeyer moved the adoption of the majority report.
      Ald. Thompson moved as a substitute the minority report.
      Mr. W. Linn Murray addressed the Council upon the subject, and subsequently asked permission to withdraw his petition, which upon motion of Ald. Gallmeyer was granted. 

  1. April 29, 1909, P.883 - Motions and Resolutions

      (40431) By Ald. Connelly:  Whereas, The use of automobiles upon streets is injurious and particularly to those that have been paved, and adds to the expenses of the city for caring for and keeping them in repair; and,
      Whereas, Under Act No. 196 of the Public Acts of 1905, no provision is made for the licensing or regulating of automobiles by the Common Councils of cities, and in the larger cities especially, Common Councils should be given authority to license and regulate the operation of automobiles therein; and,
      Whereas, All of the expense of repairing streets is borne by cities and the fees for licensing automobiles should go into the treasuries of the cities to meet the extra expense caused by the operation of automobiles therein; therefore,
      Resolved, That the representatives from this city, both in the senate and house of the state legislature, be and hereby are requested to secure the amendment of said act and Sections 19 and 20 thereof, so as to authorize the cities and especially those with an excess population over 20,000 to adopt ordinances, providing for the licensing and regulating of all automobiles operated therein, aside from and in addition to the regulations and requirements of said state act.

  1. November 27, 1900, Grand Rapids Herald, P.5

 Automobile Ordinance Passed
      When Alderman Shinkman of the ordinance committee moved to take up for consideration the automobile ordinance, some objection was manifested and on a voice vote the mayor declared it lost, but the yeas and nays being called for, the council voted to take up the ordinance.  It was placed on its third reading and on motion of Alderman Kinzey...the ordinance was then passed.  It provides for a license fee of $1, limits the speed to seven miles an hour, within the prescribed district...and allows 15 miles an hour elsewhere in the city.  Special forms will have to be printed to fulfill the license provision, as all the present forms date from May 1 of each year, thereby entailing extra expense. 

  1. September 22, 1903, Grand Rapids Post, P.3

Initials on Machines.
      The common council disposed of several important matters at the session last evening.  The new amendment to the automobile ordinance was passed, to take effect in 30 days from its passage...
      The automobile ordinance amendment was passed, and will become operative in 30 days.  It provides for the placing of white initials on a black background on the rear of all automobiles and the placing of the same initials of smaller size on the front of the lamps carried, and also provides for the registration of such initials with the city clerk. 

  1. September 22, 1903, Grand Rapids Evening Press, P.3

      On motion of Alderman Swarthout the automobile ordinance was taken from the table and passed, with only two opposing.  It will be operative in thirty days and then the owner of an auto will have to place his initials in letters four inches high in white, on a black background, on the rear of his machine, and in black on the lamps. 

  1. May 23, 1905, Grand Rapids Herald, P.1

      The common council last night came to the rescue of Grand Rapids chauffeurs, on whose trail the police have been camping for the past 10 days...The new ordinance requires that auto cars shall bear numbers instead of initials upon the rear.  The numbers must also appear upon the face of the lamps. 

  1. May 25, 1905, Grand Rapids Herald, P.2

IN SENATE AND HOUSE - Considerable Important Business is Transacted in Both Bodies.
      LANSING, Mich., May 24.- Holmes automobile bill passed the senate today after a long scrap in the committee of the whole, in which several minor amendments were made and many others were attempted.  Senator Mackay of Detroit led the fight against the bill.  He offered an amendment to exempt Detroit and Grand Rapids.  (Senator) Russell spoke against this, showing that cities could make such local regulations as they wished not in conflict with the state law.  He said Grand Rapids did not want to be exempted.  An amendment was tacked on at Russell's insistence adding imprisonment as an alternative with a fine for infraction of the law.  The speed limits fixed by the bill are 10, 15 and 20 miles.  It calls for state registration of all automobiles. 

  1. May 25, 1905, Grand Rapids Herald, P.3

NOW THE MOTORCYCLE - CLAIMED THEY ARE INCLUDED IN AUTOMOBILE ORDINANCE.  MUST PAY LICENSE - Judge Hess and City Clerk Boer Believe It Was the Intention to Put a Tax on Them.
      Investigation will be started by the police department which may result in owners of motorcycles being brought into court to explain why no license has been taken out.  According to the ordinance for the licensing of automobiles, as it now stands, motorcycles are included and, according to City Clerk Boer, no licenses have as yet been taken out by owners of the machines...
Propelled by Power.
      The motorcycles are evidently included under the term "other similar vehicle," which is defined in the ordinance as meaning "any vehicle...the motive power of which is electricity, steam, compressed air, naptha, gasoline, kerosene or other motive power..."
Official Opinion.
      City Clerk Boer said yesterday that the matter had not before been brought to his attention, but that the ordinance was evidently meant to include motorcycles.  He also said that the owners of the machines should be compelled to take out licenses.  Police Judge Hess, when shown the section of the ordinance relating to the licensing of the machines, gave as his opinion that the section was evidently meant to include motorcycles.  Although the matter has not previously been brought to the attention of the police department, it was stated yesterday that the matter will be carefully enquired into.
      There are probably about 40 of the machines in the city, and heretofore no attempt to include them with automobiles has been made.  City Attorney Taggart said yesterday that he was
unable to give an opinion at the time.  The ordinance will probably be referred to him and on his opinion will depend the fate of the motorcyclists. 

  1. May 26, 1905, Grand Rapids Herald, P.8

WANT FIRST NUMBERS - AUTOMOBILE DRIVERS BESEIGE CITY CLERK'S OFFICE.  TO TREAT ALL ALIKE - Chauffeurs Must Line Up Monday Morning and Take Their Chances With the Rest.
      The city clerk's office will play no favorites in the race of local auto drivers for choice numbers under the new ordinance, which requires every chauffeur to replace his initials with official numbers upon the back of his car.  The contest will be a free-for-all and drivers with ambitions toward special favor are being notified to line up Monday morning outside the counter and take their turn.  It will be first come first served.  The prizes will go to the hardy.  It will be a sample taste of the government lottery for western lands, and it is expected that just as long a line will trail to the lower end of the second floor city hall corridor Monday when the drawing commences as ever stood up for parquet seats before an opera house box office.
Want Tag No.1
      There have been claimants galore for the privelege of owning Tag Number One.  Alderman Casper N. Droste, the only chauffeur among city officials, put in a bid the night the council passed the new ordinance.  Among others who have sought the coveted number are Dr. Perry Schurz, A. A. Homer and William Jackson.  Dr. Schurz wanted both one and two.  Lucky Seven is a favorite.  All sorts of requests have showered upon the clerk's office.  Drivers have not been at all backward in their demands.  But to each has been turned a deaf ear.  Numbers will be given out Monday morning when the new ordinance becomes operative.  The drivers who get the prizes will be the drivers who display some of the vim in climbing city hall stairs the first day of the week that they show in cutting loose on some of the city's paved boulevards.
Trouble is in Sight.
      The new ordinance, however, and its provisions regarding numbers may not have the plain sailing which the city fathers seem to anticipate.  Among the requirements are that a chauffeur must not only affix the number he received to the rear end of his car, but he must also paint the number on his lamps in the front of his car.  This is causing adverse comment.  Yesterday when Dr. Schurz came into the clerk's office to corral Tag Number One he relieved his mind on the subject.
     "Unless I get a small number," said he, "one which will not take up much room, I will positively refuse to paint it upon my lamps.  The lamps are for the purpose of giving light and just as soon as you paint some great long number across the glass the virtue of the light is gone as far as its primary purposes go.  If I draw a big number I shall positively refuse to paint it on
my lamps, and I'll fight as long as there is a court to fight in before I'll submit to being forced to put the number on."

  1. May 27, 1905, Grand Rapids Evening Press, P.8

PROTEST IS MADE - Local Autoists Are to Petition the Council.
THE TAG ORDINANCE - is What They Are Protesting Against.
Hold That Several Sets of Initials Will Be Forced Unless Law is Suspended.
      Autombilists, many of whom have but recently purchased their new machines and paid besides their license fee, $2 for initials and leather pad, have been wondering where they are at in regard to their observance of the latest city ordinance
calling for numbers on their machines, which would mean further expense and the throwing  away of the initials.
      Dealers have refrained from selling the numbers for the present, knowing that it will doubtless be but a short time until the new Holmes automobile law will be effective and this will mean still different numbers, thus causing a third expense to many, as the state law will provide a fee for license and numbers which will take the place of any city ordinance.

  1. S. Daniels has had Attorney Henry T. Heald draw up petitions which can be signed at Adams & Hart's, C. J. Bronson's, or the Michigan Automobile Co.'s garage. It is urged that every automobilist in the city make it a point to sign one of three petitions before Monday evening, when they will be presented to the council.  The petition is as follows.

     "The undersigned automobile drivers of this city desire to call the attention of your honorable body to the fact that there will probably be passed by the state legislature within the next
ten days, a law for the state regulation of automobiles.  Under the terms of the proposed law, the owners of automobiles will be required to register with the Secretary of State and receive a number from him.  The proposed law supercedes local regulations.
      It will be a useless expense and bother for local automobile drivers to change from initials to numbers when the state law goes into effect.
      We respectfully petition your honorable body to so change the automobile ordinance recently passed by you that the automobile drivers of this city will be obliged to make but one change from initials to numbers when the state law goes into effect." 

  1. May 28, 1905, Grand Rapids Herald, P.3

      Owners of automobiles are in trouble again and will present a petition to the council.  The trouble this time is that under the new ordinance they must change from initials to numbers.  It will not be long before the Holmes automobile law, providing for state registration, will be in effect.  Then it will be necessary for the owners to make another change.  They ask to be permitted to retain their initial letters until the new law goes into effect.   

  1. May 29, 1905, Grand Rapids Evening Press, P.3

City Holds Up on Auto Numbers
      No automobile numbers will be issued by the city clerk until Wednesday, at least.  The city authorities are awaiting the action of the legislature. 

  1. May 30, 1905, Grand Rapids Herald, P.7

      The city clerk's office was not overwhelmed yesterday morning with the anticipated rush of chauffeurs for choice automobile numbers under the new ordinance requiring the displacement of the initial tags.  One or two stragglers came in but it was generally understood that the clerk would issue no new numbers until final action by the council and the legislature upon the pending state law requiring state license and state numbers. 

  1. May 31, 1905, Grand Rapids Evening Press, P.10

NO AUTO LICENSES - Mayor Sweet Calls a Halt until Muddle Is Straightened Out.
      No automobile licenses are being issued by the city clerk today, and it is not likely that any will be issued for a little time.  Mayor Sweet has exercised his right of holding up orders for licenses.  His honor will issue no orders until the automobile question is nearer a settlement.
      The city clerk's office was at a loss to know what to do with applications today until the mayor took a hand.  The failure of the council to reconsider the ordinance at the last session left things in a muddle.  No licenses will be issued under the new ordinance until the legislature acts, unless the legislators delay too long. 

  1. June 1, 1905, Grand Rapids Herald, P.5

      City Clerk Boer conferred with the mayor yesterday relative to the course to be pursued in granting automobile licenses.  The chauffeurs want to wait before securing city numbers under the new ordinance to see what sort of a law the state legislature passes.  Monday, the council adjourned without taking up the subject of a suspension of the new ordinance regulations until the legislature acts.  The clerk and mayor decided, however, to take the responsibility upon themselves and there will be another wait of a day or two before any numbers are given out under the new city ordinance. 

  1. June 2, 1905, Grand Rapids Herald, P.7

CITY CLERK'S CHART - Auto Drivers Who Get Prizes if Pending State
Law Does Not Become Operative.
      Although awaiting the action of the legislature upon the proposed law requiring a state registration of automobiles, the city clerk's office has lined up the applicants for first numbers under the new city ordinance, passed by the common council one week ago, and if the city law is ultimately enforced the following chauffeurs will win the prizes according to the present schedule:
No. 1. Dr. Casper M. Droste         No. 7. William M. Wurzburg
No. 2. William Judson               No. 8. W. S. Winegar
No. 3. George A. Horner             No. 9. Adolph Goetz
Nos. 4. and 5. Dr. Perry Schurz     No.10. R. E. Dewey
No. 6. D. B. Shedd                  No.11. Ed Morse

      This seems to be the extent of the present schedule.  The city law requires all chauffeurs, whether they have before taken out a regular city license or not, to be registered according to
the number with the city clerk.  The new ordinance had not been
upon the statute books twenty minutes before Dr. Droste, himself a member of the common council from the Ninth ward, had put in his bid for the head of the column.
Treat All Alike

      Before the state law hove into sight on the municipal horizon, local chauffeurs fell all over themselves to secure the first number tags.  City Clerk Boer announced, however, that the fight would be conducted strictly according to Marquis of Queensbury rules, the auto drivers would have to line up at the counter Monday morning, with first coming, first served.  Monday, however, there was serious discussion relative to the pending state law which would require numbers from the capitol as well as from the city hall.  Under the circumstances, the mayor and the clerk decided to temporarily suspend the action of the ordinance.  It is still in suspense, lest the fortunate auto
drivers who will win the blue ribbons have been lined up.
     "We decided this was necessary in order to be fair.", explained Mr. Boer yesterday.  "When a day certain was known for the inauguration of the new ordinance, all could be treated alike with their applications.  Now nobody knows when we will commence if we ever do at all and so we are making this schedule upon which the favorite numbers will be given out.  The schedule represents the order in which applications have been made." 

  1. June 3, 1905, Grand Rapids Herald, P.3

Must Get License by July 15.
      LANSING, Mich., June 2 - Holmes bill for the regulation of autos was taken from the table in the house and given effect June
15, the same date as given in the senate.  By the terms of the bill auto owners are given until July 15 to get their license and numbers from the secretary of state.  Two dollars a head is the price.

  1. June 3, 1905, Grand Rapids Herald, P.4

      The discussion regarding what lucky chauffeurs shall receive the first automobile numbers, yesterday started a query regarding the lucky holders of license No.1 in other license classes.  The books of the city clerk show the following:
(Names and addresses of meat vendors, saloons, etc.)

  1. June 4, 1905, Grand Rapids Herald, P.5

Automobile Tour
     "Speaking of automobile numbers," suggested Comptroller French, "I heard a new argument from a doctor yesterday against the virtue in having one of the much coveted little numbers on the rear of your machine.  He says that if you drive into Chicago and the people over there see a little 1 or 2 or 3 on the end of your car, they'll think you're from some little burg like Rockford."  He says the numbers ought to begin at least at 100 and he says he wants one with four numbers in it.  "He probably wants one so big the cops can't read it when he's travelling 50 miles an hour.", insinuated an unkind listener. 

  1. June 14, 1905, Grand Rapids Evening Press, P.5

AUTO BILL A LAW - Chauffeurs Must Now Take Out State Licenses.
      Lansing, June 14.- Owners of automobiles and chauffeurs may now prepare to take out state licenses, as Governor Warner has signed the Holmes automobile bill.  The measure will take effect on Thursday, June 15, and automobiles will have thirty days from that time in which to get their licenses from the secretary of state at Lansing.
      To follow the law owners of automobiles must send to the secretary of state a statement of their names and addresses, with brief descriptions of their machines, including the maker's name, factory number, style of vehicle, and motor power.  Blanks for this purpose will be furnished by the secretary, who will issue a number with a seal made of aluminum or other metal.  The automobile man will have to pay $2 for his certificate.  Chauffeurs must also fill out a blank and pay $1 each and these certificates are not to be transferred. 

  1. June 15, 1905, Grand Rapids Herald, P.10

AUTO BILL IS SIGNED - Licenses Must Be Had From Secretary of State.  FEE TO OWNERS IS $2
      Lansing, Mich., June 14. Governor Warner has signed a big
bunch of bills, among the most important being the Holmes automobile bill...The pen with which the Holmes bill was signed
was sent to Representative Holmes of Gratiot, father of the bill.
      The bill takes effect June 15 and 30 days from that time are allowed auto owners to get their licenses from the secretary of state.  Full information as to details required can be secured by addressing the secretary.  The license fee is $2.

  1. June 28, 1905, Grand Rapids Evening Press, P.11

HAS FIRST LICENSE - J. E. Thoma Sports No. 13 State Auto Tag 

  1. E. Thoma is not troubled about "hoodoos". He has the first state automobile license issued to a resident of Grand Rapids and it is by his own request numbered "13".

      He received today from the secretary of state's office the registered seal and is showing on his Elmore Pathfinder the aluminum plate the word "Mich" in inch letters and the three-inch figures, which show he has complied with the new law.
      Mr. Thoma says thirteen has no terrors for him as it is his birthday date and has always proved a lucky numeral for him. 

  1. July 11, 1905, Grand Rapids Evening Press, P.10

Judge Hess Says City Rules Conflict with Statute.
Auto Owners Will Not Be Held to Provisions of the New State License Law.
      Judge Hess has declared the city ordinance relative to the control of automobile speed conflicts with the state law, and dismissed four cases pending in his court under the ordinance.  The fortunate automobile owners to escape were A. J. Brown, Henry Hulst, Arthur Walker and E. D. Shedd.
      Hereafter the prosecutions will be made under the state law.  The ruling carries into obscurity the entire ordinance, including the provisions calling for the city registration and licensing of automobiles.  The automobile driver will now be obliged to take out his state license only. 

  1. July 12, 1905, Grand Rapids Herald, P.2

QUESTIONS OF LAW ARISE - Claimed That Sentence Cannot Be Pronounced Since Ordinance Is Declared Void. 

  1. H. Sanders, against whom a complaint for a violation of the automobile ordinance has been standing for several days, appeared in police court yesterday and asked that the proceedings be dismissed under the ruling that the city ordinance is void and of no effect. The motion was allowed.

      The same action will probably be taken today in the case of L. L. Conkey.  Dr. Conkey was arrested under the provisions of the ordinance July 4, 19 days after the state law had gone into effect.  One other case pending, that against Morton H. Luce, comes under the same ruling as the offense with which he
is charged is alleged to have been committed June 19.
Some Peculiar Cases.
      Another case which is to come up today presents a different feature.  It is the case of Dr. E. H. Eddy, in which the complaint was made before the statute became binding.  The offense in this complaint was repealed by the action of the state legislature.  Practically the same conditions prevail in the case of Dr. William J. DuBois, who was arrested May 19.
      Assistant City Attorney Barker says he has not given the matter much thought, but it would seem no action could be taken in those cases where the complaint was regularly made under an ordinance which has been repealed before the cases came to trial.
He refers to a rule whereby a magistrate can not impose a penalty without imposing it under a law and in these cases there is no law to support the complaint as it has been repealed.  It is admitted to be debatable ground and the question will probably be argued today.
Can New Complaints Be Issued?
       The attorneys are also divided in opinion as to whether new complaints can be made in the cases dismissed, holding the alleged violators to trial under the statute.  Some say it can not be done as it would mean a violation of the constitutional principle that no man can be held to answer for the same offense.
Others say the principle does not apply as there was no arraignment the first time if there was no law under which to arraign.
      Prosecuting Attorney Brown, under whose jurisdiction automobile cases now come, says no cases have been brought before him.  He does not intend to take any action until some person in authority makes application for a warrant.  He says he will then investigate the details of the offense and decide as to whether or not there is an obstacle to the issue of warrants... 

  1. January 19, 1925, Grand Rapids Press, P.4

      Mayor Swarthout's resolution for a city auto license fee has passed the board of supervisors and will be transmitted as a recommendation to the legislature.  At first glance it will hardly appeal to the auto owner to learn that he may be submitted to the additional annoyance and expense of a city tax, but in view of the state and county attitude in the past in refusing any return of tax funds to the cities the use of some revenue source of this type seems to be the only way left.
      Probably there would be little or no agitation for a local license tax if the state would go to the extent of contributing to paving of trunk lines within the city limits.  But it seems a little too unjust to expect city trunk line frontage owners, whose comfort and convenience often are reduced rather than benefitted by the stream of automobiles congesting these lines at all hours, to stand the whole cost of the rapid wear and frequent replacement of these arteries.
      A city fee would of course be a most inequitable way of distributing the burden, since it is the trunk lines more than any other streets which are frequented by out-of-the-city motorists.  But no other alternative suggests itself short of the decent and just return of a share of the license tax money which cities so long have requested in vain. 

  1. December 22, 1926, Detroit News, P.1

     (Amendment permitting cities to levy automobile tax above
state tax proposed to Legislature)