Thursday 25th April 1901
New York became the first US state to require license plates by law. Owners of motor vehicles were obliged to register their names and addresses, along with a description of their vehicle, with the office of the Secretary of State. The state sent each owner a small license plate, at least three inches high, which bore the owner’s initials. The fee to register a motor vehicle was set at one dollar. In 1901, the state received $954 in registration fees. By the middle of 1903, it had become apparent to state authorities that too many owners were displaying fictitious initials, or using their own without first registering. To counter this trend, New York State cancelled every initial license plate, all of which had been provided by the owner, and issued numbers to those same individuals who were then obliged to make new license plates. As proof that the number displayed was legal, the state issued registration seals featuring the serial which owners were to use in making their license plates. The state initials “NY” were required from 1905 onward, and the colors of the license plates were stipulated as “black on white ground”. New York was the only state in America to authorize this color scheme, which was reverse of the dark colored materials generally used at the time. Consequently, any “black-on-white” pre-state license that bears no state initials is most likely New York from the 1903-‘05 period, as long as the serial number is four digits or fewer. Before the advent of official state license plates late in 1910, over 100,000 registrations were issued, making New York tags among the easiest to collect today from the pre-state era. Neither New York or New Jersey recognized out-of-state numbers, requiring all motorists to license in the state in which they were driving regardless of where they lived. For those living near the state line, venturing into the nearby state meant the display of two numbers.