History Of Oklahoma License Plates

Source: Oklahoma Tax Commission
Motor Vehicle Division
2002 Motor License Agent School

1913 The City of Oklahoma City becomes the birthplace of the parking meter. Oklahoma City first realizes revenue possibilities, not only in parking meters, but also in the “tagging” of horseless carriages, getting a two year jump on the State of Oklahoma.
1915 The motor car's future looked so promising, the state legislature took over exclusive taxing rights and empowered its fledgling. Department of Highways, now the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, to issue two state license tags for each vehicle along with its duties of making the roads more inviting to this new fangled contraption. The Highway Department remained in charge of motor vehicle licensing for the next 16 years, using a different color scheme every year. This year also saw the state adopt green and white as the state’s official colors.
1924 Oklahomans were sporting the state’s official colors, white on green.
1926 The Highway Department settles on its traditional road-equipment-yellow and black plate colors.
1929 Registrations of automobiles reached its peak in Oklahoma. There were three types of vehicle registrations: passenger vehicles (516,322), commercial trucks (60,390) and farm tractors (26,242). A grand total of 602,954 vehicles were registered.
1930 All three types of registration decreased.
1931 Under the leadership of newly elected Governor “Alfalfa” Bill Murray, the Oklahoma Tax Commission was created. A motor vehicle registration division was formed to administer motor vehicle licensing laws and supervise the statewide distribution of license plates through 130 tag agents.
1932 Registration of vehicles in Oklahoma decreased to it’s lowest point.
1933 Commercial trailer plates were issued for the first time.
1934 Inter-city buses and publicly owned vehicles are added to the growing list of different types of registrations.
1935 By now, there were 543,775 registered vehicles! The first plates designed by the new commission carried the name “OKLAHOMA” spelled out for the first time. The previous tags carried only the four-letter “OKLA” abbreviation.
1937 Industrial Tractor registrations were sold for the first time.
1938 House trailer registrations were sold for the first time.
1939 Saw a radical redesign, using a letter of the alphabet for the first time, along with three black numbers on a silver background. The 1939 tag was roundly criticized. The state and date read only OK-39 and was confusing to people outside Oklahoma. Furthermore, the plate was shorter than previous models and the attaching holds didn’t fit!
1940 To stifle the latter annoyance, the legislature decreed that, beginning in 1940, state license plates would henceforth be standardized at 12 inches long and 6 inches wide, where they remain today. For even better identification, the states name was lengthened to OKLA and (for those in the know) the numbers showed what county the vehicle was from. All car tags sold in the county with the highest population would begin with the number 1, the second highest with number 2, and continue on down through all 77 counties as per the latest federal census figures.
Farm truck, farm trailer, Intra-city bus and private school bus registrations were sold for the first time.
1942 The state saw a decrease in registration for the next few years. This decrease was attributed to the lack of new cars, as production was stopped in 1942. The average cost of an automobile registration also reflected a decrease. This was also attributed to new cars being taken off the market.
House trailers and Intra-city buses show an increase. This was attributed to the use of house trailers as housing and the use of buses for public transportation.
Farm and industrial tractors and farm trailers were no longer registered.
1943 This innovation was interrupted by the war-caused steel shortage. Being unable to supply metal plates, the commission issued its one and only windshield sticker license, similar to today’s safety inspection decal. The total number of vehicles registered decreased. The decrease in automobile registrations was attributed to old cars being taken out of use.
1944 Mindful of the steel situation, the state legislature and the Tax Commission cut the metal demand in half the next year, by issuing only one license plate per vehicle. Fears that only one license tag would hamper vehicle identification proved groundless. The single plate remains in effect today.
M.C. (Mike) Connors, head of the commission’s Motor Vehicle Registration Division during the wars years is credited with the one-tag policy saving the state millions of dollars in production costs. Tag buyers also saved money, since they only had to purchase one tag for their automobile.
Oklahoma has the distinction of Mr. Connors’ introduction of reciprocity. During this time in history, commercial trucks were required to purchase a tag in each state through which it traveled. Needless to say, this was quite expensive and time consuming to truckers. He developed the implementation of reciprocity. The idea behind it was that a trucker could pay one fee and travel throughout the United States.
Because this idea worked so well and was nationally recognized, President Harry S. Truman sent Mr. Connors to Europe to form a reciprocity Agreement between European Powers. Mr. Connors became known as the “Father of Reciprocity”.
1945 The base of the registration of automobiles was raised to $19.00 on the first $600.00 of the factory delivered price. For each additional $100.00, or fraction thereof, an additional $1.50 was added.
Although the automobile fee and number of licenses increased, collections were less than the previous year.
1946 New cars were once again available, causing an increase in collections.
1947 The next interruption came in 1947, when tag buyers received only a small metal tab bearing the number 47, which was fastened to the corner of the previous year’s plate. This system was abandoned after that one year.
Mr. Connors went on to become Secretary Member of the Tax Commission from January 27, 1947 until April 3, 1974.
A special rate for Disabled American Veterans was established, for two vehicles a year.
1948 Inter-City and Intra-city bus tags were combined and issued a “BUS” tag. Taxicab license plates were issued for the first time.
1949 Oversize and Overweight permits were collected for the first time.
1952 In transit tags were sold for the first time.
1955 From 1955 through 1962, every Sooner motorist was a mobile tourism promoter, his license tag inviting all who saw it to “VISIT OKLAHOMA”. In 1955, Oklahoma hit the million mark registering 1,051,668 vehicles!
1958 Rental trailers were registered for the first time.
1959 Special Mobilized machinery was registered for the first time.
1960 About the time all Oklahomans became expert at telling what county all other cars came from, the 1960 census forced many counties to switch identification numbers, as their population ranking went up or down.
Legislation provided for the first special license plate. Amateur Radio operators could order two plates to place on the same vehicle, displaying their radio call sign.
1962 The invitation to VISIT OKLAHOMA would be dropped, as a new tag design would call for a more specific county designation.
1963 To put an end to the confusion caused by the census takers, beginning with the 1963 plates, the first two numerical characters were replaced with the two letters of the alphabet most clearly indicating the name of the county. Thus, tags bought in Adair County began with AD; Alfalfa County –AL; Atoka County – AT, etc. Since the plates accommodated only four numbers, in addition to the two-letter prefix, this system created a bit of a problem for those counties needing more than 9,999 tags. There were not enough combinations to serve the two largest counties (Oklahoma and Tulsa). Oklahoma County was assigned additional prefixes beginning with X and Y. Tulsa County was assigned a prefix beginning with Z.
1967 “OKLAHOMA IS OK” first adorned license plates in 1967.
For Ten dollars ($10.00) plus registration fee, Oklahomans could order a personalized tag to be displayed on their vehicles. These plates were available to any person in a combination of numbers of letters from one (1) to a maximum of seven (7). The message on a personalized plate must always be in “good taste” and cannot be in conflict with any valid license plate.
The state began alternating tag colors between Oklahoma State University (OSU) and the University of Oklahoma (OU), with OU’s red and white colors being displayed first.
1968 There were 80,000 more vehicles registered than in 1967. The overall revenue was up by 6.6 million dollars, the greatest 1 year increase in history. Passenger automobiles accounted for slightly over 66% of the increase.
The OSU colors (orange and black) were displayed. Colorful in the right setting, they were criticized as being “hideous” and “bad taste” for an Oklahoma tag.
1969 Revenue was up by 6.5 million dollars again this year.
The OU colors (red and white) were used again and were considered acceptable by patrons and fans of the University of Oklahoma.
1970 The legislative session decreed that school colors would never be used again! Tags reverted to the official state colors of green and white and all Oklahomans settled down.
1974 The license plate factory at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary was destroyed by fire in the summer of 1973, preventing the production of vehicle license plates for 1974. With well over two million vehicles to be licensed and not enough time to negotiate a delivery commitment from private firms, the vehicle registration division of the Oklahoma Tax Commission designed a plastic validation sticker to be issued in lieu of regular metal license plates for 1974.
Along with the self sticking tabs, some 400,000 new metal plates were obtained from a private factory for use on new vehicles and those from out-of-state needing their first Oklahoma tag. Except for a few plates, these new tags were stamped “1973” and required attachment of the 1974 validation tab.
1975 Although the prison license plate factory was still unable to produce 1975 plates, a private firm was able to do the job and all Oklahoma vehicles were issued regular full-size metal license tags for 1975.
1977 Commencing November 15, 1977, the state initiated a mail order vehicle registration notification program. Vehicle owners now had the option of renewing by mail.
1978 Legislation was passed providing that all automobiles and farm trucks were to be registered on a staggered monthly system, to distribute the work of registering automobile and farm trucks as uniformly and expeditiously as practical throughout the calendar year. Prior to this legislative change, all vehicle registrations expired in December.
1979 Collections for auto and farm trucks covered more than 12 months, because of the implementation of the staggered registration system. Vehicles were initially licensed for more or less than 12 months to set up the system. Those registrations issued for less than 12 months were later registered for 12 months extending into 1980.
1980 In 1980, the staggered registration system for automobiles and farm trucks was in full operation, wherein an equal number of registrations expired in each month from February through November, with December and January reserved for registration of those types of vehicles which continued to be licensed on a calendar year basis.
On January 1, 1980, legislation was passed providing for the issuance of a five (5) year plate. The plate was to have a white reflexive background, “Oklahoma is OK” in green letters across the top of the plate, with green letters and numerals. Automobile and farm truck license plates were issued in 1980 with a decal in the upper left-hand corner showing the month of expiration and an expiration date of “81”. These tags were to be updated with a decal yearly for the next four years.
1981 Controversy was brought about with the introduction of Oklahoma’s first graphic license plate. The tag had a white reflexive background, “Oklahoma is OK” in green letters across the top of plate, with green letters and numerals over a gold Sunbelt across the bottom of the plate. The license plate was to remain with the vehicle for a period of five (5) years. A yearly decal was to validate the license plate for each registration period.
Oklahomans now display two (2) types of valid license plates on their motor vehicles: Non-graphic as well as graphic.
1984 Effective July 1, 1984, legislation providing for five (5) year license plates was amended. The “five year” plates were now to remain with the vehicle until a replacement license plate was requested by the taxpayer. The extended tenure of “Five (5) Year Plates” required new numbering/lettering combinations with county designations.
1985 Oklahoma statutes no longer required automobile (passenger or noncommercial) plates to identify the county of registration. Due to the increased number of vehicles registered in Oklahoma each year and the many possible prefix combinations available for numbering license plates, the designation of county prefixes was to be eventually phased out.
1986 Registered vehicles for the year totaled 3,068,022. Passenger vehicle registrations increased by 688,736. This was attributed to a change in motor vehicle statutes that required pickups to be registered as passenger vehicles, unless specifically used for commercial or farm purposes.
1987 Legislation was passed providing for Oklahoma’s second graphic license plate. The new graphic plate was to have a white reflexive background with a new slogan “Oklahoma OK!” across the top of the plate. “OKLAHOMA” was to be printed in brown letters and “OK!” in tan letters. The emblem appearing on Oklahoma’s state flag was to be displayed in the center of the tag. Three green letters and numerals were to be printed on each side of the emblem.
The new graphics were to be a part of all license plates issued after December 31, 1988. The Oklahoma Legislature provided that the Oklahoma Tax Commission may continue to issue license plates with the legend “OKLAHOMA IS OK”, until the inventory of such license plates was depleted.
With the issuance of Oklahoma’s second graphic plate, Oklahoman’s were displaying three (3) types of valid license plates on their motor vehicles.
Personalized Plates for motorcycles became available. The taxpayer was allowed 6 spaces to display the plate of is choice, as long as it did not conflict with any other plate.
Used Motor Vehicle Dealer plates and Commercial Trailer Receipts were issued for the first time.
1988 Legislation was passed allowing special license plates for Pearl Harbor Survivor plates and Purple Heart Recipient plates. Also, a vintage decal was to be issued to allow the taxpayer to display an officially expired Oklahoma license plate on a vintage vehicle. This decal was to be displayed on the front windshield.
Farm trailer license plates were sold for the first time. Private trailer plates were no longer available.
1991 Legislation provided for 29 new types of special plates: One for each of the 24 state supported universities and colleges and one for each of the 5 branches of the Armed Forces.
1993 Legislation was passed providing for Oklahoma’s third graphic license plate. This plate was to have a white reflexive background with “OKLAHOMA” in black letters across the top, the shield that appears on Oklahoma’s state flag in the center and “NATIVE AMERICA” in red letters across the bottom.
Legislation also provided for eight (8) new types of special plates: Round and Square Dance plates; Environmental Awareness plates; Iwo Jima License plates; Silver Star Recipient plates; Vietnam Veteran plates; D-Day Survivor plates; Distinguished Flying Cross plates; and Distinguished Service Medal plates. Additionally, legislation provided Special Official license plates for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
1994 Legislation provided for nine (9) new types of special plates: Air National Guard plates, Bronze Star Recipient plates, Fire Fighter plates, Korean War Veteran plates, World War II Veteran plates, Forty-Fifth emblem plates for the Korean and World War II Veteran plates, Municipal plates, Military Multi-Decoration plates, and Wildlife Conservation plates.
1995 Legislation provided for eleven (11) new types of special plates: Gold Star Parents; Red Cross Volunteer; Masonic Fraternity; Oklahoma Military Academy Alumni; Child Abuse Prevention; National Association For The Advancement Of Colored People (NAACP); National Rifle Association (NRA); U.S. Olympic Committee and Sooner State Games; Oklahoma History License Plates; Historical Route 66 (Mother Road); and Heart of The Heartland. Additionally, the option of personalization on two (2) existing special plates; World War II Veteran and Korean War Veteran was permitted.
Registration expiration for all special license plates was now to be on a staggered basis, with these exceptions: Legislative, Amateur Radio, Motorcycle and the Vintage Decals.
Volunteer Fire Departments organized pursuant to Section 592 of Title 18 of the Oklahoma Statutes were now entitled to a permanent tax exempt license plate. Legislation also provided special license plates vehicles owned by the Oklahoma Capitol Patrol and the Oklahoma Lake Patrol.
1996 Legislation provided for twenty four new types of special plates: Bacone College; Balloonist; Bartlesville Wesleyan College; Crime Victim’s Awareness; Emergency Medical Technician; Fight Breast Cancer; Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College; Mid-America Bible College; Military Multi-Decoration/Personalized; Nat’l Education Center-Spartan School of Aeronautics; Oklahoma Baptist University; Oklahoma Christian University of Science & Arts; Oklahoma City University; Oral Roberts University; Order Of The Eastern Star; Phillips University; Police Officer; Shriner’s Hospital For Burned & Crippled Children; Southern Nazarene University; Southwestern College of Christian Ministries; St Gregory College; The University of Tulsa; U.S. Air Force Association and Veteran’s Of Foreign Wars.
1997 Legislation provided for nine new types of special plates: Civil Air Patrol; Desert Storm; Jaycees; Knights of Columbus; Military Reserve Units; Ninety Nines; Oklahoma City Bombing Victims and Survivors and Oklahoma Safe Kids Association.
Non-Expiring Commercial Truck Tags were issued for the first time.
1998 Legislation provided a plate specifically for wrecker/towing vehicles.
1999 Legislation provided seven new types of special plates: Agricultural Awareness; Certified Public Accountants; Combat Infantryman’s Badge; Ducks Unlimited; Four-H Club; Kiwanis International and Somalia Combat Veteran.
2000 Effective October 1, 2000, the non-commercial registration fee was changed to a year based schedule, with five (5) different registration fees dependent upon the registration year of the vehicle. The maximum fee is $91.00 and the minimum fee is $10.00.
Legislation provided eight new types of special plates: Civil Emergency Management; Fraternal Order of Police; Hearing Impaired; Joint Service Commendation Medal; Oklahoma statehood Centennial; Police Chaplain; Retired Highway Patrol and Support Education.
2001 Owners of “Low Speed Electric Vehicles” may title and register their vehicles in Oklahoma. These vehicles have a top speed of over 20 miles per hour, but not greater than 25 miles per hour and must meet federal safety standards.
2002 Legislation provided ten new types of special plates: Oklahoma State Parks Supporter, American Business Clubs, Merchant Marine, Civilian Conservation Corps, Rotarian, Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, Boy Scouts of America, Humane Society, Urban Forestry and Beautification, and Oklahoma Mustang Club.

Copyright October, 2002, OKtagagent.com