History of Florida's License Plates
Florida's First State Motor Vehicle License Plate LawsChapter 5437, Act No. 66, Laws of Florida, May 11, 1905, required all resident owners to pay a $2.00 fee to register their motor vehicles with the Secretary of State and to provide make, description, serial number and horsepower of the autos. The Secretary of State in return issued a paper certificate, the number of which was displayed prominently on the rear of the vehicle. The owner was thus required to provide his own license plate, a practice common to many states and localities prior to about 1910. Although it was not required, some license plates displayed the "FLA" state designation. License plates of wood, leather and metal are known, some being homemade while others were made by local sign smiths or purchased from a mail-order firm. These permanent numbers were required until September 30, 1915.
Early City License Plate Ordinances - (1905-Dec. 31, 1917)Florida cities exercised local option during the pioneer motoring era by imposing licensing requirements similar to the state's. Jacksonville, Pensacola, Palatka, Ocala, Orlando, Miami, Tampa and even a small town such as Brooksville are just a few municipalities known to have required motor vehicle registration and number displays.
County-Issued Annual License Plates - (Oct. 1, 1911 to Dec. 31, 1917While state motorists displayed the permanent state numbers and in some cases permanent and/or annual city numbers, in 1911 the state mandated that they display annual county numbers as well. (Chapter 62122, Act No. 93, Laws of Florida, June 5, 1911). Imagine having to display state, county and city license plates on one vehicle! The county plates were issued by each county tax collector for the fiscal year period of Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. Fees were based upon horsepower rating and ranged from $3.00 (less than 10 HP) to $50 (over 70 HP). "For Hire" vehicles were charged with a slightly higher fee than "owner" vehicles. County-issued plates were not standardized statewide (each county being responsible for supplying its own plates), which accounts for the bewildering array of size, shape, color and format of these plates. Typically, the steel plates ordered from northern sign manufactures were used.
From 1905 through 1917 the state issued permanent license plate numbers. Beginning in 1921, the issuance of the annual license plate began and is presently used.
State issued Annual Plates - (Jan. 1, 1918 to Present)Chapter 7275, Act 17, Laws of Florida, May 28, 1917 created the Sunshine State's first uniform statewide annual license plate. Florida was the last of the old 48 states to issue motor vehicle license plates, South Carolina and Texas having some so in 1917. The new law repealed city and county registration by mandating registration with the comptroller of the State of Florida. The motor vehicle commission was then created. The motor vehicles commission became the Department of Motor Vehicles in 1965. The 1917 Act provided for annual issuance of a paper certificate of registration and a pair of numbered plates per car. Matched pairs continued to be issued through 1921 and single plates were issued from 1922 to present.
The following summaries listed by year highlight Florida motor vehicle licensing since 1918:
1918First state-issued plates appear (front and rear plates). Fees based on vehicle type, horsepower and capacity.
1922Single license plates issued. Gross weight and capacity tabs affixed to tags in 1922 through 1925.
19231923-1926 State outline embossed on license plates. State enacted its first title law. (Act 39, Laws of Florida)
19301930-1933 Large license plates were reduced in size to 5 inches by 12 inches.
19341934-1935 "Theft proof" or locking plates were issued.
19381938-1975 County prefix code numbers appear. Numbers were based on rank order of counties by population as revealed by the 1937 license plate sales. (Brevard county was number 19, Orange County was number 7. Dade, Duval and Hillsborough were numbered 1, 2 and 3, respectively.)
1940Act 556 created the State Department of Public Safety, consisting of the division of the Florida Highway Patrol and Division of State Motor Vehicle Driver's Licenses. Driver's licenses were required.
1943World War II steel shortages mandates issuance of a metal tab in lieu of a full-sized license plate. (The 1943 tab was affixed over the date of the 1942 license plate.)
1949"Sunshine State" logo appeared on tags through 1975, except in 1951 when "Keep Florida Green" was promoted and in 1965 when "400th Anniversary" was celebrated.
The Amateur Radio License plate was established for any Florida resident who is the holder of a valid official amateur radio station license issued by the Federal Communications Conmission, bearing the call letters of that station.
1951The Disabled Veterans License plate was established for any Florida resident who is a veteran with a 100% service-connected disability.
1957A permanent Horseless Carriage License plate for vehicles the age of 35 years or more that are equipped with an engine of the age of 35 years or more was established for vehicles that are only operated or moved over the highway for the purpose of historical exhibition.
1965A National Guard license plate was established for any resident who is an active member of the Florida National guard.
19671967-1971 Plates bore double-date format: 1967-68, etc. This was done to shift Florida's license plate issuance from a calendar year (expiring December 31) to a fiscal year (expiring June 30). The single date format reappeared in 1972.
1971The Seminole and Miccosukee Indian License plates were established for residents of the State of Florida who are members of the Seminole or Miccosukee Indian tribres of Florida and are issued by the Tribal tag agency.
1972The personalized license plate program was started, which allowed individuals to select the 7-digit combination (letter or number, with a hyphen.) Additional $12 fee charged.
1974The Wheelchair Symbol License plate was provided for any resident who is permanently confined to a wheelchair.
1976Renewal decals or "stickers" appeared on the 1975 baseplate. (Decals became a nationwide method to economize on the annual production of license plates.)
1977Increased vehicle population required the use of alpha-numeric coding system on Florida license plates.
1978The license plate program began, which combined alpha/numeric. This began with "AAA001." Prior to this, the combination of county number prefix, classification and sequence number were used.
1983A Street Rod License Plate was established for a modified motor vehicle manufactured before 1949 which is used primarily for exhibition and not for general transportation.
A U.S. Reserves plate was established for any resident who is an active member of any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces Reserves.
A former Prisoner of War plate was established for any person who was a member of the U. S. Armed Forces or the armed forces of an allied nation, and was held as a prisoner of war at the time when the Armed Forces of the U.S. were engaged in combat.
The Pearl Harbor Survivor plate was established for members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association who are residents of Florida.
1984Front-end Emergency Service License plates were established for display on the front of any motor vehicle owned by anyone involved in the emergency service (Emergency Medical Technician or Paramedic, Firefighter, Law Enforcement Officer, Emergency Managment Personnel, Civil Defense.)
1985Medal of Honor license plate was established for recipients of the Medal of Honor.
1986Alpha-numeric coding system was adopted to allow coverage of the expanding vehicle population.
1987January 1, 1987, the "Challenger" license plate program was implemented for a specified time period; on September 30, 1991 this time period was extended to indefinite. This plate was issued to commemorate the astronauts who died when the space shuttle Challenger exploded.
October 1, 1987 collegiate license plates were established to raise funds for scholarships for the nine state universities. January 1994, four of the license plates were redesigned. They are the Florida A&M University, Florida International University, University of North Florida and University of South Florida license plates. April 1994, Florida State University winning the 1993 Collegiate Football National Championship. The regular Florida State University license plate will not be considered obsolete.
The Paralized Veterans of America plate was established for members of the Paralyzed Veterans of America who are residents of Florida.
1989October 1, 1989, the "Florida Salutes the Veteran" plate was established to create a fund for the construction, operation and maintenance of domicile and nursing homes for veterans.
October 1, 1989, the "Super Bowl" plate was established to raise funds to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Superbowl. This plate became obsolete January 1, 1994.
An Honorary Consul Corps plate was established for residents of the State of Florida who are members of the Florida International Affairs.
1990January 1, 1990: The "Save the Manatee" plate was incorporated to honor the official state marine mammal. Fifty percent of the funds raised are deposited in the "Save the Manatee Trust Fund" and may only be used for Manatee research.
1991October 1, 1991 the Florida Panther or communities trust license plate was implemented to raise funds for the protection of the Panther. It was redesigned in May 1993 to increase its attractiveness and marketability.
The Quincentennial License plate was approved for issuance for the purpose of educational and promotional activities for the 500th anniversary celebration of Florida's participation in the 1992 World's Fair in Saville, Spain. This plate became obsolete January 1, 1994.
A decision was made to phase in the issuance of new license plates with the orange graphic design and green characters when the supply of the green graphic plates were exhausted.
1992Legislature approved the issuance of a United States Olympic Spirit license plate. Money collected shall be distributed to the Florida Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Amateur Sports.
Legislature approved the issuance of the combat Wounded Veteran (Purple Heart) license plate for a recipient of the Purple Heart Medal.
1993The designation of "Lease" on license plates was removed as a safety precaution for tourists.
1994Florida Special Olympics License plate was approved for issuance. The first $5 million collected annually shall be distributed to the Florida Developmental Disabilities Planning Council to be used solely for the Special Olympics Program as determined and approved by the Council. Any additional fees collected will be deposited into the General Revenue Fund.
1995Invest In Children: The proceeds of this plate's annual fee must be deposited into the Juvenile Crime Prevention and Early Intervention Trust Fund within the Department of Juvenile Justice. The proceeds of the fee are to fund programs and services that are designed to prevent juvenile delinquency.
Florida Arts: All annual fees collected must be forwarded to the Division of Cultural Affairs of the Department of State, together with a report setting forth the amount of such fees collected in each county, and must be deposited into the Florida Fine Arts Trust Fund to support art organizations, programs and activities within the county.
Professional Sports Teams: Fifty-five percent of the proceeds from the nine license plates must be deposited into the Professional Sports Development Trust Fund. These funds are used solely to attract and support major sports events in this state. The remaining proceeds must be allocated to the Florida Sports Foundation to be used to promote the economic development of the sports industry.
Florida Supports Education: In each school district that has a district pre-kindergarten through grade 12 public school foundation, or a direct support organization, the money raised in that school district through the sale of Florida Education License Plates must be distributed to the foundation or organization for enhancing educational programs.
Indian River Lagoon: An annual amount of the total license plate use fee must be earmarked for each of the six lagoon basin counties. These counties are: Volusia, Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach. It is to be expended in those counties on habit restoration, including water quality improvement, and environmental education projects. At least 80 percent of the use fees must be used for restoration projects, and not more than 20 percent may be used for environmental education in each county.
1996Bethune-Cookman College: The annual use fee must be distributed to Bethune-Cookman College.
Florida Agricultural: The annual use fee must be used for the sole purpose of funding and promoting the Florida Agriculture in the Classroom program established within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Girl Scout: The annual use fees shall be distributed to the Citrus Council of Girl Scounts Inc., which shall distribute funds to the following Girl Scouts Council: Citrus Council of Girl Scouts, Gateway Girl Scout Council, Girl Scouts of Broward, Girl Scout Council of Tropical Florida, Heart of Florida Girl Scouts, Palm Glades Girl Scout Council, Suncoast Girl Scout Council. This plate became obsolete February 20, 2002.
Boy Scouts of America: The annual use fee may be sent to the Central Florida Council to be distributed to each of the nine councils the money received from sales in the counties within the respective council. It may be used for basic administrative expenses, office and professional services, year-round camping facilities and the continuing promotion and marketing of the license plate.
Police Athletic League: The annual use fee shall be distributed to the Florida Police Athletic League, Inc., to provide educational materials, athletic equipment, transportation, food, medical checkups, counseling, scholarships and other expenses incurred by the league in conducting its youth program.
Largemouth Bass: The annual use fees shall be distributed to the State Game Trust Fund and used by the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission to fund current conservation programs that maintain current levels of protection and management of this state's fish and wildlife resources, including providing hunting, fishing and non-consumptive wildlife opportunities.
Current Standard Florida Plate