Motorists wanting to express their individuality faced limited options in the days before vanity license plates.
Instead of clever abbreviations denoting favorite sports teams, musical acts, proper names or other items, license plates were restricted to numbers 60 years ago. However, by October 1959, about 1,000 people had requested 1960 license plates with specially chosen numbers from Dubuque County officials.
Requests came for low numbers, numbers that reflected a motorist’s address, or numbers for specific years, such as 1492, 1865 or 1960.
Here is how the Telegraph Herald reported on the special license plate interest in its Oct. 11, 1959, edition.
LICENSE PLATE ENTHUSIASTS MAKE RESERVATIONS EARLY
To some folks, the number on their license plate is just the number on their license plate.
To others, that number is something special. It’s a house number, an anniversary, a big figure, a low one, an odd, an even. It’s 1492 or 1918.
And it’s important to these “license plate enthusiasts” to keep their number as it is for Jack Benny to stay 39.
The Dubuque County license plate office already is preparing for the some 1,000 county residents who will want special plates in 1960.
Even though plates don’t go on sale until Dec. 1, the office already has several books filled with names of motorists who want special numbers.
County Treasurer Leo Meuser says the job of filling special requests causes “a little extra work,” but he adds that the procedure never interferes with the regular distribution of plates.
“All our special requests are taken care of in November,” he said. “We have to make arrangements in advance of sale, because when the rush starts, plates are sold in the order the numbers come up. If someone is disappointed because he didn’t get this or that number, it’s his own fault for not making arrangements early.”
Meuser says 1959 was the biggest year for license plate distribution in county history. He said there are more than 25,000 plates on cars in the county now. He expects that number will be topped in 1960.
“We’re making up the registrations already,” Meuser said.
He added that the two big rushes for plates come during the first week after licenses go on sale and again during the last two weeks in January.
The January rush comes because motorists must have 1960 tags by Feb. 1 or pay a penalty.
“Besides regular auto license distribution the office has truck, trailer, motorcycle and truck trailer plates to send out,” Meuser said. “But we’ll be ready.”
The 1960 licenses will have an off-white background with black letters. Numbers and letters will be arranged the same as this year.