Alabama license plate historian recounts ‘Heart of Dixie’ history
Friday, June 22, 2012
The Birmingham News
MONTGOMERY, Alabama — The phrase "Heart of Dixie" and the image of a heart first appeared on Alabama’s license plates for 1955.
The white outline of the heart that year was more than half the height of the dark-green license plate. The size of the heart shrank starting with the yellow plate for 1956.
Ross Sloan of Mobile, who said he has collected Alabama license plates for 40 years, shared those and many other details while speaking at the state archives building Thursday.
"I’m an Alabama boy, and I’m just trying to preserve some Alabama history," said Sloan, who owns an insurance agency.
He illustrated his speech with images of his collection of Alabama license plates from 1912 through 1976, Alabama’s last single-year plate. After that, the state issued annual decals to update multi-year plates.
Sloan in his speech, which was part of the "Architreats" lecture series at the archives, told or showed audience members that:
• Alabama’s first license plates, for 1912 through 1915, were made of steel and coated with porcelain. Sloan in an interview later said the state issued about 3,000 plates for 1912.
Citing "License Plate Values," a guide written by Bob and Chuck Crisler, he said the number of Alabama plates jumped to about 62,000 for 1920 and about 239,000 for 1930 before dropping to about 204,000 for 1935, during the Depression. Sloan said about 835,000 plates were issued for 1955 and 1.9 million for 1975.
• Years weren’t put on Alabama’s license plates until the plates for 1917. Before then, different color combinations let people know when they were issued. The plates for 1913 were black and orange, for instance.
• The state law passed in 1911 that started the issuance of state license plates raised the statewide speed limit on public roads to 30 mph, up from the speed limit of 8 mph set by a law passed in 1903.
• The city of Mobile issued license plates in 1909 through 1911.
• The state started issuing stamped metal plates in 1916.
• State license plates were made at Kilby prison in Montgomery from 1927 through the late 1960s. Plates now are made at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore.
• Letters A through D on license plates in 1922 through 1926 stood for the horsepower of the vehicle’s engine. In 1927 through 1952, letters indicated a vehicle’s weight. Sloan said vehicles weighing less than a ton had an A on their plates.
• In 1942, the state started putting numbers on plates to stand for the counties in which automobiles were registered.
• The state didn’t issue plates in 1943, to reduce metal usage in the war. Instead, windshield stickers were issued.
• The state in 1960 issued aluminum license plates for boats, but went back to stickers in 1961.
• Alabama last issued front and back license plates for cars in 1962.
Audience member William DuBose of Montgomery said he learned a thing or two from Sloan’s "excellent" presentation, such as the color of the Alabama license plate in the year of his birth: The plate for 1933 was blue with white letters and numbers.
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