The first Department of Motor Vehicles was created in 1915 with enactment of Senator E.S. Birdsall's "Vehicle Act of 1915." Vehicle registrations that year had climbed to 191,000.
In 1914, the state began issuing its first permanent license plates upon original registration of vehicles. The system was confirmed by legislature in 1915. The 1914 plate was brick red with white characters. Affixed to the plate was a metal validating tab, roughly square with scalloped edges, inscribed with "Registered Motor Vehicle No.___1914 State of California." The 1915 plate was yellow with black characters. An octagonal-shaped, metal validating tab affixed to the plate noted the year, 1915, but otherwise carried the same language as the 1914 tab. From 1916 through 1919,California issued a basic plate, in white with blue characters, without year designation. Metal symbols affixed to the upper left corner of the license plates validated registration. In 1916, the symbol was a bear; in 1917, a poppy; in 1918, a liberty bell; and in 1919, a star.
In 1921, the powers and duties of the Department of Motor Vehicles were transferred to the Division of Motor Vehicles, part of the newly created Department of Finance. The move reflected recognition of the division's revenue producing status.
- History of Licensing (Before There Was a DMV)
- Vehicle Acts and Codes (Laws Affecting DMV)
- DMV Milestones (Major Events Affecting Drivers, Vehicles, and the DMV)