History of the California License Plate
California began issuing permanent license plates in 1914. They were made from porcelain and painted brick red with white lettering.
Two years later, the state began to use a variety of uniquely shaped tags to show proof of vehicle registration. They were attached to a white metal license plate with blue lettering.
From 1920 to 1941, the state annually issued a new plate that displayed the registration year. That changed in 1942 with the U.S. involvement in World War II. Metal became a precious commodity because it was needed for the war effort. So, the DMV began to issue long steel strips that displayed the registration year to affix to the license plate.
The California license plate continued to evolve. Personalized license plates made their debut in 1972 and vehicles manufactured after 1922 that were 25 years or older qualified for a newly produced “historical vehicle” plate.
In 1987, a reflective coating was incorporated onto all new plates.
The DMV celebrated California’s 150-year birthday with plates that were inscribed with “Sesquicentennial -150 years” and were offered from 1998 through 2000. DMV’s website address was placed on the plate in 2011.