1917 Pennsylvania License Plates
Porcelain License plates in Pennsylvania, up to 1916, were manufactured under contract with the Brilliant Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia, Pa. The porcelain plate was in service to until 1915, and in 1916 the Commonwealth changed to a painted metal embossed plate.
Motor vehicle license plates were required in the Commonwealth beginning in 1903. Some larger cities and towns had their own automobile registration plate with the introduction of the automobile, but on 19 April 1905 the legislature passed an act to regulate motor vehicles. When the Act went into effect in 1906 motor vehicles were required to have a registration plate front and rear. With this act no counties or cities could require an automobile to be registered locally. Only the Commonwealth had the privilege to require the registration of a vehicle. The first plate cost $3.00, and registration passed from county Prothonotary to the Pennsylvania Highway Department.
The 1906 porcelain plates were manufactured by the Ingram and Richards company of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. Ingram and Richards produced porcelain plates until 1911. Then in 1912 the state awarded a contract to the Brilliant Manufacturing Company. In 1915 the lowest bidder was Quayle Enamel Company of Albany New York. In 1914 Quayle defaulted on a contract to produce automobile registration plates for the state of New Jersey. This default left Pennsylvania nervous and the state awarded the contract again to Brilliant. Brilliant continued to produce porcelain plates through 1915. In 1916 the State changed its format to an embossed metal plate. It is not known how many porcelain plates were manufactured for 1916 (http://www.ricksplates.com/ ).
In 1916, the Commonwealth placed a bid for 1917 registration plates. The new plates were to be painted and embossed metal, not porcelain. The last porcelain registration was manufactured in 1915 by the Brilliant Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia.
Figure 1. 1915 Brilliant Manufacturing License Plate.
Those who collect or have seen early porcelain or pre-1920 metal plates may have noticed a keystone embossment with either a small attached tag or in some cases a number stamped on the keystone embossing. The number was the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) for the vehicle for which the registration plate was purchased.
Figure 2. Pennsylvania motor vehicle registration plates up until the 1920s had a keystone shaped space where a motor vehicle serial number was stamped for the registration. The early VIN number could be either the motor number or the serial number of the complete vehicle.
So what changed in the manufacturing of automobile registration plates between 1916 and 1917? In July 1916, State Highway Commissioner Frank B. Black made two official announcements that were found in an article in the Pittsburgh Gazette Times (11 July 1916): (1) road races on state roads were banned, this included hill climbs, and (2) Commissioner Black stated that registration plates would be manufactured through a contract awarded to the Reformatory in Huntingdon, PA. The new contract was awarded with the understanding that the cost to the State would be fifteen cents per license plate.
The "Municipal Journal" for 15 January 1917 stated that the old plate registration (issued 1916) was to be kept in use until new registration was available. This would take time for the Prison Labour Commission to establish a metal stamping shop at a state correctional facility. The new license plates were to be issued by November 1916. The correction facility had been awarded a contract, with an understanding that they could produce, with inmate labour, 2,500 license plates a day. At the close of business 27 December 1916 the Highway Department received registration totaling $786,244.00 and no new license plates to deliver to the purchasers.
In March 1917, the journal "The Delinquent" published by the Prison Association of New York stated that the Huntingdon Facility's bid was $20,000.00 less than all other bids received. By the end of 1917 license plates produced by the Huntingdon facility had been placed on about 306,001 automobiles. (Public Road, May 1918.)
Within the Allegheny region, the manufacturing of Pennsylvania vehicle registration plates in Huntingdon County enhanced local automobile history. The plates, one for the front and one for the back, were pressed from heavy gauge metal, and painted white on black at a cost of fifteen cents per plate. By an Act of public law from 1907 and 1915, the inmates were to be paid to be productive. It also offset the cost of housing the inmates.
(This is just a work in progress)