South Carolina has a rich history, from the ports of Charleston to the Blue Ridge Mountain range. License plates have also played an integral part in the history of the Palmetto State, helping to give law to the land of driving.
While New York was the first state to require license plates in 1901, South Carolina was the second to last state to jump on the band wagon.
It wasn’t until 1917 that South Carolina started to issue plates. Individual counties would issue a number to a car owner and it was up to the car owner to display the number on the vehicle.
“An iron plate wrapped in leather is an example of one of the earliest plates,” said Ben Bunton, an Anderson resident and collector of license plates. “That was found more up north.”
The most common plate in the South was the porcelain plate, according to Burton. Some dealerships were nice enough to make the plate when the car was bought, but would attach their logos to it.
From 1917 to 1919, South Carolina had plates made in New York. “From the end of 1919 to 2007, plates were made in prisons,” Bunton said.
Front and back plates were required in South Carolina from 1930-1974; however, during World War II, there was a metal shortage and people donated their front license plates to the war cause, Burton said.
Also, in 1930, the driving test was required and drivers had to have a driver’s license, according to a study done by the House Legislative Oversight Committee. Residents as young as 12 could obtain a driver’s license and apply for one for 50 cents.
The age was raised to 14 in 1949 and beginners permits were introduced. In 1957, automobile manufacturers met with world governments and international standard organizations to impose uniform dimensions on license plates with a standard size of 6 inches by 12 inches, according to historicvehicle.org.
Second letters were added to the license plate in 1964 and numbers over 250 weren’t used at the start of the 1970s. “1972 was the first year when three numbers and letters were used,” Bunton said.
Vehicles no longer had to display two license plates as of 1974. Reflective stickers were utilized in 1976 and, four years later, plates started to be replaced on five-year intervals.
It wasn’t until 1999 that plates started to be replaced every 10 years. This is when the plates in South Carolina displayed the legend ‘Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places.’ “It was also the only plate in South Carolina that did numbers first, then letters,” Bunton said.
In 2000, special-interest plates were introduced and from 2008-2015, the sunrise was used for South Carolina plates. Currently, blue license plates are issued.
Now in 2019, license plates go to 999 and the next letter series, which is LZD. “We are just now in the S letter code,” Bunton said.