New Hampshire’s “Old Man of the Mountain”
The Old Man of the Mountain is well known to anyone from New Hampshire. Outside of the Granite State, it is also quite familiar to anyone who pays attention to license plates or coins (its image was used on the NH state quarter).
This granite outcropping, shaped like the profile of an old man, first appeared on New Hampshire’s license plate in 1926, in an era where graphics were still fairly rare. This proud display only lasted one year, and New Hampshire’s plates reverted to a fairly bland design in 1927.
In 1986, the Old Man made a return to New Hampshire’s plates, and remains there to this day, despite the fact that it tragically collapsed in 2003 (RIP).
Georgia’s first peach
In 1940 Georgia began advertising its main agricultural product by adding a PEACH STATE slogan to its plates. In 1941, the state doubled down on the theme by making the PEACH STATE legend massive and adding a peach decal in the middle of the plate. This is one of the more iconic designs in U.S. license plate history.
The peach’s appearance only lasted for 1941, and didn’t return until a much smaller illustration appeared on Georgia’s plates in the 1990s.
Idaho is really, really proud of its potatoes. The state first advertised its favorite product with a groundbreaking 1928 issue that featured a fully-embossed potato covering most of the plate, into which the serial number was embossed. After one year of this fancy graphic, Idaho regressed into fairly normal designs.
But in 1948, the potato made its triumphant return, with the “World Famous Potatoes” slogan appearing, topped off by a graphic decal of a baked potato adorned with butter.
Once again, this unique design was short-lived, only lasting two years (renewed with tabs for 1949), after which the potato image disappeared from Idaho’s general issue plates forever.
The FAMOUS POTATOES slogan reappeared permanently in 1956; every plate since then has carried the same slogan.
In 1936, Wyoming bolstered its wild west image by adding an embossed outline of a cowboy on a bucking bronco to its plates. This image stuck: it has appeared on every single general issue since.
Montana is mostly rectangular, a fact that was noticed by its plate designers in 1933, when an embossed outline of the state was added, a design that endured through 1956. After a two-year absence, the state outline reappeared, and has been present on every general issue since, either as an embossed border or a screened image.
Montana is also unique is its use of the PRISON MADE embossed notation at the bottom center, which was present from the late ’30s until 1952
Also in 1936, Tennessee took advantage of its unique shape and stamped all of its license plates as an outline of the state. Early versions were more geographically true to the borders, but the design was simplified over the years.
These glory years lasted through 1956, after which the plates became a normal 6×12 rectangle to comply with the new inter-state standardization.
South Dakota’s great faces
Mt. Rushmore is South Dakota’s biggest claim to fame, and so in 1952 the state decided to apply a graphic decal of the famous faces to its plates. In 1957 the decal application was replaced by a silkscreening process, but the faces continued on an unbroken streak of display on South Dakota’s license plates, which continues to the current day.
For a state with so much going for it in the natural beauty/recreation areas, Colorado has a pretty bland license plate history. The only real exception was the classic 1958 issue, featuring a downhill skier.