Temporary licenses

Until 1934, license plates were issued centrally from the Department of Licensing headquarters in Olympia.  Motorists submitted annual registration applications through their county auditors, who would remit payment and copies of the applications to Olympia, where the registrations would be processed and plates mailed directly to the vehicle owner (this slow and inefficient process ended in 1934, when license plates were sent directly to county auditors for issuance).  In the interim period between the license application and the receipt of the actual license plate, the county auditor would provide a cardboard or paper temporary license to be displayed on the vehicle.

These temporary licenses are commonly seen in vintage photographs, due to a natural tendency for a proud new vehicle owner to take a sightseeing trip or pose next to their new machine.  Below are some examples.  Because each county auditor was responsible for providing these licenses, the designs and materials varied by year and county of issuance.

1923 paper temporary license from Yakima County
1926 cardboard temporary license from Clark County (note: Clark County, named after the explorer William Clark, was officially misspelled as “Clarke” until 1925)
1923 cardboard temporary, Chelan County
1919 cardboard temporary, King County