This page shows some of my favorite plates from federal and military issues. These types are particularly interesting to collect, since they all tell some story about history or geopolitics.
From 1933 until 2001, special license plates were issued by the Washington, DC DMV to commemorate presidential inaugurations. In early years these were only issued to official vehicles for the parade, but beginning in 1953 they were available to the general public and could be legally registered on cars in most states for a short period .
The 1953 and 1957 issues were unique in that they had full graphic decals with the portraits of President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon, one of the rare instances where the likeness of a living person was depicted on a license plate.
Civilian Conservation Corps
Vehicles belonging to the CCC were issued these official license plates. The design evolved over the years, and during WWII the legend at the bottom was changed to WAR DEPARTMENT.
U.S. Forest Service
Not much is known about these plates, but they were used on USFS vehicles in the 1920s. These were made by the Irwin Hodson firm in Portland, OR, and are similar in design to Oregon plates of the era.
This plate and its mate were found completely unpainted and were likely leftover stock at the factory. This example has been professionally restored. The original would have had screened lettering inside the shields, saying “FOREST SERVICE” above the tree and “DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE” along the bottom.
Interstate Commerce Commission
These plates were issued by the federal Interstate Commerce Commission, for use on trucks driving across state lines, circa 1940s. Used in conjunction with the vehicle’s home state license, they are quite large, and striking with the federal shield border.
National Recovery Act
The National Recovery Act (NRA – not the gun club) was passed in 1933, and struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1935. In the brief years of its existence, it sought to regulate many industries, including trucking. During 1934 and 1935, plates like this were issued to trucks as a supplemental license, along with the plates from the truck’s home state.
This apparently unused plate came with its original envelope, addressed to Tony Ayeredo of Watsonville, CA.
U.S. Forces in Ethiopia
This plate is a 1968-1975 issue used for U.S. servicemembers stationed at Kagnew Station in Asmara, Ethiopia (now in present-day Eritrea). U.S. forces were stationed in Ethiopa following WWII, and during the period this plate was issued were primarily responsible for a large communication station the served the Middle East.
I found this fairly rare plate and its mate in an antique shop in Snohomish, WA in 1996, and owned it for a about a year before learning what it was.
U.S. Forces in Germany
Plates have been issued to U.S. servicemembers stationed in Germany since 1946, continuing to this day. Today the plates are designed to look similar to normal German plates in order to be less conspicuous, but through the end of the ’50s they boldly declared the nationality of the driver. This particular plate is one of my favorites, as it is a relatively rare motorcycle plate, as indicated by its small size and the stacked MC prefix. This was found in an antique shop in Puyallup, WA in 1999.
U.S. Forces in Japan
Immediately after WWII, special license plates were issued to U.S. servicemembers stationed in Japan.
This type was issued in 1953. The number 3 as a prefix indicates it is a private car.
Okinawa had its own distinct issue. This example from 1958 was issued to an enlisted officer, as indicated by the “E” prefix at top left. An “O” would denote an Officer, and a “C” a civilian.
U.S. Forces in Korea
This plate, made of laminated fiberboard, is a 30-day temporary registration issued to servicemembers leaving Korea, pending registration in their destination.
U.S. Forces in Turkey
This type began issuance around 1963, and were used on vehicles being returned to the U.S. after being stationed in Turkey, as an interim license before being re-registered in the U.S. The crescent star design is a particularly unique feature for a U.S. plate.
Panama Canal Zone
This is the oldest Canal Zone plate I have in my collection. The Canal Zone is especially interesting to me, partly because I have visited it, but mostly because my Grandmother lived there for several years as a child in the 1930s, as her father was stationed there in the Army. Someday I’d like to add a plate from that era.