Washington State License Plate Guide

Below is an at-a-glance summary of Washington passenger vehicle license plates by year, compiled from plates from my collection. This is meant as a useful tool for dating vintage photos.  Please see my Washington State License Plate History page for background.

Many vintage photos show new vehicles with temporary county-issued paper or cardboard licenses.  For more information, please see this page.

1905-1915

During this period, registration numbers were assigned by the state, but owners were responsible for providing their own plates (more information here).  As a result, there is a wide variety of types and designs, and sometimes the number was simply painted on the vehicle.  “WN” and the registration number were the only information displayed.

wa_rainiert4 wa_aaa0003 wa_aaa0003

1916-1962

The state began producing and issuing license plates for the 1916 licensing year.  Until 1921, licenses were valid for the state’s fiscal year, not calendar year, with the date on the plate denoting the year of expiration (typically end of February).   Thus, a plate dated 1917 was mostly on the road in 1916.  From 1922 forward, license years aligned with calendar years.

SONY DSC wa_1917 wa_1918 wa_1919
1916
valid June 10, 1915 to February 28, 1916
1917
valid March 1, 1916 to February 28, 1917
1918
valid March 1, 1917 to February 28, 1918
1919
valid March 1, 1918 to March 31, 1919
wa_1920tab wa_1920porcelain wa_1920steel wa_1921green
1920
valid March 1, 1919 to February 28, 1920.  Three versions of plates were valid: 1) 1919 plate renewed with white porcelain tab; 2) full porcelain dated 1920 plate, with a color scheme to mimic the look of a renewed 1919 plate; 3) full metal dated 1920 plate, with the same color scheme
1921 (Type 1)
valid March 1, 1920 to February 28, 1921
wa_1921gray wa_1922 wa_1923 wa_1924
1921 (Type 2)
valid March 1, 1921 to December 31, 1921
1922
valid full calendar year, as are all subsequent years
1923 1924
wa_1925 wa_1926 wa_1927 wa_1928
1925 1926 1927 1928
wa_1929 wa_1930-131313 wa_1931 wa_1932
1929 1930 1931 1932
wa_1933 wa_1934 wa_1935 wa_1936
1933 1934 1935 1936
wa_1937 wa_1938 wa_1939 wa_1940
1937 1938 1939 1940
wa_1941 wa_1942 wa_1944 wa_1945
1941 1942
valid through 1944 (renewed via windshield sticker)
1944 
issued only to new registrants
1945
valid through 1946 (renewed via windshield sticker)
wa_1947 wa_1949 wa_1950 wa_1951steel
1947
valid through 1948 (renewed by windshield sticker)
1949 1950
valid through 1953 (renewed by metal tab in 1951 and 1953, and windshield sticker in 1952)
1951
valid through 1953 (renewed by windshield sticker in 1952 and metal tab in 1953)
wa_1954steel wa_1954 wa_1956 wa_1958base
1954
valid from 1954 through 1957 (renewed by metal tab in ’55, ’56, and ’57).  Three types: 1) steel – made in Walla Walla prison prior to Sept 1953 fire; 2) aluminum – made by Screw Machine Company in Portland, OR after the fire; 3) aluminum 6″ x 12″, made 1956 and later (but dated 1954) in new federally-standardized dimensions of 6″ x 12″
1958
valid through 1962 (renewed by adhesive stickers)

1963-1997

All of the following bases were valid from the indicated dates until 2000:

wa_1963base wa_1965base wa_1968base wa_1968baset3
1963 1965 1968 1977
wa_1968baset1c wa_1984baset1 wa_1984t2 wa_rainiert1
1980 1982 1985 1987
wa_rainiert2
1991

1998-present

wa_rainiert4 wa_aaa0003
1998 2010