License plates offer a quick glimpse into modern Roadside Georgia. The
first vehicles were registered at the turn of the (20th)
century, about the time that gasoline-powered cars were becoming
popular. While many municipalities had "red flag" laws dating back to
just after the Civil War (1868), the horseless carriages of those days
were few and not very noisy unless they exploded, which apparently was a
common problem with steam-boilers back then.Georgia's successful
road-building programs began as a massive effort in the early 1920's,
partly to accommodate the rapid expansion of the automobile, partly to
offset the devastation of our cotton fields from the boll weevil. The
great highways of that era were not noted by number but by name --
Bankhead Highway, the Old Spanish Road, the Dixie Highway. As cars
flourished it became necessary for governments and police to be able to
Georgia larger cities began to issue licenses as early as 1908 (commercial vehicles in Atlanta). Quickly the government realized that cities issuing licenses was a waste of time. On a limited basis the state began to issue licenses in 1912. By 1920 all vehicles had to have a license plate.
In 1935 the state realized that not only cars needed to be licensed, so did the drivers. Getting a driver's license was as easy as asking for one. The state didn't begin testing drivers until 1937. In 1941 the state introduced the first license plate with reflective material to make it more visible to other cars (and policemen). In 1943 Georgia introduced a combination soybean/dried paper pulp plate designed to preserve metal for war uses, which they introduced on a limited basis. They began to issue half-sized metal plates when the soy plates had problems.
Starting in 1971 the county name appeared at the bottom of the license plates. In 1996 Georgia moved to a 7-digit license plate for non-commercial vehicles. Over the years a number of vanity plates have been introduced. Included in this are a college and university series, the Olympic plate (featuring the Olympic Mascot Izzy at first and later an Olympic flame, a bicentennial plate and the currently popular "Wildlife" plate.