The History of the Montana License Plate (and Why Getting One’s a Good Idea)

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Generally, most people will not look at a car license plate and wonder how it all began or what led up to the point when license plates were suddenly required. This was not the case with car salesman Ken Fitzgerald.

He was fascinated by the variety of license plates that he came into contact with on a regular basis and as a result he started to collect those he found interesting or unique. In his years of collecting he even came across a Montana license plate dating as far back as 1914. His collection now boasts more than 3000 license plates from all across the country, especially Montana. 

As his collection grew he wanted to share the history he found so fascinating with the rest of the world, therefore he wrote a book about it. During his research for the book, though, he found that there wasn’t a lot of information out there about the history of the Montana license plate, which is why he consequently ended up having to go straight to the source.

All license plates in Montana are made in the license plate factory at the Montana State Prison. The factory was started in 1927 and all license plates have been made there since the day it was opened. 


The Beginning of the Montana License Plate

It all started way back in 1891 when an act was passed that established the taxation on all (barring a few exceptions) property in the state. Motor vehicles were first recognized as property in 1913 and taxation was thus put into action. Vehicles were taxed according to the amount of horsepower they had and taxes received were used for the improvement of public highways, road construction and maintenance. 

Montana car registration numbers were first issued in numerical sequence, as the Motor Vehicle Registrar received each new registration request. Before the license plate factory was built and put into use, vehicle owners would often inscribe their vehicle registration number on leather or some other material and attach it to their car. 

The first Montana license plate was issued in 1914 and only had the plate number displayed. It was only later that plates started with the prefix MON, the year and then the plate number.

After the factory at the prison was started, the first license plates that were made there were issued in 1928 and had the word Montana spelled out in full. An interesting fact is that plates made during the years 1939 to 1957 all had the words “prison made” stamped into them. 

During 1944, though, steel was in short supply due to the war thus license plates were made out of pressed soybean fiberboard. This led to many vehicle owners finding themselves with only a portion (or nothing at all) of their license plate remaining as some animals found the taste of the pressed soybeans delicious and a snack that they just couldn’t resist. 

An interesting fact to note is that Montana doesn’t use the letter I, O, Q, R or V in their license plates. Montana is also one of only eight states that use numerical code in order to specify the county of origin on the regular license plates.

Yet another fact worth noting is that when vehicles were first required to be registered and have license plates, car owners could decide whether to pay for a state-issued license plate (which would cost them fifty cents) or whether they wanted to fashion their own. 


The Personalized Montana License Plate

The very first personalized license plates (also known as “vanity” plates) were issued in the year 1974. The issuing of the bicentennial plates coincided with the issuing of the Disabled Vets and National Guard license plates in 1976. It wasn’t until 1983 that special plates were introduced to reflect a disabled and ex-POW status. 

Having a personalized license plate number is a way of adding a touch of unique flair to your vehicle without altering its appearance. Vehicle owners can choose from a selection of license plate designs that suit their particular style or interest and can even add custom messages to be inscribed on the plate should they wish to show support for a charity, loved one or alma mater. 

Currently there are 235 different specialty license plates available in Montana, along with an average of around six to eight new plates being introduced bi-annually. In the event that you would prefer to keep your current license but you still want it to reflect a personal touch, you can just add a personalized message to it instead. 

Added to this, if you’ve got a vintage car or vehicle over thirty years old, then you can apply for Vintage or Pioneer plates. However, if you are applying for Vintage plates for your vehicle then you need to be aware that one of the requirements is that your vehicle is being used as a collector’s item and not for general transportation. 


A Myriad of Designs

As the world progressed, so did the materials from which license plates were made. In 1960 aluminum was used to replace the steel that was used for the license plates. It wasn’t too many years later that reflective materials became available, which is why in 1967 the change was made to use those instead of aluminum.

Montana has a vast array of different designs, one of which is the New Issue plate which has an orange, yellow and brown striped silhouette of mountains with a gradient blue background. Emblazoned on the bottom is “Blue Sky” and next to it the skull of a bison. This design was issued in 1991 and was kept in use all throughout the rest of the decade. 

Later on specialty license plates were introduced after the Generic Specialty License Plate Act was passed in 2001. These plates are all designed with phrases, colors and distinctive backgrounds that identify the specific sponsoring organization.

These plates are not the same as the standard plates as they only have three letters and three numbers and with no county designator. The very first specialty license plates offered to the public, though, were first sold in 2002. 

In 2006 the standard issue license plate featuring Montana’s sky in vibrant blue and green colors with “Montana” in gold lettering across the top was printed rather than stamped into the metal. “Treasure State” and “Big Sky Country” are two of the slogans used on the license plates issued. 

“Treasure State” was used from 1950 up until 1957, when it was dropped until the year 1962 and then reappeared again in 1963 and was used until 1966. “Big Sky Country” was a highly popular slogan and was used from 1966 all the way through until 2010. It was then that the slogan “Treasure State” was reintroduced. 

Before 1957, the Montana license plate did not have uniformity in size and shape.

However, in 1957 Montana made an agreement with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the National Safety Council and the Automobile Manufacturers Association that all license plates issued from then on would be six inches high and twelve inches wide in size, along with having standardized mounting holes. 

You can browse through all the different kinds of Montana license plate designs that are currently available, along with how much each one will cost you.  


How to Register Your Car In Montana

The Montana license plate has a long and interesting history, and although some folks may want to acquire one for this reason, the greater multitude will register their vehicle in Montana for a completely different reason.

The main reason why a majority of vehicle owners are going through the Montana car registration process is because it is the only state that is free from sales tax. That’s right, completely free of sales tax to residents and resident LLC’s. 

What this means is that when you buy that sweet ride you’ve been saving up for, you won’t need to end up paying thousands of dollars to have it registered at the DMV. The whole process will cost you less than $900 if you register your vehicle in Montana.

Not only will you save a substantial amount of money, but there are also no vehicle inspections. In addition to this, the process to register your car in Montana is really quite easy and straightforward. 

Before you purchase your vehicle, you have to set up an LLC (Limited Liability Company). 

Unless you want to make a trip to Montana, it would be needful to acquire a Montana registered agent to set up the LLC for you. They will then file all the necessary paperwork in order for you to purchase your vehicle through the LLC, thus avoiding the sales tax on your vehicle. 

Once you have taken care of all the paperwork, all that’s left is to pay the required fees and then wait for your Montana license plate to arrive. Montana car registration fees vary depending on the kind of license plate required, as well as on the age and size of your vehicle. The registration time period will also play a part in the registration fees.

As you can see the process of how to register your car in Montana is pretty simple.  Learn more about Montana LLCs, Montana Car Registration and Montana License Plates.


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