Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Wartime Wednesday: License Plates during WWII

Wartime Wednesday: License Plates During WWII

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Do you give your license plate much thought? Do you have a “vanity tag?” In the early days of automobiles, registration wasn’t required. Finally, in 1901 New York became the first state to require license plates, interestingly made by the individual owners, rather than being issued by state agencies. Typically handcrafted on leather or iron, they featured the owner’s initials. Two years later, Massachusetts distributed the first state-issued plates. Reporting the very first plate issued to Frederick Tudor, a worker with the highway commission, featured the number “1.” One of his relatives reportedly still owns the plate, and to this day in Massachusetts having a low-numbered plate is highly desired.

The earliest American license plates were made from porcelain baked onto iron or ceramic, but they
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were fragile and most didn’t last. By the 1930s plates were made of metal, and a new plate was issued each year upon renewal. However, in 1942, that practice came to a screeching halt with the advent of World War II. Metal was needed for the war effort, and many automobile factories were converted to munitions or other war-oriented purposes. In an effort to conserve metal, many states stopped issuing front plates and revalidated the plate with a small metal tab indicating the year. Other states, such as Wisconsin reduced the size of their plates. Eventually, some states issued stickers to affix to the windshield.

Other states experimented with alternate materials for license plates such as a soybean-based fiberboard. The method of production is similar to today’s medium-density fiberboard (MDF). Heat and pressure bind layers of material into a flat, usable shape, with soy fibers and glue or soy flour as a binder.

Interestingly, Illinois and Michigan had the most success with soy-based materials, partly because of the efforts of carmaker Henry Ford, who for many years prior to the war had touted soybeans as a renewable material that could be used to create a wide range of plastics, especially within the automotive industry. In 1941, he had unveiled a plastic-bodied car constructed of panels made of “soybean fiber in a phenolic resin with formaldehyde used in the impregnation.” The plastic had been developed in his Greenfield Village Soybean Laboratory.

A downside to the use of soybean plates was their attraction to animals. One website told a story about a goat that was “reputed to have eaten an Illinois license plate in 1943.” An article in the Great Falls Tribune (Illinois) reported about an incident with a turkey, and a story in the Helena paper warned citizens of the likelihood of pigs being attracted to the plates.

Fortunately, with plates made of metal again, being pilfered by animals is no longer an issue!


Will a world at war destroy a second chance at love?

Estelle Johnson promised to wait for Aubry DeLuca, but then she receives word of his debilitating injuries. Does she have the strength to stand by him in his hour of need?

Aubry DeLuca storms the beaches at Normandy, then wakes up in the hospital, his eyes bandaged. Will he regain his sight? Will the only woman he’s ever loved welcome him home or is he destined to go through life blind and alone?

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