The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Illinois License Plates Through The Years (Because A New One Is Coming)

By Justin Breen | November 16, 2016 5:50am | Updated on November 19, 2016 5:02pm
 History of Illinois license plates
History of Illinois license plates
View Full Caption

CHICAGO — Now that Illinois drivers will be getting new license plates, let's take a look back at the state's license plate history.

Photos, courtesy of the Illinois Secretary of State's office, show Illinois' first license plates (from 1907) to selected others throughout the decades.

A full list of license plates from Illinois can be found in this interactive from the Secretary of State.

New plates — which ditch the fancy script used for "Illinois," replacing it with an all-caps, serif font — will start arriving in 2017. The new plates also features Abraham Lincoln off to the left side of the plate and a skyline with the Willis Tower and the state capitol in the background. The old plates had Honest Abe in the middle.

Here are some of the older plates in Illinois history.


1907: The Motor Vehicle Act, requiring motorists to register with the Secretary of State’s office, becomes law. For a one-time $2 fee per vehicle, a motorist receives a circular aluminum seal with a registration number to affix to the vehicle, known as a dashboard disc.

1912: The front Illinois license plate is perforated, much like a screen, so air can flow through it and cool the car’s radiator.  The rear plate is solid.

1927: A design configuration appears on Illinois license plates for the first time. On the right side of the plate is a black outline of Illinois with the letters ILL and the numbers 27 inside. C.H. Hanson Co. of Chicago manufactures the license plates.

1934: Prisoners at the Stateville penitentiary make all the license plates, making Illinois the 30th state in the union to use prison labor. The cost to the state remains at 6.4 cents per set, the lowest cost ever. As this is a transaction between state agencies, a formal contract is not signed; instead, the Secretary of State’s Automobile Department submits a requisition to the Department of Public Welfare, which administers the penal system. For the first time, the word “ILLINOIS” is completely spelled out on license plates.

1948: This is the last year that Illinois passenger license plates are made from fiberboard. Most non-passenger plates are made from steel this year.

1954: The slogan, “Land of Lincoln,” makes its debut. It appears on Illinois license plates, with few exceptions, to this day. In the bill that authorized the slogan, there was originally a provision for an image of Abraham Lincoln to appear on the plates. This provision is deleted because it is not feasible to make plates with such a feature at the time.

1965: The colors of green on white are chosen in honor of Secretary of State Charles Carpentier, who died in office in 1964.


1976: Illinois commemorates the bicentennial of the nation with special bicentennial license plates.  Twenty-four other states, plus the District of Columbia, also issue commemorative plates. More than 400,000 students participate in a contest to design Illinois’ bicentennial license plates. Kelley Jordan, 10, of Downstate Normal creates the winning design.

1984-2000: The state begins issuing new multi-year license plates to replace the license plates issued in 1979. The plates are made of galvanized steel. A sheltered workshop in Decatur operated by Macon Resources is contracted to make them. Macon Resources has made Illinois license plates ever since. This design of Illinois’ standard passenger plate was on the road from 1984 until 2000.

For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here.