Andrew Pang's Presidential Inaugural License Plates
Presidential inaugural license plates were first issued in 1933, for the first term of Franklin D. Roosevelt. They were subsequently
issued every 4 years, except during 1945, when metal shortages caused by the war prevented plates from being manufactured.
Below are photos of plates in my collection representing every issue.
The 1933 issue is the rarest of all the inaugurals, with only 500 pairs being issued. Plate #7 above
is the second lowest number currently surviving (as of 1/2021), with the #2 issue being the only other single-digit
example known. The pair of #20 plates is the lowest known 2-digit pair at this time.
1937 marked the 2nd term of Franklin D. Roosevelt. For this inauguration, just under 1,000 pairs of license plates
were issued. This pair is therefore one of the higher-numbered examples and appears to have never been used.
These plates were valid for a 15-day period, January 12-27, 1937.
1941 marked the 3rd term of Franklin D. Roosevelt. As in 1937, just under 1,000 pairs of license plates
were issued. This pair was recently reunited and shows the 2 extra holes at the bottom common on so many plates of this issue.
Once again, these plates were valid for the 15-day period January 12-27, 1941.
In 1949, Inaugural plates returned for Harry Truman's only term in office. Production was doubled to just under
2000 pairs, and the period of validity was the 2 weeks from January 12-26, 1949. The pair pictured here
reportedly belonged to J.W. Marriott, founder of the worldwide hotel chain that bears his name.
The 1953 plates underwent a drastic design change, incorporating decals showing the faces of President Eisenhower
and Vice President Nixon. Production was again increased, to just under 3,000 pairs. They were again valid from
1957 saw similar plates to 1953, with some changes in color. Production increased again to 4,500 pairs, and the
validity period was lengthened to January 12-31, 1957.
President Kennedy's inauguration in 1961 brought about another change in design to a more generic layout.
Production increased drastically to 10,000 pairs. The period of use was also lengthened exponentially,
from November 15, 1960 through the end of February 1961.
Johnson's inauguration in 1965 saw just over 10,000 pairs of plates produced, and the validity period was once
again November 15-February 28.
Nixon's first inauguration in 1969 saw over 10,000 pairs of plates produced - the validity period is unknown.
Nixon's second inauguration, 1973, again saw 10,000+ pairs of produced with an unknown validity period. For the first time,
members of the public could order personalized plates, though they were not particularly popular.
It's believed that about 20,000 pairs of plates were produced for the inauguration of Jimmy Carter in 1977.
The validity period is once again unknown.
More than 36,000 pairs of plates were produced for the inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1981.
The validity period is once again unknown.
For Reagan's second term, plate production was significantly reduced to approximately 16,000 pairs.
This year, plates that were ordered for use on vehicles were valid until March 15, 1985, but the majority of plates
were ordered as souvenirs.
George H.W. Bush's inauguration in 1989 brought numerous changes to the inaugural plate program. This marked the first
year that motorcycle plates were available. As for the full-sized plates, numerous subsets of plates were issued,
making 1989 a very complex year for collectors. Examples include special series for various law enforcement agencies,
Congressional members, major corporate sponsors, etc.
Bill Clinton's first inauguration in 1993 saw a return to a simplified system of plates, with only numeric versions of
passenger and cycle plates offered. More than 10,000 pairs of plates were produced, and they were valid until the end of March.
Little changed for Bill Clinton's second term - over 10,000 pairs were produced between passenger and cycle versions, and
the validity period was once again until the end of March for those that chose to register their plates.
George W. Bush's first inauguration saw little change as well. More than 10,000 pairs were produced, though the expiration
date was extended until April 15, 2001.
George W. Bush's second inauguration in 2005 marked the end of the inaugural plate program as we knew it. For the first time,
two very different designs were available, produced by two different companies. Furthermore, the general public could no longer
register these plates to their vehicles. The style of plate shown with #308 above was the style used by the Presidential and
Vice Presidential limos during the parade, as well as their accompanying protective vehicles. The style shown in #210 was
used by various law enforcement agencies and other VIP vehicles in the parade.
As in 2005, two different plates were associated with Barack Obama's first inauguration in 2009. The example shown in #421 was
offered to the general public as souvenirs only and was used by various official vehicles in the inaugural parade. The notable
exceptions were the Presidential and Vice-Presidential limos and their protective vehicles, which sported the blue plates like the
#2 plate shown above. These blue plates were NOT available to the general public at all. I should note that the signature of
President Obama did not appear on the actual plates and was obtained by me after the fact.
As if prior years weren't confusing enough, 2013 took things to a new level, with three different plate designs. #421 above again
shows the style made available to the general public, and this style was also used by various law enforcement agencies affiliated with
the inauguration. Plate #PIC111 above shows a special series of plates made specifically for use in transporting VIPs around town
during the inauguration. PIC indicates Presidential Inaugural Committee. Lastly, plates similar to #1 above were manufactured by the
committee for use on the Presidential and Vice-Presidential limos. At the last minute, however, the Obama administration made the
decision to use the regular DC license plates normally used on their vehicles.
After the 2016 election, Inaugural plates seemed to be an afterthought. As late as a couple of weeks before the Inauguration, it appeared
special plates would not be issued at all. However, at the last minute these plates were released and used on the Presidential and Vice
Presidential limos in the parade.
Photo courtesy Charlie Gauthier
For the 2021 Inauguration, license plates have been offered to the public once again. There were a couple of design changes
along the way, and I am currently awaiting the arrival of my plates. I will add a photo as soon as they arrive. I await Inauguration Day
to see what will actually be used during the actual festivities, such as they may be during this pandemic year.
I would be remiss if I didn't thank my long-time friend Charlie Gauthier for much of the information contained above. Many thanks also to
DCplates.net for their excellent collection and presentation of this information.