Throwback Thursday: Arizona license plate, circa 1931

By Angela De Welles / ADOT Communications

Woman models Arizona license plate, circa 1931

The state was continuing to suffer through the Great Depression, and there were barely more than 400,000 people living here … but there were cars on the road! And those cars – about 112,000 vehicles were registered in Arizona at the time – needed license plates.

So, members of the Arizona State Highway Commission came up with a plan designed not only to help the state rise up from the Depression, but also to produce some good-looking plates.

An article titled “Arizona sets example in copper plates,” published in the September 1931 issue of Arizona Highways magazine, gave all the details…

“Arizona has set all the states of the Union an example of patronizing home industry as a means of ending the depression. This state produces more copper than any other state. The red metal has suffered greater during the present depression than any of the industries, copper having reached a lower price level than at any time since it has become one of the great commercial metals. The result has been that all of the copper mines in the state have either gone on a greatly curtailed basis of production or have entirely closed down, thus throwing thousands of miners out of work, with the result that the entire state has been seriously affected.

“The Arizona Highway Commission decided it would do its part in helping the demand for copper by making its license plates for 1932 copper. Plans and specifications were adopted calling for copper plates. It was decided that a smaller plate than had heretofore used in Arizona could serve the purpose just as well, if not better, and in this manner the cost of plates in using copper instead of steel, would not be seriously affected. By substituting two letters for numbers, it was found that an attractive plate could be made with dimensions of five by ten inches.”

The article went on to state that 70,000 pounds of “Arizona copper” would be needed to produce the state’s 1932 plates. It’s also noted in the article that the contract for the copper plates was awarded to the lowest bidder at a price of, “fourteen and three-quarters cents per plate.” But before making the award, transportation officials wanted to make sure the lacquer used on the plates would protect from weather and tarnishing, so sample plates were subjected to testing that included exposure to high temperatures and a 24-hour water bath – according to the article, the plates stood up to the tests perfectly!