Thursday, May 21, 2009

2007-present: Choices, choices, choices!

In 2007, Indiana decided to jump on the bandwagon with other states and issue a patriotically-themed "In God We Trust" plate as a no-cost alternative to the standard "" plate.

The plate proved extremely popular from the get-go, probably because:
  1. Hoosiers are patriotic by their nature.
  2. Many Hoosiers believe in God.
  3. It's free.
  4. It's prettier than the standard plate.
Regardless, the ACLU sued the state, but lost, so as of this date, the IGWT plate continues to be more popular than the other available no-cost choices.

Yes, I said choices. Plural.

As of 2009, there are three no-cost passenger plates from which a motorist can choose, and they are the new standard plate, which debuted last year (more on that in a moment); the IGWT plate; and the new Lincoln's Boyhood Home plate, which celebrates the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth.

With the new '09 standard plate, it seems the BMV is looking to push people into the other options, because they haven't come out with a standard-issue plate as plain and undistinguished in appearance as this one in more than three decades.

It's the first to have a dark blue background since 1960. And yes, it's still flat, as are, now, all Indiana plates.

And that's not all. For the first time since the introduction of county code numbers in 1963, the BMV changed the numbering system. Each county is represented (as on the plate in my collection above) by a black-on-white sticker across the top of the plate with the county's number and name (in this case, Hamilton County, #29).

"INDIANA" rides at the bottom for the first time since 1987.

And the numbering could be three numbers and a single letter (ex. 123A), three numbers and two letters (ex. 456BC), or three numbers and three letters (ex. 789DEF). There seems to be no rhyme nor reason as to which plates get what combination, or where they are issued.

I guess it's just another reason to try one of the other alternatives, which my parents did in 2008. Mom's Freestyle and Dad's 2003 Dodge Ram pickup both wear IGWT plates, and wear them proudly.

Now, if I could convince them both to switch to the Lincoln plate this year, I'll finally get a couple of IGWT plates in my collection ... HA!

UPDATE, JUNE 1, 2009: During the spring of 2009, it appears Indiana has switched to recycled aluminum for its license plates. A small recycle symbol (familiar to most of us) is now printed in the lower left-hand corner of each plate. I've seen it on standard and IGWT plates.

Where they're from:
  • The In God We Trust plate belonged to my grandfather, Floyd Newkirk, and was used on his 2005 Chevrolet Venture.  Its sibling, TO 8774 (not pictured), was used on his 1985 Chevrolet Silverado. 
  • The standard-issue plate from Hamilton County (738PAU) came in a trade from Dave Nicholson.
  • The LBH plate image is from the Indiana BMV, used with their blessing in an exchange whereby they're using some of my plates on their site. The 2009 standard plate is from Hamilton County.

2004-08: Flatter than a pancake?

You can well imagine people's shock and dismay when this plate came out.

And there was much gnashing and grinding of teeth, and wailing and moaning ... oh, wait, that's a different story. Sorry about that.

But as much as people really wanted to like this design, it lost about 90% of its appeal somewhere in the process between the design's victory in online voting against its rivals and production.

The original design bore the famed "Back Home Again" slogan, but somehow, someone at the BMV decided instead to put the state's web address, there.

And that wasn't the half of it.

For the first time, Indiana's plates were completely FLAT, manufactured using 3M's Digital License Plate technology. Hideous numbers and letters, all the same size, looked NOTHING like what folks were used to. Even law enforcement complained.

Therefore, early on in the process, the design was changed and even the spacing of the numbers and letters was made to look more like what folks remembered from the past.

It was an improvement, but just barely.

The good news was that license branches -- of which there were fewer after Governor Mitch Daniels' minions got done revamping the BMV -- could store more plates in less space, and plates required less manpower, all of which saved the state money in the long run, I guess.

But this plate would prove to be only the first affront to Hoosiers' plate sensibilities. The ultimate assault was yet to come.

Where they're from:
2004: Daviess County
2005-07: Spencer County (The 2007 plate was, once again, my mother's; it was issued for her 2001 PT Cruiser and later transferred to her 2006 Ford Freestyle SEL when she got tired of the Cruiser costing her a small fortune in minor repairs. Oh, well, that and the air conditioning crapped out on a 95-degree day. But that's another story for another time.)
2008: Tippecanoe County (This one, for the first time, came from my younger brother, Matt, who elected to remain in Lafayette after his graduation from Purdue University a few years ago. He now makes his home there with his wife and son.)

1999-2003 - The Crossroads of America

For 1999, Indiana issued another relatively plain but tasteful graphic design, this time featuring the most detailed depiction yet of the torch and stars design on the state flag.

By this point, the stamping dies were well and truly worn out, so it is not uncommon to find two -- or more -- different die types on the same plate!

The 2003 plate shown here is the last one issued to my late grandfather, retired Indiana State Police Lt. Max Bruggenschmidt (1922-2003). His plates carried the number 2400 from 1950 until his death from complications related to Alzheimer's disease.

Where they're from:
1999: Harrison County
2000: Noble County
2001: Allen County
2002 and 2003: Spencer County (The 2002 plate was Mom's once again; this time it was used on her 1997 Plymouth Voyager, and later on her 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser Limited Edition.)

1994-98 - Amber Waves of Grain

For the 1994 issue, Indiana went back to the farm scene for the first time in more than a decade.

Some people didn't like this design, and to be fair, it didn't look all that great on certain cars, but I liked it. In the interest of full disclosure, for the last two years this plate was used, I had a red car. It looked good on that one.

And I still do.

Early issues used a new-design county sticker, but someone finally woke up and realized they weren't necessary, so they fell by the wayside before 1993 was out. Thank. You. Lord.

Where they came from:
1994: St. Joseph County
1995: Delaware County
1996: Henry County (issued to my uncle, Jerry Newkirk, for a 1980 Dodge Aspen Sunrise coupe that he sold to my brother that year)
1997: Spencer County (this one was my second plate, on a 1989 Ford Escort Pony hatchback that I drove to college, work and wherever for a few years. Still miss that car.)
1998: Vigo County (issued to my aunt, Madonna Hummel, for a Honda of some vintage that she owned for a while)

1991-93 - Showing off some Hoosier Hospitality

As the years roll by, I've started to like this plate more and more, although when it came out in 1990, it was a bit of a disappointment to me.

I liked the "Back Home Again" plate, and this one, I thought, was a bit too plain. But it's grown on me.

By this point, the dies that had been in use since the mid-'50s were starting to wear out, so other sets were used at various times. If you look closely, you'll see that each of these three plates uses a different die set.

Where they came from:
1991: Vanderburgh County
1992: Hamilton County
1993: Spencer County (Mom's plate again; this one was also used on the '90 Grand Voyager)

1988-90 - Back Home Again!

Now this was more like it.

Following the "Wander" fiasco, people hoped and prayed that Indiana would do right and come up with a design that atoned for all the sins of ugliness committed by the previous monstrosity, and the "Back Home Again" design did it admirably.

Strangely, however, despite the fact that Indiana's counties had kept the same plate prefixes since 1963, someone in the BMV decided to cook up a small blue sticker with each county's name. Good idea? Maybe, but the execution stunk. After a few car washes, the white printing on the stickers, which was already nearly illegible at more than 10 feet, virtually disappeared.

Aside from that, the plate was a triumph.

Where mine came from:
1988: Madison County
1989: Hamilton County
1990: Spencer County (issued to my mother, Susan Newkirk, and used first on a 1985 Plymouth Voyager, and then briefly on a 1990 Plymouth Grand Voyager)

1985-87 - Indiana goes wandering, comes back disappointed

Motorists were interested to see what Indiana would do to follow up the success of their 1982-84 "Hoosier State" plates.

They would be disappointed.

Even today, some 25 years since their introduction, if you mention the "Wander Indiana" plate in good company, people will still tell you, in sometimes salty language, that this issue was, to quote my late grandfather, Max Bruggenschmidt, "the ugliest damn plate I ever saw in my life."

More successful was the state's television advertising campaign of the era, which featured a driverless, red 1950 Studebaker Champion convertible, known as "The Wanderer." It ended up being displayed in the Studebaker National Museum for a time after its retirement, but I don't know where the car is today.

But I've got a heckuva lot of these "damn plates" I'd like to part with ... maybe.

Where mine came from:
1985: Johnson County
1986: Boone County (issued to my grandfather, F.C. Newkirk, and used on a white 1985 Ford LTD Country Squire wagon)
1987: Kosciusko County

1982-84 - Indiana goes multi-year

Beginning with the 1982 plate, Indiana would hold onto plates for a minimum of three years, at least if you stuck with the normal plates numbered 101 or higher. If you were a big wheel and got a plate numbered 100 or lower in any county, you did get a new plate each year.

Bearing a neat, folksy farm scene, the "Hoosier State" plate proved popular among motorists, and when you consider what replaced it in 1984, it's no wonder that I still saw some of these on the road as late as 1987 ... illegally, of course!

The 1982 plate was issued in Monroe County; 1983, Clark County; 1984, Lagrange County.

1981 - Indiana's last one-year plate

1981 would mark the last single-year plate for the Hoosier State, and they sure made it colorful, didn't they?

The basic design -- with a color change -- would eventually preview a plate derided by many as the ugliest in Indiana history, but there'll be plenty more to be said for that later on.

This plate was issued in Hamilton County.


In 1779, George Rogers Clark and a small band of outnumbered, outgunned men captured Fort Sackville from the British.

The 1980 plate memorialized that brave feat.

Oh, and Fort Sackville? You might have driven past its general location if you're at all familiar with U.S. Highway 41. It's now known as the city of Vincennes, approximately halfway between Evansville and Terre Haute.

This plate was issued in Blackford County.


Some 67 years after the first Indianapolis 500, Indiana finally paid homage to its title as the home of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" with the 1979 plate.

It is believed, although not confirmed, that this plate was issued in memory of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's late owner, Anton "Tony" Hulman, Jr., who died on October 27, 1977; interestingly, the same day that your humble correspondent was born. Lending some credence to this belief is the fact that sample plates of this issue did away with the usual 00A0000 numbering format, using instead 00H0000.

Speedway officials liked the design so well that it was used, with minor changes, on Pace Cars and other vehicles affiliated with the 500 through 1999.

Perhaps the one criticism I can offer is that the race cars were to many eyes difficult to see, and after a year on the road, they had pretty well faded into oblivion.

This plate was never issued in Lawrence County. It's a mint example.


Well, it wasn't just a one-shot deal after all.

1977's sharp graphic design was followed up by this very ... umm ... green and yellow affair. In truth, I actually like it, but I'm sure it had its detractors in its day.

This plate was issued in Morgan County.

1977 - What's this? Something new!?

When the time came to replace their 1976 plates, Hoosier motorists might have been a bit surprised to see that they received ... another 1976 plate?

Yes, that's the date on the plate, but only because 1976 marked America's bicentennial, and Indiana chose the year to get into a new field in the design of their license plates -- GRAPHICS!

Indiana's design for the plates expiring in 1977 featured a Minuteman in red, 1976 and INDIANA at the top, and "Heritage State" at the bottom.

Many 1977 plates I've seen -- the one pictured is an example -- carried month stickers that were cut (sometimes haphazardly) from the longer 1970-76 stickers. That's one way to save a few pennies, I guess.

This plate was issued in Boone County to Mr. Clifton Porter, a neighbor of my grandparents, Mr. & Mrs. F.C. Newkirk.


The 1976 plate might have seemed to most motorists to signal "just another new color year," but it ended up being the last of a long ... and, frankly, quite boring ... line.

This plate was issued in Knox County.


1975 saw a color change. That is all.

This plate was issued in Wayne County.


In early 1973, when my late grandmother, Margaret Bruggenschmidt (1921-1984) picked up this plate at the Rockport license branch, she might have noticed that the corner boxes, by now an established style feature on Indiana's plates, were now squared off.

She might have noticed a bit more quickly that the year of issue, which "rode shotgun" with the abbreviated state name atop the plates from 1970 to 1973, was eliminated, allowing "INDIANA" to be embossed in all its glory for the first time since 1969.

As mentioned, this plate was issued in Spencer County at the Rockport license branch.


Isn't that shade of green lovely? Well, inasmuch as that was the major change of 1972, you'd better have liked it.

This plate was issued in Warrick County.


With the pattern set the previous year, Indiana motorists quickly adjusted to their new staggered registration schedule.

They also adjusted to their plates having become more than just a little a bit boring by this point.

This plate was issued in Allen County.


Customers at the license branches in Indiana got quite a shock when they picked up their new plates in the opening months of 1970.

Each new plate had a long, multicolored sticker across the bottom indicating which month the plate would expire in 1971. No longer would they have to get the job done by the end of February ... unless, of course, their sticker indicated that particular month.

The state used the first letter of a motorist's last name to determine in which month (February through June) the plates would expire. In my case, with the last name Newkirk, my plates would have expired in April.

This plate was issued in Vanderburgh County.


Through 1969, Indiana's license plates expired at the end of February in the year following that displayed on the plate; i.e., this 1969 plate actually expired on February 28, 1970.

But that was about to change, as we'll see with the 1970-71 plate coming up next.

This plate was issued in Marion County (metropolitan Indianapolis), to my grandmother's aunt and uncle, Venus and Ray Bennett.


In 1968, it appears that Indiana had a hard time getting good help in the prison plant where this and all other Hoosier license plates were made.

How can I tell?

Easy. Take a look at the stamping. The plate number itself is the only thing stamped straight. Everything else sort of slides ever so gently downhill from left to right.

This plate was issued in Dearborn County.


For 1967, Indiana's plates gained two new embossed corner boxes (each with one rounded corner) for added visual distinction.

Otherwise, there wasn't a whole lot new, aside from the annual change in color.

This plate was issued in Wells County.

1966 - Indiana's Sesquicentennial

Indiana celebrated its 150th year of statehood in 1966, and to mark the occasion, all passenger plates carried the "150th YEAR" slogan at the top of the plate.

In addition, the state switched from reflectorized numbers to a reflectorized Scotchlite-type background this year (it may, in fact, be 3M's Scotchlite).

This plate was issued in Boone County.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


For 1965, Indiana continued their most recent reflectivity experiment, and for the first time in 33 years, issued a dark green plate.

This would be the last go-around for painted plates in Indiana. Something new was waiting in the wings.

This plate was issued in Parke County.

1964 - "I see reflections of you and me ..."

Well, OK, so that's a bit of a stretch, but at night, when you shine a light on a 1964 Indiana license plate, you'll see the numbers glowing back at you.

For the first time since 1955, Indiana tried reflectivity again, this time coating the white characters with special glass beads in the paint. It worked out quite nicely and, based on what I've seen, lasts quite a long time.

After issuing plates with a small county number in 1963, the number was made full size in '64, with the letter (which, in these early years, denoted which license branch office issued the plate) made smaller.

This plate was issued in Spencer County by the Rockport license branch.

1963 - A new wrinkle

Indiana decided to make a change from alpha county codes to numbering counties in alphabetical order for 1963.

In addition, the safety slogans were laid to rest this year, and the state's name was stamped fully across the bottom of the plate for the first time since 1955.

On the "how they're made" front, Indiana switched to thinner sheetmetal this year, with the end result being that the plates are not quite as sturdy as in past years.

This plate was issued in Randolph County.


For 1962, Indiana chose to go with a yellow-on-black plate for the first time since 1950. The result is what you see here.

This would be the final year that counties would be identified by letters on Indiana's license plates.

This plate was issued in Vanderburgh County.


1961 saw Indiana issue a red plate for the first time since 1949, and, like that year, white numbers were used.

The slogan continued from 1960.

This rare plate was issued in Spencer County. Most Spencer County plates used the SP prefix, but a relative handful of SQ prefix plates were issued each year. Today, this plate and its identically-numbered 1962 successor in my collection are the only such plates known to exist.