Chicago Tribune, July 2, 1899
Drafts Rules for Automobiles.
City Electrician Elliott has drafted the points he thinks should be incorporated in the ordinance to license automobiles, and sent his suggestions to Corporation Counsel Walker, who is drawing up the ordinance. The suggestions he makes are:
- A license should be issued to the operator upon examination by a board. covering his physical board, his physical condition, mental balance, a reasonable knowledge of mechanical appliances, and his familiarity with the parts of the apparatus liable to become deranged.
The cost of the license should not exceed 25 cents and should be required to be renewed annually
Accidents caused clearly through carelessness of operators of these vehicles should be sufficient reason for revocation of license.
Chicago Tribune, July 6, 1899
THE AUTOMOBILE TRIUMPHS.
Park Commissioners cannot outlaw the automobiles. Judge Gibbons has said it, and the Supreme Court will stand by him if the question ever is carried up to that court. The Judge is emphatic in his assertion that no board of Park Commissioners can bar out any vehicle used for recreation or pleasure so long as it does not endanger the safety of others. He talks like one inspired when he says that “there is less danger in propelling an automobile than there is is driving a horse and buggy.” As the substitution of the railroad for the stage coach has reduced the percentages of accidents to travelers, so will the banishment of the deadly horse and buggy by the automobile reduce the percentage of accidents still more.
Judge Gibbons admits it is the right and insists it is the duty of a park board to regulate the speed of horseless carriages, as of other vehicles. He is of the opinion that the speed should not exceed four or five miles an hour. Such a regulation can be enforced much more thoroughly with automobiles than with vehicles propelled by horses, for the former are under better control on the part of drivers. The horse often will not slow up when his driver wants him to. He has a will of his own. The automobile has not. The horse gets scared at firecrackers and shadows. The automobile does not. It may be said there will be accidents when automobiles are in inexperienced hands. Who is not familiar with accidents which are happening continually because horses are intrusted to inexperienced hands? Park Commissioners have assumed incorrectly that everybody knows enough to drive a horse on a boulevard.
The only reason assigned for shutting out the horseless carriages from parks and boulevards, and thus obstructing the march of civilization, is that horses will be scared. That is, the superior mode of locomotion must not be used because it will interfere with the inferior mode. But the horses which continue to be used for pleasure purposes will meet the automobiles and make their acquaintance speedily elsewhere than in the parks, and as they are not intelligent enough to know that these horseless wagons are to supplant them they will not get excited and angry at the sight of them. The day is coming, however, when no high-toned Chicagoan will appear in public be- hind a horse. That animal will be relegated to the side streets and the peddlers’ carts.
The first Chicago ordinance, and in fact in the entire United States, was passed on July 6, 1899, requiring an annual automobile operator’s license which expired one year from the date of issue. A Board of Examiners was created, made up of the City Electrician, City Engineer and Commissioner of Health, to assess each applicant’s physical and mental acuity to drive. Upon passage of the 18-question exam, the license fee was $3, which could be renewed for $1 per year thereafter, and a paper “certificate of qualification” was issued.
Upon the recommendation of the City Electrician, the ordinance was amended on January 28, 1900, to require a small numbered badge to be issued by the city in addition to the paper license. This badge was to be pinned somewhere onto the driver’s clothing or hat. Four different shapes of undated badges are known, and probably represent different years.
There is considerable confusion about license periods in 1900-04. While licenses were definitely annual, there is conflicting information about when they expired. According to the November 5, 1902, issue of The Horseless Age in which all known U.S. automobile laws were surveyed, the Chicago section states that the “License expires one year from date of issue.” Yet, an original certificate has survived for License #412 which was issued on March 15, 1901. It has a pre-printed date of validity “until the thirtieth day of April, 1901” with the last “1” penned into a “2.”
Inter Ocean, July 5, 1899
The Auto-Stage company wants an ordnance passed under the rules, and an attempt will be made to carry out the recommendation of the license committee to this effect. The company proposes to have twenty or thirty electric stages in operation by October, and wants the ordnance passed that it may go to work on its plans during the summer vacation. In this same connection an ordnance will be presented for passage creating a board of examiners, who shall subject the drivers of automobiles in a rigid examination. Mayor Harrison and City Electrician Ellicott are behind this ordnance. It will have to go through under a suspension of the rules.
Chicago Automobile Lapel Pins
About 1-3/8″ wide.
The Horseless Age. May 6, 1903
More than 1,050 persons in Chicago are said to hold automobile licenses and number is constantly increasing. On May 1 City Electrician Ellicott transmitted to the chief of police a cut of the new badge (above), with orders for the arrest of everyone operating an automobile without a 1903 license and badge. The base of the new badge is a gold wreath in relief, on which is a royal blue enamel plate with the words: “Chicago Automobile License.” On this is a gold bar with the number in black, held by a pair of wings surmounting a shield in scroll.
Inter Ocean, May 3, 1903
Superstition has Chicago’s automobilists by the heels. Every owner of a “devil wagon” believes he has a “hoodoo.” The men with “gasoline” talk are nearly all afraid of “unlucky” numbers. Some are afraid of certain colors. Some are afraid of numbers secured on a rainy day.
The auto man has superstitions of his own.
From the race track, the crap game, the baseball field, and the dream book he has culled enough different kinds of superstitions to put old Salem to shame.
On the first day for issuing the licenses a long line of auto enthusiasts stood waiting in the office. Twelve numbers had already been taken.
“Number 13 is next,” announced the clerk in the City Electrician Ellicott’s offic e.
There was a stampede and a riot to get away. The outside door slammed violently against the way, and the casing creaked as seven men tried to get through it at once, and the clerk was left alone. A battered silk hat lost in the flight lay on the floor.
“what’s the matter with those fellows?” asked the clerk. “This ain’t the board of trade. You’d think it was a mad house.”
The man who had lost the hat returned on tip toe. He eyes the clerk furtively. That official was still toying with the gilt badge with the evil “13” and wondering if it wasn’t time to get another cheese sandwich, for he had worked twenty-five minutes without stopping.
“I don’t think I’ll get my license today,” stammered the hatless man. The clerk waved the badge nonchalantly. The man glanced at it once, stopped and grabbed his hat and ran.
“How rich folks do change their minds,” ruminated the clerk, reaching for his own hat preparatory to a refreshment expedition.
The Superstitious Broker.
“License please,” snapped a pompous man at his elbow. The clerk recognized him as a La Salle street broker. He laid his hat back in his desk.
“Yes, sir, right here, No. 13,” he replied.
“Umph! Not for me! That’s worse than an opal, I’ll be back tomorrow, good-by,” snapped the broker.
He was gone before the clerk could ask why. The second strange flight was sufficient to excite even a civil-service employe’s interest. He looked at the badge suspiciously. Perhaps the bankers and brokers who had run when he offered it to them had detected that it did have a genuine gold plate on it. He touched with his tounge, He couldn’t taste brass.
The next man who came in was an automobile dealer. The clerk knew what he wanted, and held up the badge. He knew the dealer couldn;t tell gold from brass. But it had the same effect on all the others.
“I’d go out of business rather than have that badge,” he almost shouted.
“Pretty badge,” suggested the clerk.
“Pretty nothing,” retorted the dealer. “It’s a ’13.’ Why, if I had that, every machine I tested would have an accident. If you want to see a lot of fireworks get a bunch of those No. 13 battle-ships together. They’ll all blow up. Not for me. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
After such a scene had been repeated several score times in the city electrician’s office, there arose a serious apprehension lest there would be only twelve automobile licenses taken out this year. No one without superstition appeared to bridge the gap between “12” and “14.” That was why Mr. Ellicott ordered that licenses not be given out in sequence after the first day’s experience in issuing them. That is why, until a physician had the courage to tale the fateful “13,” there were seven so-called “13’s” left out of 700 badges.
But the “13” was not all that gave trouble to the long-suffering clerk. Nobody seemed to want “13,” but there were many who wanted almost every combination of numbers. He stopped wondering why. There were more combinations than he had ever seen in an arithmetric, and more reasons for them than could be put in a Black Rabbit dream book.
Numbers were but a part of the superstition. Some did not approve of the color. Others thought the style and shape would be unlucky.
One woman objected because the numbers were not dainty enough and the clerk who had gained his municipal experience by selling tin license as large as a wagon side to Italian peddlers collapsed at the unheard of suggestion. That night he told his wife he wished he had a job behind the baby-ribbon counter of the department store, and she says that he talked automobiles in his sleep.
“The automobilists are the worst cranks in the city,” sighed City Electrician Ellicott the other day. “A man who owns an automobile is generally a pretty superstitious person. Every superstition they read about they apple to their devil-wagons, and the result is that they have more fool ideas than a mariner, and are harder to please than a woman at a bargain sale. But I will say that the women autoists are easier to get along with than are the men.”
Was Father of Twins.
“I want No. 2,” interrupted a man presenting his last year’s license for renewal.
“We had only one No. 2, and that went several days ago,” replied the official as patiently as possible. “Not there are twenty ‘2’s’ in every hundred numbers, perhaps one of them would do.”
“No, I must have either ‘2’ or a multiple of ‘2,’” continued the applicant.
“Give the gentleman, No. 512,” Mr. Ellicott called to his assistant.
“You see I’ve just been blessed with twins,” explained the man, beaming all over. “Everything that comes in pairs this year ought to be lucky to me.”
As the father of the twins stepped aside a young fellow stepped up and asked for a tag with a “7” on it.
“I had ‘913’ last year and that’s why I’m still a bachelor.”
“Is that unlucky?’ suggested the clerk seriously.
“Yes, the young lady I used to take out riding before I got the license refused to go after I put the number on my machine. Nine and one and three are thirteen. Another fellow with a cheap steam machine won her just because she thought he had a lucky number. His had “11” in it, and it was as good as a rabbit foot for him.”
“Eleven is gone, but here’s a ‘7-11,’ and that bought to help your luck,” sympathized the clerk.
“I want a number with ’11’ in it,” declared Frank X. Mudd, rushing into the office a few months later. “Had ‘444’ last year and never had an accident.”
“That’s not an ’11,’ argued the clerk.
“Well, it’s four times ‘111,’ and it’s as near as I could get. However, I almost ran into a banana cart once, so I guess it’s half-way lucky.”
“Give me a low number and a high number,” requested the man who appeared for John A. and Frank E. Drake.
“I want a single number for Mr. John Drake. He rides a speedy machine, while Mr. Frank, who goes slower, will take the higher number,” he explained.
“Rather late, ‘155’ is the vest I can do for the Derby winner,” said the clerk. “Anywat, you can’t ride any faster with a low number than a high one,” he added.
How They Are Issued.
This year the order went out that no attempt should be made to give automobilists the same number they had last year. There was one exception, and that was Arthur J. Eddy. Since the city started licensing automobiles, in 1899, he has had tag No. 1. He was then president of the Automobile club and was the first person to apply for a license and the first one to take the examinations. He receives license No. 1 every year.
There are nine other persons among whom the next nine numbers are divided. The numbers of one figure are in demand. Should it ever become compulsory to place them in five-inch figures on the machine a single figure will not be objectionable, a number of two figures will be passable, but one of three or four will be atrocious, say the automobilists.
The favored ten and their numbers, this year, are as follows:
- 1. Arthur J. Eddy
2. Alderman John E. Scully
3. Frederick H. Jenkins
4. Robert Shaw
5. Harry J. Powers
6. Alderman Honore Palmer
7. Hal K. Sears
8. E. M. Mulford
9. Miss Elizabeth Spry
10. William W. Weare of Berwyn
Fateful Number 87.
Only one man was refused a number of two figures when it was offered to him. The clerk handed him “87” and he jumped as if one had stuck a pin into him.
“I bet I fall downstairs today or get hit by a cable train,” he almost wailed. “That’s my Jonah number. What did you show it for? Last year I was coursing in Elgin, making a century run with my wife. I was going down a hill near the watch factory, when I heard the clang of a trolley-car going behind me. The motorman was grinning all over his face and the crowd on the car was howling with delight as it bore down on me. The man refused to put on the brakes and I had to go ahead full tilt and nearly run into the river to escape him. That car was No. 87, and every time I see an “87” it gives me a chill. I’d rather cover the back of my machine with figures than take it.”
But some person are not superstitious. They ask for the unlucky numbers.
“I’ll take ’13,’ for I’m not afraid of any of these fish stories,” said Vernon Booth, when he went for his tag, and the clerk was almost prostrated.
“No one will ride with you if you do,” remonstrated a friend.
“Well, then, ’31’ will do and I’ll read it upside down or backward and get the same effect,” he submitted, and “13” was still left onn the clerk’s hands.
Physician Got “13.”
It took a physician to break the spell. He started the run on the fateful number 13, and the clerk withdrew his application for the ribbon-counter job.
“Have you No. 13 left?” inquired Dr. A. J. Haight.
“Here! Put it in your pocket, quick!” shouted the clerk, fearful that the physician might change his mind.
“Oh, I’ll take it; I’m not afraid of it,” said the doctor.
“We don’t exchange licenses,” declared the clerk with a sigh of relief as the physician left.
Then followed a run on the “13s.” C. H. Plumb decided to test fate by taking “113.” President Charles W. Grey of the Automobile club took “213,” Walter H, Wilson took “313,” and Charles F. Reynolds pocketed “813.” Five went in one day, and then the remainder again became a drug on the market.
One man thought it would be a wise thing to get a license without a number on ot. When he stepped up to the clerk, he asked:
“Couldn’t you fix me up something with letters or a sign on it?”
“Well, we haven’t been doing anything of that kind so far,” the man at the desk answered. The city council might give you permission to do something of that kind.”
“I don’t like the numbers,” the man went on to say. “I had a number last year. I also had an accident. I had a wreck with a team of horses on a dray. It was a bad wreck. I tumbled out of the machine and one of the horses climbed in. The other animal was down underneath, kicking the works out of the engine. I think the dray was No. 1313.”
The man finally paid his fee and took a numbered license. He said, as he walked away, that he didn’t really see any reason in being afraid of the numbers. He added, however, that bhe felt a little uncomfortable about it.
So unpopular were the “13s” last year that the out-of-town holders of licenses were made the victims. King Upton of Salem, Mass., was given “113.” He confessed to shivering every time he rode on Chicago boulevards. Another of the “13s” was foisted upon a Dr. Gilman of Boston. At their Massachusetts homes they did not wear the Chicago “13” badges, and they felt safe.
Charles T. Yerkes was another out-of-town automobilist who paid $3 for the privilege of riding on Chicago’s streets. As he was accustomed to having horseless equipages of every number, he expressed no preference or superstitions. C. K. G. Billings of New York also drew a license up among the high numbers.
Afraid of Colors.
While most superstitions are based on numbers, there are some based on color.
“I want a badge that isn’t blue,” declared one man.
“They’re all blue this year,” explained the clerk.
“Well, blue’s an unlucky color. Can I have mine dyed?” queried the applicant.
“Yes, burn it if you want to. One dollar please. Any other preferences?”
“It mustn’t have any ‘6s’ or ‘9s’ in the number,” he continued. “Last year I had one with those number, and one day the steering apparatus got twisted. The machine reared on one wheel, and spun around like a top. Afterward it kept doing that every once in a while, and it scared my wife to death. I painted the number out, and after that it was all right.”
“I would like ‘1279,’” chirped a young woman, “That’s Teddy’s license number.” As the clerk looked up in surprise, she continued, “Teddy’s not my husband. He;’s my dog.”
“Give me a number with an ‘8’ in it,” requested J. E. Haschke. You see I’m a superstitious crank, and everything I have numbered seems to have an ‘8’ in it.
“My license last year was ’88,’ I was 28 years old, my office was 803 National Life building, my residence was 598 West Monroe street, our factory is No. 508, 98 Market street, and now I have run a scorcher 8,000 miles withiut an accident. Lucky number for me.”
“Won’t you give me a number with pretty figures?” was the request of one coy young miss. “My auto is such a pretty little runabout that I want a number with curves.”
The clerk was not esthete, but he hunted out a number without any “1s” or “4s,” and which which would have the beauty of curves.
“I just want to know how long a time we have to renew our licenses,” said one man, leaning confidentially over the desk. “You see, it is raining today, and I would get out a new one today only it would probably be unlucky in the rain.”
He was assured that he could wait for sunshine and departed happy.
“Take out ‘4-11-44’ for me,” said “Andy” Craig, the only First ward politician who dares flaunt an automobile in the face of his constituents.
“Our numbers don’t run that high, and besides policy doesn’t go in the city hall,” explained the clerk.
“Well, I had the machine colored green to match my friend’s, the Bayhouse’s, green full-dress suit, and I want some flossy numbers to jolly up my two French and Irish chiffoniers, who both play policy,” the politician explained.
“Take 999. That isn’t so bad,” suggested the clerk, whose sporting blood was aroused.
“Three ‘9s’ are about the lowest in the deck, but I guess they’ll do,” said Craig, as he handed over one of the dollars won on Mayor Harrison’s election. “You see, I have the green machine stand in front of my State street hotel instead of having a grass plat to make it look home-like to the farmers.”
Women are not hard to please. It is the me who are superstitious. Men see all kinds of dangers in certain figures.
“Do you want a license, madam?” asked the clerk of a North Side society woman.
“What style number do you prefer?”
“Any one will do, only give my husband the lowest one, for it will go on the machine,” she explained.
The clerk hunted out two badges, and as she disappeared through the door, sighed contentedly.
“They’re not all that easily satisfied. But it’s the men that are cranks,” he commented.
Are there any automobile cranks who do not have some superstition which is ever bothering them? he license clerk says there are a few, but they are thye women. The men are badly affected. From the automobile face to the automobile superstition marks the development of the automobiling craze. Other fads and sports have had their legends and hobbies, but the automobilist is the first to develop a superstition of his own.
For 1905 through 1907, Chicago used a brass plate. Originally painted, most survivors have lost all of it as the paint did not stick very well to the brass. Measures approx 6 3/4″ X 11 3/4.
Chicago Tribune, August 28, 2022
History for sale: Rare 1904 Chicago license plate to be auctioned Sunday
By Jake Sheridan
A piece of local history could be yours this weekend: A rare 1904 Chicago license plate is up for sale.
The aluminum plate, numbered “1,? will be in a live auction at Union’s Donley Auction Services on Sunday. It’s already fetched a top bid of $3,750 online.
The artifact is so old that it was issued three years before the state of Illinois took over license plate administration, said Mike Donley, the auction house’s consignment specialist. The artifact is stamped “City of Chicago” and “1904.”
The roads looked quite different then, back when Michigan Avenue wasn’t so full of cars (because it was full of horses).
“You had some brick-paved of the main thoroughfares, but beyond that, everything was just dirt roads,” Donley said. “99.99% of the vehicles were horse-drawn, so they were pulling through the mud and the dirt.”
When the license plate was in use, drivers had to carry their own supplies, he added. There were no gas stations, and drivers hauled multiple wheels because tires regularly blew out. There were barely suburbs around Chicago then, Donley said.
The city had started issuing badges to licensed drivers in 1900 in an effort to pay for better roads, according to Donley. Chicago tried leather license plates next, one of which is also up for auction this weekend. But the stamped aluminum plates that were first produced in 1904 are the rarest, Donley said.
“They’re only about five known to even exist,” he said. “And this one is number one. It doesn’t get any rarer than that.”
The city then opted for sturdier brass plates before the state took over licensing in 1907, he added.
Car enthusiasts might be even more excited about the plate when they hear who owned it. It had been assigned to Arthur J. Eddy, an attorney and art collector who was a fierce early advocate for cars.
Eddy took a 2,000-mile trip in his car, Donley said. The trip broke records at the time, and the book Eddy published about it was one of the first written about automobiles.
He was also a founding member of the Chicago Motor Club, which eventually became AAA, and helped organize the first Chicago Auto Show, Donley said.
Prospective buyers can preview the plates and bid online ahead of Sunday’s auction.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of fighting over it. My gut feeling is it’s probably going to somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000,” Donley said.1
For a piece of history that shows just how far we’ve driven, he thinks it’s worth it.
“We take for granted that we walk out the door, get in our car, get on an expressway, go over 60 miles an hour,” Donley said. “This is it. This is the beginning of it all.”
Chicago Tribune December 28, 1964
Back in 1901, when roads were either muddy or nonexistent and fewer than a thousand automobiles competed for parking space in the Loop, Chicago already had begun to license the vehicles, John C. Marcin, city clerk, disclosed yesterday.
The car owner didn’t stand in a six-block queue around City hall for the privilege of purchasing a windshield sticker.
As a license he received a little enamel button to wear on his duster. It bore the words “Chicago Automobile License” and a number.
Motorists had to make their own license plates—usually of wood tacked to the body of the car. The same numbers as on the buttons were painted on the plates.
Six Times as Expensive
City officials can find no record of what a city auto license cost in 1901, but two types of auto licenses were sold in 1902. Class A licenses were $5 and class B licenses were S2.50, depending on the weight of the vehicles.
Marcin’s office is selling new 1965 stickers, by mail or over the counter, at fees of $15 or $30, depending upon a vehicle s horsepower. The nominal deadline for purchase is Jan. 1.
Two of the early-day license buttons recently came to the attention of Marcin. One was brought in by a former Chicago resident who said he had purchased it from the city in 1901, and the other turned up in an assortment of political buttons purchased by a Chicago coin dealer.
Start Licensing in 1895
Marcin said the buttons, both issued in 1901, were the earliest ones discovered by his office. “We have another button but we don’t know the date,” he said.
Mlarcin said it Is believed the city started to license autos in 1895, but said there are no records available to verify this view.
The city abandoned the duster button in 1904 or 1905, and started issuing a 5 by 12-inch stamped brass plate wrapped over steel backing, Marcin said.
The state did not issue plates, he added, until about 1910, when the city began issuing tags to be nailed to wooden parts of the car, Marcin added.
System Is Changed
In 1920 the city started issuing tags to be bolted to state plates. This continued until 1931, when windshield decals were adopted. The decals have been issued since, except during years of World War 11 when there was no lacquer available for the decals. During the war the city bought engraved certificates from a bank note company to be pasted to windshields.”
In 1956, the decals were printed on material in which the numbers disintegrated when removed from the windshield.
Marcin said the former resident promised to send him the little duster button as a relic to add to the city’s early auto license tag collection.
Chicago Licensed Operator
Unknown year and size
1 The plate sold for $34,000 on August 28, 2022.
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