Though most passenger car plates are still green in Colorado, the ‘colorful’ label might actually describe your choice in license plates todayBy Rob Carrigan, firstname.lastname@example.org
When I went to work in Wyoming in the mid 1980s, I was labeled a ‘Greenie’ until I could get my plates changed. That’s what they called Colorado refugees then, (probably still do) and it wasn’t all that affectionate of a term. The basis for the expression resides in Colorado’s mostly green license plates of the period.
Laws of Wyoming, and sideways looks from the locals, pushed me into to trading my green plates in for yellowish-orange colored, bucking-horse-and-rider adorned, numbered-for-the-county you-live-in plates -- within a month or two of taking up residence.
The name of the bronc rider depicted on the “Cowboy State” plates was long forgotten. Depending on whom you talked to, in reality it was either ‘Stub’ Farlow or Guy Holt. But most Wyomingites could tell you the name of the bucking horse. The horse was either ‘Steamboat’ or ‘Deadman.’ And that, once again, depended on which particular story you bought. The ‘Steamboat’ version was dominant.
“The bucking horse and rider first appeared on Wyoming license plate in 1936,” according to information from University of Wyoming. “That design was developed by the then Secretary of State, Lester C. Hunt (who later became the Governor of Wyoming, and a U.S. Senator) in 1935. And today, you can still tell what county a plate was registered in Wyoming by knowing what the number on the left side of the plate (1 through 23, one for each of the state’s 23 counties) designates. A ‘7,’ for example, indicated the car was registered in Goshen County.
Though most passenger car plates are still green in Colorado, the ‘colorful’ label might actually describe your choice in license plates today. Recent Colorado plates might be red, or gold, or maybe even pink. Drivers in this state now can choose from some 150-plus plate preferences. “Respect Life” Columbine inspired plates, Pioneer plates (once requiring proven Colorado ancestry, but since 2007, available for anyone who wants them), Bronco plates, various branches of the service plates, Breast Cancer plates -- there seems to be a plate for just about everyone.
According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, the first official state license plates appeared in 1913 and were simple black numbers on a white background. For the first three years, those official plates were porcelainized. Green plates didn’t appear until 1950, the same year that ‘colorful’ appeared for the first time. That particular description was dropped in 1956, reappeared in 1958, dropped in 1959 and reappeared in 1973. The outline of the Rocky Mountains first appeared in 1960.
From 1932 until 1958, Colorado used a numbering system (similar to the one employed by Wyoming today) to designate the issuing county. In 1959 the state shifted over to a lettering system that operated along the same lines.
When I first started driving, I think every plate in Montezuma County used the XL designator to identify that county’s plates. Later XN appeared and later still, they shifted to a 3-digit code using UPY and USL. Nearby counties I remember as ZH for Dolores, VV for La Plata, and YX for San Miguel. The letter system was in place until the end of the millennium.
Also, I remember that first set of plates of mine had reflective glass granules in the white paint.
Since 1926, Colorado license plates have been made at Colorado’s oldest prison, the Colorado Territorial Correction Facility in Canon City. Inmates produce roughly 2 million plates a year for cars, trucks, motorcycles and trailers, according to a 2006 story by Andrea Brown in the Colorado Springs Gazette. At the time of that writing, inmates could produce as many as 25,000 plates per day. There were 159 separate versions produced at that time.
Of course in 1975 and 1976, Colorado, being the Centennial State issued special red, white and blue plates with a ’76 insignia on it. But the state returned to the basic white on green version in 1977 (still in use). That version is the one I have on my car right now. In 2000, a screened version displaying white mountains, with gray accents and dark green background, first began appearing and now is the dominant plate on Colorado highways today.
Personally, I prefer my old green-background plates. Once a ‘Greenie,’ always a ‘Greenie,’ I guess.