Just placed on the Florida Memory Archives site is a database of the scanned pages of the earliest auto tag registrations in Florida, covering 1905 to 1917. The beginnings of placing an auto license tag on the new ‘horseless carriage’ – an automobile, began in some parts of France in August 1894, then appeared in one section in Germany by 1896. In the United States it was up to each individual state and / or city if and when they would register and license vehicles. In New York and City of Cleveland, Ohio the practice started in 1901 and Massachusetts in 1903.
In Florida on May 11, 1905, a new law required all resident owners to pay a $2.00 fee to register their motor vehicles with the Secretary of State and to provide make, description, serial number and horsepower of the autos. The Secretary of State in return issued a paper certificate, the number of which was displayed prominently on the rear of the vehicle. Each owner then had to provide their own license plate with that number, a practice common to many other cities and states prior to 1910. License plates made of wood, leather and metal were produced, some being homemade while others were made by local sign shops. Although it was not required, some license plates displayed the “FLA” state designation. During that first year, 1905 into 1906, Florida had 296 registered vehicles.
The first one with the distinction of having the number 1 in Florida on his tag was for Robert E. Brand of Jensen (Jensen Beach) on August 1, 1905. Generally, the practice in those early years across the country was for the state governor to have the first auto tag with the ‘1’. However, Florida Gov. Napoleon B. Broward, who served between January 1905 and January 1909, was not a wealthy man and did not own a car. So it was the local resident, Robert Brand, a well-to-do manufacturer and land investor, who acquired the first tag.
His vehicle was a Locomobile Touring car, was purchased from the Locomobile Co. of America, which was based out of Bridgeport, Connecticut. It would have been designed to seat 5 passengers and cost about $2,800 in 1905.
He was born 1838 in England and came with his family in the 1840s to New Jersey. Married to Harriet Sidmon / Sidman in 1867, Robert first made money in the 1870s as an engineer, patenting new machinery for the manufacturing of hats. The couple began living in Jensen around the turn of the 20th century, but also kept a home in New Jersey. He was considered a prominent citizen of Jensen known in the local area for his investments in property by providing mortgage money in Ft. Pierce and Jensen. He helped with the mortgage for the building of the News Tribune building in Ft. Pierce.
If by chance you had any ancestors who lived in Florida, acquired an automobile, between 1905 and 1917, you can learn more about them, checking this Florida Memory Archives. Even if they were seasonal residents, living in Florida in the winter and back north in the summer, they could have had a car with a Florida tag registered.
Some of the information on these registrations include the date of registering their car, number for the tag, the type of car, model-make, how much horsepower it had, name of the owner of the car, what town they lived in and the factory number for that vehicle.
When using the search box, also if an ancestor had a business, some vehicles were registered under that business. Not just shops but also hotels or real estate companies had a vehicle. You might see a registration of a truck or a motorcycle, these too required the Florida tag. Search using various spellings for a surname. Do not limit to a specific county or make of vehicle, this is what you are researching.
You can enlarge the scanned page and save it to your computer.
Photos: An ad for a 1905 Locomobile as owned by Robert Brand and page of the first 20 registered autos.
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