Jamestown Licensed Cars in 1911 – Jamestown Sun

At one time in history, Jamestown had its own car registration and licenses.

There just weren’t many cars and trucks to allow at that time.

The Jamestown ordinance required local automobile owners to pay a license fee of $2.50. Adjusted for inflation, that would be around $85 today.

“As soon as machines come out of winter quarters, they are fitted with local tags by their owners,” writes The Jamestown Alert.

This generated a small income for the town, which hopefully was used for street maintenance and construction.

The problem was that there just weren’t many cars on the road. National statistics estimate that there were about five automobiles for every 1,000 people in 1910. This statistic would mean that there were between 15 and 20 cars and trucks on the streets of Jamestown in 1910.

Hardly a traffic jam.

The 1911 North Dakota Legislature passed a law requiring state registration and licensing of motor vehicles.

This law went into effect on July 1, 1811, and required all automobile and motorcycle owners to register their vehicles at the county courthouse and pay a $3 fee.

This left Jamestown motorists wondering if they would be required to pay a city and state registration.

Local officials responded with a resounding “maybe” in a Jamestown Alert article written in April 1911.
Jamestown Mayor Pierce Blewett said it would depend on whether the laws served the same purpose and whether state law would be enforced in the summer of 1911 or 1912.

Blewett also pointed out that the city’s ordinance will remain in effect at least until the state registration process is up and running.

The new state ordinance not only required vehicle registration, but mandated the display of license plates for the first time.

State law required these new plates to be 8.5 inches by 5 inches if the plate bore only one or two numbers and 12 inches by 6 inches for tags with more numbers.

In 1911, North Dakota registered 7,200 automobiles. They obviously had to use these larger license plates.
But I wonder what the old Jamestown license labels were like and if any still survive.

Author Keith Norman can be reached at


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