This page features my collection of license plates that celebrated the 200th anniversary of the United States in 1976.
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I actually started collecting U.S. Bicentennial plates rather unintentionally. I was already collecting Pennsylvania passenger car plates (my parents' home state), and had just begun to collect U.S. 1977 passenger car plates (my high school graduation year) and Illinois passenger car plates (my wife's home state). I soon realized that between these various sub-collections, I would end up having nearly all of the U.S. Bicentennial plates, with the only real exception being a 1976 Oklahoma Bicentennial, which was easy enough to find.
This display is arranged chronologically based on the date each of the plates were introduced. The approximate dates that each plate design was in use are indicated. Although some Bicentennial plates were standard issues, and others were extra-cost optional bases, these were all used for passenger cars.
Pennsylvania – March 1971 to March 1977
Pennsylvania was the first state to introduce a license plate in recognition of the U.S. Bicentennial, and only one of two states to use colors other than red, white, and blue. This base plate made its debut during a March 1971 statewide reissue. It was renewed each subsequent March with stickers through 1976, with the 1976 sticker expiring at the end of March 1977.
District of Columbia – March 1974 to September 1986
D.C. Bicentennial plates were introduced in a March 1974 general replacement. These plates were issued through about February 1978, and were valid with appropriate stickers through September 1986. Regular people were issued serials beginning at 100*001. Low serial numbers up to 1250 were VIP plates assigned by the Mayor's office.
Wyoming – January 1975 to March 1978
I just love the slogan on these Wyoming plates – The Spirit of '76 – In the American West! – although it is small and impossible to read at any distance. This was Wyoming's first multi-year base plate, issued in 1975, and renewed in 1976 and 1977 with stickers. Registrations expired in the following March after the year indicated on the plate or sticker. The "2" to the left of the bucking bronco graphic indicates this plate was issued in Laramie County.
Virginia – July 1975 to present
These optional reflective plates with screened graphics made an attractive alternative to Virginia's plain, painted standard-issue passenger car plates. Virginia stopped issuing new Bicentennial plates in the mid-1980s or so, but they have the distinction of being the only Bicentennial plates still in use today. The few that are still on the road are in pretty sad shape after 25 or more years of use.
Michigan – November 1975 to March 1979
Michigan issued these plates during a general reissue during the winter of 1975-1976, and renewed them with stickers for 1977 and 1978. Registrations expired in the following March after the year indicated on the plate or sticker. Michigan U.S. Bicentennial plates are widely regarded as being among the best-looking license plates of the 1970s.
South Carolina – November 1975 to December 1980
This was South Carolina's first graphic plate, and their first multi-year base plate since World War II. It was valid through November 1976 without stickers, and was used through 1980 with the appropriate expiraiton stickers. That red thing in the middle of the plate is supposed to be a palmetto, the state tree.
Illinois – December 1975 to February 1977
In the mid-1970s, Illinois still issued annual plates that expired each December 31, and so this plate was used just during 1976, give or take. New plates went on sale each December 1, and there was a 45 day grace period following the stated expiration date. This plate was a significant departure from the ordinary, all-embossed plates issued before and after.
Maryland – December 1975 to March 1980
Maryland issued plain red-on-white painted plates during a general reissue in March 1975, but then later in the year offered these graphic, reflective Bicentennial plates at a nominal additional cost. They were available until late 1976 or early 1977; stickers were used to renew these plates through March 1980. The small graphic in the upper left corner depicts cannons being fired from Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor.
Oklahoma – December 1975 to February 1977
Like Illinois, Oklahoma still issued new plates every year in the mid-1970s, and acknowledged the Bicentennial on their 1976 plates. However, they took a very minimalist approach, resulting in the most plain design of any of the Bicentennial plates. The serial prefix identified the county of issuance; the PF prefix is one of several assigned to Payne County. Oklahoma plates expired each December 31, but had a two-month grace period beyond the expiraiton date.
Georgia – January 1976 to sometime in 1989
The Georgia Bicentennial plate was an extra-cost option to their standard red-on-white plates, but it was not a popular choice among Georgia motorists. Love it or hate it, but it is without question an eye-catching design from an era when graphic plates were in their infancy. I haven't been able to get reliable information regarding precisely when this plate stopped being issued, but by one account it could be used through 1989.
Indiana – January 1976 to June 1977
Back in the day, Indiana also issued new plates annually, but registrations were partially staggered to expire each January through June. Usually, the expiration year was shown on the plate, but these graphic Bicentennial plates bore the year of issuance, 1976, and expired in 1977 in the month indicated on the sticker. This resulted in there being two years of plates dated 1976, and no plate dated 1977. The number to the left of the little letter identifies the county; "38" is for Jay County.
Missouri – January 1976 to December 1977
Similar to Indiana, Missouri issued new plates annually, and waited until 1976 to issue plates acknowledging the U.S. Bicentennial. However, since Missouri plates could expire in any month, only people whose plates expired during the first half of year actually had these spiffy 1977 expiration plates on their cars on July 4, the date of the actual anniversary. Everyone else still had the completely ordinary yellow-on-blue 1976 expiration plates, and received their Bicentennial plates after the event had passed.
Montana – January 1976 to December 1991
Montana issued this base just as they were converting to staggered registrations, so some of these plates issued in January 1976 initially expired as soon as June 1976. But they liked this design so much that they continued to not only renew it, but to also issue it for over 15 years, longer than any other U.S. Bicentennial plate. The "4" serial prefix identifies this plate as having been issued in Missoula County.
Nebraska – January 1976 to December 1984
When Nebraska created this rather busy design, they forgot to leave a space for the expiration sticker. They apparently didn't instruct people where to place them, either, because Nebraska motorists applied their stickers in just about every conceivable location on their plates. The "9" prefix indicates this plate was issued in Buffalo County.
South Dakota – January 1976 to March 1981
This plate design doesn't actually say "1776" or "Bicentennial", nor does it display a Bicentennial logo or any Revolutionary War graphics, but I'll give South Dakota the benefit of the doubt, due to these plates actually being issued in 1976 and the flag-like graphic design at the top. There's a screened "76" in the lower right corner; in 1977 and subsequent years thorugh 1980, the plates were renewed with year stickers placed in the same location. The ME serial prefix identifies this plate as being from Minnehaha County.
Alaska – early 1976 to 1982 or 1983
Alaska introduced this distinctive standing bear graphic plate for 1976; it's considered a Bicentennial plate because of the small "76" Bicentennial logo in the upper right corner. It was then renewed with stickers into the early 1980s. I haven't been able to get reliable information regarding precisely when this plate was introduced and replaced.
Alabama – October 1976 to November 1982
Alabama showed up for the Bicentennial party as the other guests were preparing to leave. This plate has the U.S. Bicentennial logo in the lower right corner, but it wasn't introduced until October 1976, three months after the actual anniversary date. These plates were valid without stickers until November 1977. Frequently, but not always, a blue-on-white sticker indicating the motorist's county of residence was placed over the blue bar along the bottom edge.
As far as I'm concerned, there aren't any!
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Thanks to those who have directly contributed to the information on this page: Jeff Ellis, Randy Babcock.
Babcock photographs are presumed to be copyrighted by Randy Babcock, and are used with permission.
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