Jamestown licensed automobiles in 1911

The Jamestown ordinance required local auto owners to pay a $2.50 licensing fee.

JSSP Keith Norman Column Sig
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At one point in history, Jamestown had its own automobile registration and licensing.

There just weren’t a lot of cars and trucks to license at that point.

The Jamestown ordinance required local auto owners to pay a $2.50 licensing fee. Adjusted for inflation, this would amount to about $85 today.

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“As fast as the machines are being taken out of winter quarters, they are being fitted out with local tags by their owners,” wrote The Jamestown Alert.

It generated a little income for the city, which hopefully they used for street maintenance and construction.


The problem was, there just weren’t that many cars in use. National statistics estimate about five automobiles existed for every 1,000 people in 1910. That statistic would mean there were somewhere between 15 and 20 cars and trucks puttering up and down 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.

That 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 fee of $3.

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

Local officials replied 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 if the state law would be enforced in the summer of 1911 or 1912.

Blewett also pointed out the city ordinance would stay in effect at least until the state registration process was operational.

The new state ordinance not only required the registration of vehicles but mandated license plates be displayed for the first time.


State law required those new plates to be 8.5 inches by 5 inches if the plate carried just one or two digits and 12 inches by 6 inches for tags with more numbers.

In 1911, North Dakota licensed 7,200 automobiles. They obviously had to use those larger license plates.
But I wonder what the previous Jamestown license tags looked like and whether any still survive.

Author Keith Norman can be reached at

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