The 1950s and early ‘60s were eventful in the history of Louisiana license plates.
Pharmacist Charlton Bajon, who has been collecting them since he was 12 and is considered to be an expert on the subject, says the changes began with the return to front and rear license plates for each vehicle in 1950 and 1951.
The state hasn’t used two plates since and in 1954, Louisiana’s Legislature decided to add a slogan to its licenses, “Louisiana Yams” and the next year, the United States government decided license plates should be standardized, Bajon said.
Prior to that requirement, the size of license plates was left to the individual states, he continued, but that discrepancy made it difficult for some auto owners to mount their plates.
Another significant change in plates was the additional of what Bajon called “reflector beads” from 1955 to 1967. “It was crushed glass that was mixed into the trim and characters that reflected light at night,” Bajon said.
For most years prior to 1962, the state bird, the brown pelican, appeared on license plates, but that year, “we went over a million cars and that’s the reason the pelican disappeared,” he said.
Before that, license plates were distinguished by two sets of three numbers with a space between them – for years, the location of the pelican – so at the one-million-mark, the state outran its space for the bird. At 999,999, the pelican had to be removed to make room for a seventh digit, Bajon said.
“In 1963, the same thing happened,” he continued. “That year, the pelican was removed because of the need for one million tags.”
“They began separating the two sets of numbers with a letter in 1964 – one for each troop of the Louisiana State Police,” the pharmacist said.
In that system, Baton Rouge is in Troop A, so plates issued in that area were designated with an “A” and New Orleans is in Troop B, so license plates in its area had a B on them, and so on through Troop L, Bajon said.
Even that system had its faults – the number of vehicles was rising to a point where in some troops, B, for example, ran over one million, so the state began issuing plates in that region to an “N.”
In 1968, the reflective glass beads disappeared.
In 1993, Louisiana went to a system of three letters and three numbers with an empty space between them, Bajon said, which provides for a combination of about 17.6 million different license plates.
In 2003, the state used a graphic to celebrate the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase and the persistent collector realized that move allowed for the pelican to return.
By chance, Bajon met then-state Rep. Roy Quazaire at an Entergy Team City meeting in White Castle in 2002 and shared with him his idea of bringing the pelican back to the state’s license plates.
Quazaire at the time was the chairman of the Transportation Committee for the state’s House of Representatives and told Bajon to remind him of the concept in 2004, when the state would be considering a new plate design.
“I waited patiently and contacted the deputy attorney for the state’s Transportation Department call me for the information on the pelican,” he said in an article he wrote for “Plates,” a magazine for license plate collectors.
The two drafted a resolution to request the House of Representatives to bring the pelican back to Louisiana’s license plates.
“I got a nice birthday present when on Apr. 26, 2004, my House Concurrent Resolution was read by title” to the legislative body, Bajon said.
About a month later, the resolution passed through committee unanimously, 11-0, and on June 7, 2004, the House of Representatives passed the bill, again unanimously, 97-0, then on June 11, 2004, the bill passed through the senate by a unanimous 36-0 vote.
“The secretary of state received the bill and it became law on June 16, 2004,” Bajon wrote for the magazine. “The pelican would fly again.”
“Therefore, let it be resolved that the Legislature of Louisiana does hereby authorize and direct the Department of Public Safety and Corrections…to begin imprinting and issuing private passenger motor vehicle plates that have an image of a pelican in the center of the plate,” the resolution reads.
(Editor’s note: This concludes the four-part series on Charlton Bajon’s Louisiana license plate collection – how it was acquired, the history of the state’s plates and – most important to the White Castle pharmacist – how the pelican returned to adorn them.)