Pennsylvania specialty plate

Rick Kretschmer's License Plate Archives 

Pennsylvania specialty plate

A Pictorial History of Pennsylvania License Plates

Special interest, organizational, and military service plates dated 1970s to present

 

This page covers the history of Pennsylvania specialty license plates, which include so-called "special fund" plates, plates issued to members of or donors to specific non-profit charitable organizations, and plates issued to military service members, veterans, and surviving family members.  Also discussed are older reserved-series plates in standard passenger car plate format. 

Latest noteworthy updates to this page
  • January 31, 2017  –  Added a candid photo of a sequentially-numbered In God We Trust extra-cost optional plate. 
  • September 25, 2016  –  Added photos of current-base Gettysburg special fund plate and Animal Friends organizational member plate, and a blue-base Veterans of Foreign Wars organizational member plate.  Also added a photo of a Pearl Harbor Survivor military veteran plate.  Replaced the candid photo of a Wild Resources special fund plate depicting an owl with a photo of a plate I've added to my collection. 
  • March 28, 2016  –  Added a photo of a current-base Civil Air Patrol organizational member plate. 
  • March 8, 2016  –  Added a photo of a version 5 disabled veteran plate without a wheelchair graphic. 

Introduction

Special interest and organizational member plates are common in most states today, and Pennsylvania is no exception, with several special interest plates and many hundreds of different organizational member plates available.  Modern organizational member plates were introduced in Pennsylvania in the early 1980s.  However, in the 1960s and earlier, it's been reported that Pennsylvania reserved blocks of regular-issue passenger plates for members of specific groups.  This practice was, as you can imagine, rather subtle and not well documented. 

My "Pictorial History" pages are intended to be a supplement to the information found in the ALPCA Archives.  I am providing additional details and additional photos not found in the archives, and clarifying information when appropriate.  When the ALPCA archives cover a subject in great detail, I do not repeat that detail here.  I sincerely hope that you find this information useful.  If you find an error or have additional information, or can provide a plate or a photo of a plate that I'm missing, please send me an e-mail.  There's a link to my e-mail address at the bottom of every page. 

Mouse over any image to see a description of the plate.  Click on any image to see an enlarged version. 

Pennsylvania special interest plates:  limited edition, special fund, and extra-cost optional plates

Pennysylvania calls most of its special interest plates "special fund" plates, because proceeds are used to fund various state initiatives.  Special fund plates have usually had completely different and more colorful designs than standard license plates.  However, this seems to be changing, as a few special fund plates have been redesigned to look like regular Pennsylvania plates with a graphic design on the left side of the plate, similar to organizational member plates. 

Of the few special interest plates that are apparently not special fund plates, the state refers to one of these as a limited edition plate.  I'll just refer to the others as "extra-cost optional" plates. 

Limited edition plates were, and special fund and extra-cost optional plates are, available to all motorists without requiring affiliation with any organization or having made a prior donation to any organazation.  Proceeds from special fund plates are disbursed to specific causes by PennDOT only after the plate is purchased by the registrant. 

Limited edition, standard design plate (blue background)

2015 U.S. constitution limited edition
U.S. Constitution 200th anniversary limited edition plate (plate in actual use).

The We The People plate commemmorates the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution in 1987.  Pennsylvania refers to this plate type as a "limited edition" plate rather than a special fund plate.  However, the distinction between the two categories is obscure.  This plate was available to all motorists for an extra fee, but it was issued only for a few months in late 1987.  It largely conforms with the design of the standard 1987-2002 passenger base plate.  This is one of the very few yellow-on-blue Pennsylvania plate types that were still valid after the 1999-2002 statewide replate. 

Special fund plates with distinct designs

1995 wild resources (owl) special fund 2012 Flagship Niagara special fund 1997 Pennsylvania zoo special fund 2009 D.A.R.E. special fund 2010 Heritage special fund 2001 wild resources (otter) special fund
Distinct design special fund plates: Wild Resources owl; Flagship Niagara (plate in actual use); tiger; D.A.R.E. (plate in actual use); train (plate in actual use); Wild Resources otter (O'Connor photo / plate).

The first special fund plate was introduced in 1993.  Over the next seven years, several additional special fund plates were introduced.  All of these had designs that were completely different from each other and from standard-design Pennsylvania plates.  Most of these distinct design special fund plates are no longer issued, but all remain valid for use.  I suspect the days are numbered for the two distinct design special fund plates that are still being issued. 

Special fund plates with vanity registration numbers were authorized by law beginning in July 2014.  However, to date, the state is only allowing vanity numbers on standard design special fund plates. 

Special fund plates with standard designs (tri-color solid bands)

2014 Honoring Veterans special fund 2016 Gettysburg special fund 2016 Hunting Heritage special fund
Honoring Our Veterans special fund plate (plate in actual use), Gettysburg special fund plate (plate collector not identified), Hunting Heritage special fund plate (Burr photo of plate in actual use)

The trend in Pennsylvnaia seems to be clearly moving towards having all plate types share a single, standard design, and the special fund plates are apparently no exception.  Several new special fund plates have been introduced in the standard design, and so far two special fund plates have been redesigned to use the standard design. 

Special fund plates with vanity registration numbers were authorized by law beginning in July 2014.  However, to date, the state is only allowing vanity numbers on standard design special fund plates. 

Extra-cost optional plates with standard design (tri-color solid bands)

2017 "In God We Trust" 2016 "In God We Trust" vanity
In God We Trust extra-cost optional plates with sequentially-numbered and vanity plate numbers, respectively (both plates in actual use)

So far, Pennsylvania has issued two special interest plates that are not limited edition, special fund, organizational, or military service plates.  I just call these "extra-cost optional" plates, for lack of a better term.  Extra-cost optional plates are available to any motorist for a $20 fee in addition to normal registration fees. 

Pennsylvania organizational member plates

Pennsylvania allows non-profit organizations to sponsor state-issued license plates promoting their organization and make them available to their members, employees, and/or donors. 

At least during the past few decades, National Guard plates and plates for members of the various military reserve forces are considered by the state to be organizational member plates, not miltary service plates.  Plates for members of veterans' organizations such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars are also organizational plates. 

Organizational member plates prior to 1983

(no picture available)

Distinct National Guard license plates are known to have been issued between 1930 and 1935.  These corresponded in appearance with various government official personal vehicle and government-owned vehicle plate types that were issued during the same period, so National Guard plates are probably more correctly considered to be a government plate type rather than an organizational plate type.  I assume that 1930s National Guard plates were issued to members of the Pennsylvania National Guard for use on their personal vehicles, but I don't know that for a fact.  In any case, National Guard plates from this era had the text Nat'l Guard across the bottom edge of the plate, and the state abbreviation Penna and the four-digit year running vertically down the sides of the plate.  Plate numbers were all-numeric. 

Otherwise, there are stories about seemingly-standard passenger car plates with specific letters being reserved for members of various civic organizations from the 1930s through 1960s.  One example cited is that passenger car plates with plate numbers beginning with the letters "ZZ" were issued to members of the Zem Zem Temple, which is a Shriners chapter located in Erie. 

Organizational member plates 1983-2000 (yellow background)

1986 firefighter org plate
1986 generic firefighter organizational member plate. 

Pennsylvania's first modern organizational member plate, and the only one issued on the 1977 blue-on-yellow base, is the generic firefighter plate.  By generic, I mean that the plate does not identify any specific firefighting organization, although membership in or employment by a firefighting organization was required to obtain the plate.  This plate has an embossed maltese cross symbol on the left side of the plate, with the letters "FF" inside the cross.  These letters are considered part of the plate number.  The variable part of the plate number is a sequentially-assigned, five-digit number.  The text Fire Fighter is embossed across the bottom of the plate. 

Apparently, enough of these yellow-background firefighter plates were made prior to the introduction of the blue-background plate that no firefighter plates were ever made with a blue background. In other words, the yellow-background plates were issued from their introduction all the way until 1999. 

Early in the life of the yellow-background firefighter plates, vanity plate numbers were allowed.  Vanity firefighter plates still have the maltese cross with the prefix letters "FF", but in place of the five-digit serial number, letters or letters and numbers of the motorists' choosing were allowed.  Vanity plate numbers were never allowed on any other organizational plate until July 2014; however, those motorists who obtained vanity numbers on the firefighter organizational plate when it was permitted were allowed to keep them, even as the tri-color, fade bands plate replaced the yellow-background plate during 1999-2000. 

Organizational member plates 1984-2002 (blue background)

1992 American Legion org plate 1990 Veterans of Foreign Wars org plate
Organizational member plates for the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (both Morgan plates)

A variety of organizational member plates were introduced on the blue-background base from the mid-1980s through 1999; these were replaced with tri-color fade band plates during the 1999-2002 general replacement.  All of the various blue-background org plates have an embossed, two-color logo or other graphic image associated with the organization on the left side of the plate, and the organization's name or other identifying text across the top of the plate.  Most types have a stacked, two-letter serial prefix that's somehow related to the organzation, followed by a five-digit sequentially-issued number.  In some cases, the stacked letters are a serial suffix, and/or the sequential number is only four digits long.  The National Guard plate has two embossed graphics: a silhouette of a soldier on the left side of the plate, and a silhouette of a military aircraft on the right side. 

Organizational member plates 1999-present (tri-color fade bands)

2002 firefighter org plate 2009 St. Vincent Alumni org plate
2002 generic firefighter organizational member plate (Saylor plate); 2009 St. Vincent College Alumni Association organizational member plate (plate in actual use)

The tri-color fade bands plate design was introduced in late 1999, and it replaced all of the previous yellow-background and blue-background plates (except for the "We the People" limited edition plate) during the 1999-2002 general replacement. 

Specifically regarding organizational member plates on this base, in general, the same embossed two-color logos were used as on the previous bases, but this time were colored blue on a white background.  The organization names also continued to be embossed but were relocated to the bottom of the plate.  Of course, there were some plates types made on this base for additional organizations that did not have plates on the previous bases. 

Prefix and suffix letters and numbering formats continued unchanged from the previous bases.  However, I'm not clear about how the plate numbers on this base did or didn't correspond to the plate numbers on the previous base.  In some cases, it seems that the lowest numbers on this base were higher than the highest numbers on the previous base, while in other instances, the numbers on this base seemed to start over at 00000.  In those instances, I'm guessing that organizational members retained the same number as before, but I don't know that for a fact. 

Firefighter vanity plates originally issued in the 1980s were reissued on the tri-color fade band base, but the size of both the embossed maltese cross and the embossed text Fire Fighter were inexplicably smaller than those on sequentially-numbered firefigher plates. 

For some organizations, these fade band plates continue to be issued today.  I'm assuming that this is because so many extra plates were made before the switch to the solid band design that they remain in inventory today, over nine years later. 

Organizational member plates 2005-present (tri-color solid bands)

2017 Animal Friends org plate 2013 Alex's Lemonade State Foundation org plate 2015 Appalachian Trail Conservancy org plate 2016 Civil Air Patrol org plate 2009 firefighter org plate 2011 NASCAR Victory Junction #99 org plate 2015 Ohio River Trail Council org plate 2010 Presque Isle Partnership org plate 2011 Penn State University org plate 2013 Virginia Tech org plate
Organizational member plates for Animal Friends, Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Civil Air Patrol, firefighter (generic), NASCAR Victory Junction (#99 Carl Edwards), Ohio River Trail Council, Presque Isle Partnership, Penn State Universtiy, and Virginia Tech (all plates in actual use)

Pennsylvania tweaked its standard plate design from having color bands that faded to white, to having solid color bands with a distinct boundary between the color bands and the white part of the plate.  In general, solid band plates first began to be issued in 2004 with 2005 expirations, but I'm not exactly sure when the first solid band organizational plates came out. 

Generally, solid band organizational plates differ from fade band organizational plates in that they have full-color logos and have the organzation's name screened across the bottom of the plate.  Apparently there's some rule that the organizations' full legal names must be used, rather than shortened or abbreviated names.  Also, unlike the previous embossed organzation names, the location of the screened names is limited to between the bolt holes at the bottom of the plate.  All of this means that some organization names are printed with very narrow fonts and are almost impossible to read at any distance. 

Notable exceptions to the color logos and screened organzational names are the generic firefighter and emergency medical services plates.  These continue to be made with embossed logos and embossed identifying text at the bottom of the plate.  The sequentially-numbered firefighter plates on the solid band base use the smaller maltese cross and smaller embossed text that had previously only been used on firefighter vanity plates. 

For several years, Pennsylvania offered a series NASCAR-themed plates with logos identifying specific drivers and race car numbers.  I believe these were all organizational plates for the Victory Junction Gang, which is a NASCAR-affiliated charitable group.  Unlike other organizational plates, these all have a color NASCAR logo at the bottom of the plate.  There were multiple versions of many of these plates; as NASCAR drivers changed teams and drove different numbered race cars, the logos on the plate changed.  NASCAR plates are now discontinued but those already issued remain in use. 

Organizational member plates with vanity registration numbers, which had not been permitted since the early days of the yellow-background firefighter plate, were authorized by law beginning in July 2014 for all organizational plates. 

Pennsylvania military service plates

Pennsylvania began issuing military service plates in the late 1970s.  Until 2004, only two military service plate types were made with colors found on regular Pennsylvania license plates. 

Military service plates with distinct designs

1996 combat wounded veteran 1979 disabled veteran without wheelchair 1998 disabled veteran without wheelchair 1988 disabled veteran with wheelchair 2014 Korean War Veteran undated Medal of Honor sample 1997 Pearl Harbor survivor
1996 combat wounded veteran (Morgan plate); 1979 non-wheelchair disabled veteran with a reflective background; 1998 non-wheelchair disabled veteran with a painted background; 1988 wheelchair disabled veteran with a painted background; 2014 Korean War veteran with its red paint worn off (plate in actual use); undated Medal of Honor sample plate (plate previously in my trade box); 1997 Pearl Harbor survivor (Morgan plate)

The first Pennsylvania military service plate types introduced were the non-wheelchair Disabled Veteran and Prisoner of War plates, which were both in use by 1983.  I don't know which was first, or exactly when either was introduced.  The Medal of Honor plate was apparently available by 1986, if not sooner, and all other types came out sometime after 1986. 

With the exception of the Medal of Honor plate, all military service plates had red and/or blue embossed text, embossed red or blue serial numbers and logos, if any, on a white background.  Some plates had a reflective background while others had a painted background. 

Military service plates were not included in the statewide replate of yellow and blue plates 1999-2002, so these red, white, and blue designs continue to be used and in some cases issued. 

Below is a listing of Pennsylvania military service plates with designs that differ from standard plates: 

Military service plates with vanity registration numbers were authorized by law beginning in July 2014.  However, to date, the state is only allowing vanity numbers on standard design military service plates. 

Military service plates with the standard design, 198?-20?? (blue background)

(no picture available)

I believe only two military service plate types were made on the 1980s-1990s yellow-on-blue base. 

Military service plates with the standard design, 1999-present (fade bands)

2010 U.S. armed forces retired
2010 U.S. armed forces retired. 

As far as I know, only one military service plate type was made on the 1999 tri-color, fade bands base. 

Military service plates with the standard design, 2004-present (solid bands)

2016 U.S. Air Force veteran 2014 Bronze Star 2013 combat wounded veteran 2008 veteran motorcycle
2016 U.S. Air Force veteran (plate in actual use); 2014 Bronze Star recipient (plate in actual use); 2013 combat wounded veteran (plate in actual use); 2008 generic veteran motorcycle plate (McDevitt photo of plate in actual use)

All new military service plate types introduced since 2004 have been made on the tri-color, solid band base plate.  All of these, with the exception of the military veteran motorcycle plate, have a color representation of the applicable medal or other logo on the left side of the plate.  In addition, at least two of the military service plate types introduced previously have now been redesigned on the tri-color, solid band base.  These redesigned types include Combat Wounded Veteran and Prisoner of War.  The Combat Wounded plate has a graphic Purple Heart medal on the left side, while the POW plate has a graphic medal in the center of the plate. 

Below is a listing of Pennsylvania military service plates made on the standard tri-color, solid band base plate.  Unless specified otherwise, all of these show a graphic image of the corresponding military medal or branch of service logo on the left side of the plate, and have a five-digit numeric plate number followed by a stacked two-letter suffix code that identifies the plate type.  The plate type is screened across the bottom of the plate. 

Note that National Guard plates and plates for members of the various military reserve forces are considered by the state to be organizational member plates, not miltary service plates.  Plates for members of veterans' organizations such as the American Legion are also organizational plates.  The Honoring Our Veterans is a special fund plate available to all motorists. 

Military service plates with vanity registration numbers were authorized by law beginning in July 2014.  However, to date, the state is only allowing vanity numbers on standard design military service plates. 

Related links

Page credits

Thanks to those who have directly contributed to the information on this page:  John McDevitt and Ed Burr. 

O'Connor photograph © copyright by Tim O'Connor.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission. 
McDevitt and Burr photographs are presumed to be copyrighted by John McDevitt and Ed Burr, respectively, and are used with permission.  Morgan and Saylor plates are from the collections of Mike Morgan and Jim Saylor, respectively. 


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