Maryland-a state blessed with mountains, ocean, and the Chesapeake Bay, with the best seafood in the world and the handsomest of all state flags-for years had the dullest license plates in America. Pennsylvania proudly proclaimed itself the Keystone State. New York, the Empire State. Illinois, the Land of Lincoln. A potato graced the license plates of Idaho. But Maryland ? Year after year, instead of a slogan or a symbol, Maryland's tags boldy announced their expiration date-"Expires March 31"-as if that were the state motto. Not that March 31 was not a red-letter day in Maryland. For in an era when car owners had to buy their license plates in person, the long lines that procrastinators formed in front of state offices every March 31 became as much a Maryland tradition as crabcakes or the Preakness Stakes.
The most infamous of all of Maryland's license plates was the controversial plate of 1961. Its color was located somewhere on the spectrum between aquamarine and turquoise, and it inspired howls of protest from car owners across the state. One wag announced in the newspaper that the Governor had relented and the state would replace it with a new license plate of a more pleasing color-on the next March 31.
The motto "Expires March 31" finally disappeared from Maryland plates in 1970. The state also quit issuing new plates every year in the 1970s. In the early 80s, in celebration of the approaching 350th anniversary Maryland's founding (1634), an armorial shield bearing the heraldic colors of the Lords Baltimore was added to the tag, transforming the traditionally dull Maryland plate into a work of art.
The plates on this page graced my father's automobiles from the time he moved to Maryland in 1951 until he passed away in 1991. Every year he added one more to the array that hung on the wall in his basement workroom, behind his tools and cans of paint. The infamous aquamarine plate came off our dark blue 1953 Chevrolet.
March 31, 2000
Link to Official page of the state of Maryland
Link to Maryland Historical Society
This Page created and maintained by
Plates scanned by Robert Virta