Prior to the introduction of state-wide license plates in 1906, license plates issued in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania were issued by county and/or municipality with no uniform composition or coordinated registration system. Many were often homemade and often made of leather with bolted metal numbers. Larger municipalities, such as Philadelphia County, issued porcelain plates to its registrants. Each county began their registration books at "1", so in theory, there could have been 67 of the same number. In 1906, under the leadership of Governor Samuel W. Pennypacker, Pennsylvania codified and unified vehicle registrations.
From 1906 to 1909, Pennsylvania license plates were not registered to a specific vehicle, but rather to an individual driver. In essence, they were an operator's license rather than a vehicle license. If an operator owned more than one vehicle, the license plate moved to the car he chose to drive at that moment. License plates were issued annually and numbers were distributed based on a first-come-first-served basis. The earlier one registered or renewed their license, the lower number he received from the Commonwealth. The numbers started at 1 and continued until all drivers were registered or until the year ended. The following year saw a completely new set of numbers starting at 1. Beginning in 1910, the Department of Highways, a forerunner of today's PennDOT codified the licensing process and issued individual drivers licenses along with license plates issued to specific vehicles.
Two years later, in 1912, the Department of Highways began the tradition of issuing the license plate with the serial "1" to the Office of the Governor. The state's official car, a Fiat, received the honor of wearing the lowest possible license plate number in the commonwealth. The number "2" plate went to the Office of Lt. Governor, which also used Fiats, while "3" was given to the head of the Department of Highways. For the first 13 years of fixed license plate registrations--1912 to 1925, there was no specific title of Governor listed on the plate. The number 1 license plates simply bore the serial "1" with no title on the tags. (For the years that metal keystone were affixed to each license plate--1912 to 1919--the keystone had the same number--9028--each year.)
The year 1926 marked the beginning of Pennsylvania's golden age of political license plates. While commonwealth-owned vehicles used plates marked "S" to designate their special purpose as early as 1924, the Department of Highways began in late 1925 and early 1926 to issue to commonwealth-owned cars license plates marked with the legend, "OFFICIAL" and the sequential serial. Also beginning in 1926, the governor's heretofore unmarked number 1 plate now wore the words "GOVERNOR" scrolled across the bottom along with the eye-catching "1" strategically centered on the plate. Within a few years, political plate series including Judicial, Legislative, and National Guard joined the Official and Governor series on the road. With the exception of the Governor series which only ever had the single serial, each series ran concurrently with the others and was sequentially numbered each year beginning at number 1.
Starting in 1930, the Department of Highways created what would become nicknamed "the loaf" for the governor's car. The plate bore a hand-painted and artist signed Pennsylvania State Coat-of-Arms, which continued to carry the legend of "GOVERNOR." The coat of arms and the serial plate were used concurrently by the governor's office until 1941.
Governors John Fisher and Gifford Pinchot during the late 1920s and early 1930s helped perpetuate the political license plate status by issuing single letters and low digits (under 1000) to friends, families, business leaders, and key supporters. However, the George H. Earle and Arthur James administrations clamped down on political patronage and all but eliminated low numbers and for elites and special series for political insiders. By the mid 1930s, the Judicial, Legislative, Official, and National Guard plates were gone. Only the "Governor" series remained on the roads.
Despite the elimination of low number patronage and the various political plate series, the Office of the Governor continued to use the coat-of-arm style plate through the 1940s and 1950s on both the front and rear of the vehicle. Records show that other cars in the governor's fleet were issued standard plates, albeit from the commonwealth's reserved series of numbers. In some cases, the coat-of-arms plate was used in conjunction with a standard license plate from the reserved series that was issued to the governor's office each year. In 1943 and 1944, the coat of arms was noticeably absent from the raised loaf area; the vehicle donned nearly blank license plates, save for the embossed year and the state's abbreviation. The coat-of-arms style ("the loaf") was used until 1965 when the Office of the Governor received the serial "1" again thanks to Frank Pinola.
Governors Scranton, Shafer, Shapp, and Thornburgh used the number 1 license plate until Governor Thornburgh retired it from general circulation in circa 1983 shortly before the introduction of the "You've Got a Friend in Pennsylvania" base. From Governor Casey forward, no governor has used the #1 plate on his vehicle. Department of General Services, who handles the governor's vehicle fleet, and the Pennsyvlania State Police prefer a standard issue plate to don the vehicle. PennDOT, however, still has #1 and #2 listed "in the system" in case they are ever requested in the future.
A special thanks goes to John of www.papl8s.com for his efforts in collecting images of all known PA Governor plates. Some of the photos listed here were borrowed from his website. Special thanks to Kyle Kuser for finding the historic newspaper articles.
With Pennsylvania's re-plate in 2003, the governor's vehicle, a black 2004 Cadillac DTS, received license plate number FMZ-0832 from the fleet department at Harrisburg's Brenner Cadillac.
When the four-year vehicle lease was up, the governor received a new Cadillac and a new plate from Brenner. The vehicle then wore GVS-5391.
Governor Casey used this front booster plate occasionally on the state vehicle.
GOVERNOR LEADS Pennsylvania’s Executive Given First Automobile Tag for 1912
HARRISBURG Pa., Dec. 30.—The automobile of the Governor of Pennsylvania will hereafter be car Number 1 on the Commonwealth’s automobile license list, the tag bearing this number for 1912 having been sent to the Executive Mansion to-day by the automobile license division of the State Highway Department, and licenses Nos. 2 and 3 were likewise given to cars owned by the State. Number 2 goes to the car of the State Highway Commissioner, and No. 3 on that of the Chief Engineer of the Highway Department. Patriot News
From 1995-2003, Pennsylvania license plate number ATA-6288 was used on the governor's Lincoln Town Car.
Governor Wolf used his personal vehicle, a dark blue, Golden Eagle edition, 2006 Jeep Wrangler with GVD-6783 plates for several months into his new administration. The Jeep was replaced in the spring of 2016 when the Pennsylvania State Police purchased a black, 2016 Ford Expedition XLT EL for the governor's detail. The Expedition is now the transportation of choice.
The last Governor plate known to be produced and used.
GOVERNOR RIDGE and GOVERNOR SCHWEIKER