California Highway Patrol

On August 14, 1929, the California Highway Patrol was created. The new law gave Statewide authority to the Highway Patrol to enforce traffic laws on county and State highways a responsibility which remains in effect today. The primary mission of the California Highway Patrol is "the management and regulation of traffic to achieve safe, lawful, and efficient use of the highway transportation system." As a major statewide law enforcement agency, the secondary mission of the Department is to assist in emergencies exceeding local capabilities.

The CHP also provides disaster and lifesaving assistance. During its first ten years, the Patrol successfully grew into a highly respected, effective traffic safety force of 730 uniformed personnel. After World War II, the legislature decided to consolidate and reorganize the Patrol's enforcement and administrative responsibilities. In October 1947, the Department of the California Highway Patrol was established and the position of commissioner was created to head the new Department.

The span of enforcement responsibility has expanded dramatically and the CHP has continued to grow and change. Today's responsibilities include truck and bus inspections, air operations (both airplanes and helicopters) and vehicle theft investigation and prevention. The 1995 merger with the California State Police also increased the areas of responsibility to include protection of state property and employees, the Governor and other dignitaries. In addition to its enforcement responsibilities, the Department has taken a leadership role in educating the public concerning driver safety issues.

The CHP has received state and national recognition for its innovative public awareness campaigns promoting use of safety belts, a Designated Driver when drinking, securing small children in safety seats and wearing motorcycle and bicycle helmets.

California State Flag

Historic Bear Flag raised at Sonoma on June 14, 1846,
by a group of American settlers in revolt against Mexican rule.
The flag was designed by William Todd on a piece of
new unbleached cotton. The star imitated the lone star of Texas.
A grizzly bear represented the many bears seen in the state.
The word, "California Republic" was placed beneath the star and bear.
It was adopted by the 1911 State Legislature as the State Flag.
[Source: California Blue Book.]

 

LICENSE PLATES OF THE CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL

Prior to the formation of the California Highway Patrol in 1929, state traffic law enforcement was handled by Inspectors of the California Motor Vehicle Department. From 1917 to 1921, these patrol officers were assigned the task of enforcing highway traffic conduct and equipment laws in the Golden State. A snag occurred with a 1923 court ruling which decreed that county traffic officers could not enforce state traffic laws. This necessitated state-appointed traffic officers for each county in California, but supervised by DMV Inspectors and Deputy Inspectors who were not restricted by county lines.

Although there is no clear photographic evidence or written record that clarifies what type of plates the California Motor Vehicle Department Inspectors ran on their cars and motorcycles at the time, it can be surmised that these DMV Inspectors ran California State Exempt license plates on their patrol vehicles including motorcycles since 1917, two years after the familiar "Diamond E" plates began being issued to state exempt vehicles.

California has perhaps had the longest and most consistent formatting of such state vehicle identifiers anywhere in the U.S. as the "Diamond E" plates were run for over 80 years on state vehicles including those of the California Highway Patrol.

These plates emulated the color and format of California regular passenger license plates of the given years, as can be seen in the accompanying photos. They have also been consistently run front-and-rear since the beginning.

The earliest versions were porcelain enameled steel plates measuring 4.5" x 13". The colors were blue characters over a white background. Four mounting holes were provided lined with brass grommets to prevent chipping of the porcelain when fastened to the vehicle. A year tab was affixed above the abbreviation CAL along the left margin of the plate, followed by the <E>and a number up to 4 digits. The years for the plates from 1916 to 1919 were validated by tab attachments with the corresponding registration number engraved upon the device made of the following designs/ material:
1916: Walking bear profile made of lead (# 365 and # 2768 confirmed for 1916)
1917: A yellow painted embossed lead poppy
1918: A green painted embossed lead mission bell
1919: A red painted metal embossed star

1915 porcelain enameled plate issued to Emergency Vehicles
of the day. Unsure if state law enforcement vehicles sported
these plates, but this specimen is just too good to ignore!
Plate courtesy of the Rob Tyler Collection
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1916-1919 State Exempt plate. Porcelain enamel.
Bear tab indicates this is a 1916 issue
Type possibly used by California Motor Vehicle Department Inspectors.
Plate courtesy of the Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)


Picture courtesy of Rob Tyler

1920 saw California go from the more expensive porcelain enamel plates to the more cost efficient embossed steel types with painted embossed borders thru 1928.


1920: White over Black (4 7/8" x 13 7/8")
20 over CAL (stacked vertically) followed by <E>
followed by number up to four digits.

Type possibly used by California Motor
Vehicle Department Inspectors.

Plate courtesy of the Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)

We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?


1921:
White over Black (4 7/8" x 13 7/8")
<E> followed by number up to four digits.
21
over CAL (stacked vertically)

Type possibly used by California Motor
Vehicle Department Inspectors.
Plate courtesy of the Rob Tyler Collection

We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1922: Blue over White (4 7/8" x 13 7/8")
CAL over 22 (stacked vertically) followed by <E>
followed by number up to four digits.

Type possibly used by California Motor
Vehicle Department Inspectors.

Plate courtesy of the Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)

We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?


1923: White over Black (4 7/8" x 13 7/8")
<E> followed by first 2 numbers followed by
CAL
(stacked vertically) over 23 followed
by last 2 numbers.

Type possibly used by California Motor
Vehicle Department Inspectors.

Plate courtesy of the Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)

We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1924: White over Green (4 7/8" x 13 7/8")
CAL over 24 (stacked vertically) followed by <E>
followed by number up to four digits
separated by a square hyphen.

Type possibly used by California Motor
Vehicle Department Inspectors.

Plate courtesy of the Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)

We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1925: Black over Yellow (4 7/8" x 13 7/8")
<E> followed by first 1-2 numbers followed
by CAL (stacked vertically) over 25
followed by last 2-3 numbers

Type possibly used by California Motor
Vehicle Department Inspectors.

Plate courtesy of the Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)

We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1926: White over Blue (4 7/8" x 13 7/8")
<E> followed by first 1-2 numbers followed
by CAL (stacked vertically) over 26
followed by last 2-3 numbers

Type possibly used by California Motor
Vehicle Department Inspectors.

Plate courtesy of the Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)

We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1926:
White over Blue (4 7/8" x 13 7/8")
<E> followed by TLR stacked vertically
followed by first 1-2 numbers followed
by CAL (stacked vertically) over 26
followed by last 2-3 numbers

Plate courtesy of the Rob Tyler Collection
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?


1927: White over Maroon (4 7/8" x 13 7/8")
<E> followed by registration number separated by
square hyphen over 19 CALIFORNIA 27 along the bottom

Type possibly used by California Motor
Vehicle Department Inspectors.

Plate courtesy of the Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)

We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1928: Deep Yellow over Dark Blue (4 7/8" x 13 7/8")
<E> followed by registration number separated by
square hyphen over 19 CALIFORNIA 28 along the bottom

Type possibly used by California Motor
Vehicle Department Inspectors.

Plate courtesy of the Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)

We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?
Not only was 1929 the inaugural year for the CHP, but also the inaugural year in California for 6 1/8" x 14" embossed steel license plates with debossed borders and eight mounting holes which lasted until 1940.

1929: Orange over Black (6 1/8" x 14")
<E> followed by registration number separated by
vertical rectangular hyphen over
CAL 29
along the bottom.

Plate courtesy of the Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?


1930: Black over Orange (6 1/8" x 14")
<E> followed by registration number separated by
vertical rectangular hyphen over
CAL 30
along the bottom.

Second year of California Highway Patrol. Issued to and used by CHP patrolman Larry Grissom of Eureka California.
Ptlm Grissom was one of the first officers hired by the
newly-formed California Highway Patrol.


Picture courtesy of the California Highway Patrol

1931: Orange over Black (6 1/8" x 14")
<E> followed by registration number over
CAL 31
along the bottom.

Issued to and used by CHP patrolman Larry Grissom of Eureka California. Ptlm Grissom was one of the first officers hired by the newly-formed California Highway Patrol.
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1932: Black over Orange (6 1/8" x 14")
<E> followed by registration number over
19 CALIFORNIA 32 along the bottom.

Issued to and used by CHP patrolman Larry Grissom of Eureka California. Ptlm Grissom was one of the first officers hired by the newly-formed California Highway Patrol.
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1933: Orange over Black (6 1/8" x 14")
<E> followed by registration number over
19 CALIFORNIA 33 along the bottom.

Plate courtesy of the Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1934: Black over Orange (6 1/8" x 14")
19 CALIFORNIA 34
over <E>
followed by registration number.

California Highway Patrol confirmed number.


1934 Trailer: Black over Orange (6 1/8" x 14")
19 CALIFORNIA 34
over <E>
followed by TLR stacked vertically
followed by registration number.


Plate courtesy of the Rob Tyler Collection
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1935:
Orange over Black and
Lemon Yellow over Black (6 1/8" x 14")
19 CALIFORNIA 35
over <E>
followed by registration number.


Plate courtesy of the Rob Tyler Collection
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1936: Black over Orange (6 1/8" x 14")
<E> followed by registration number over
19 CALIFORNIA 36 along the bottom.

Plate courtesy of the Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)

Picture courtesy of Rob Tyler

1937: Lemon Yellow over Black (6 1/8" x 14")
<E> followed by registration number over
19 CALIFORNIA 37 along the bottom.

California Highway Patrol confirmed number.
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1937 Trailer:
Lemon Yellow over Black (6 1/8" x 14")
<E> followed by TLR stacked vertically
followed by registration number over
19 CALIFORNIA 37 along the bottom.

Plate courtesy of the Rob Tyler Collection
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1938-1940:
Black over Lemon Yellow (6 1/8" x 14") CALIFORNIA over <E> followed by registration number (Many CHP vehicles had numbers in
the 6600-6900 number blocs)

Plate courtesy of the Rob Tyler Collection

Picture courtesy of the California Highway Patrol

1940-circa 1946: Black over Deep Yellow
(6 1/8" x 13 7/8") embossed steel versions and
embossed aluminum versions with rounded corners. CALIFORNIA over <E> followed by
registration number up to the ## ### format.

Plate courtesy of the Rob Tyler Collection

Picture courtesy of the California Highway Patrol

1947-1951: Black over Deep Yellow (6 1/8" x 13 7/8")
only embossed steel version known at this time with rounded corners. 19 CALIFORNIA 47 over
<E>
followed by
registration number
up to the ## ### format.

Plate courtesy of the Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1951- 1956: Yellow over Black (6 1/8" x 13 7/8")
embossed steel versions and embossed aluminum
versions with rounded corners (eight mounting holes).
<E>
followed by registration number up to
the ## ### format over CALIFORNIA

Plate courtesy of the
Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)

Picture courtesy of the California Highway Patrol
1956 saw the experimenting with crushed glass bead material to test the reflective properties of the background of the plate as a measure of added safety. CHP fleet vehicles were chosen for this experiment as these vehicles had the most continuous exposure to the elements than any other state vehicle. The test must not have been too successful as California did not opt for reflective license plates until 26 years later! Later versions had flat painted backgrounds and were made of aluminum with a registration number up to the ###### format.

1956-1963: Black over Deep Yellow
(6" x 12" from 1956 to present) embossed
galvanized steel with debossed border.
CALIFORNIA over <E> followed by
registration number
up to the ## ### format.
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1956-1963: Black over Deep Yellow
(6" x 12" from 1956 to present) embossed
galvanized steel with debossed border.
CALIFORNIA over <E> followed by
registration number
up to the ## ### format.
Later version with flat, non reflective background.

Plate courtesy of the
Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1963-1969: Chrome Yellow over Black. Embossed steel with debossed border. CALIFORNIA over <E> followed by registration number up to ##### format.
No decal boxes or "navels" in the top corners as the passenger and truck plates of those years did.
Plenty of battle scars on this one.
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1963-1969: Chrome Yellow over Black. Embossed steel with debossed border. CALIFORNIA over <E> followed by registration number up to ##### format.
Mint condition example.

Plate Courtesy of the Robert Ward Collection
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1963-1969: Chrome Yellow over Black. Embossed steel with debossed border. CALIFORNIA over <E> followed
by registration number up to ###### format.
Later version with 6 numbers in 800000 series.

Plate courtesy of the
Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)

Picture courtesy
of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)

1969-1982 issue- Early steel version using
older die block for state name.
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1969-1982: Chrome Yellow over Blue. CALIFORNIA over <E> followed by registration number in ###### format. Early versions were embossed steel in the #818100-#836780 series with the state name in "bunched-in" dies similar to the 1963 version. Later versions were embossed aluminum in the same format with the state name spaced apart between the upper bolt-holes. No decal boxes or "navels" in the top corners as the passenger and truck plates of those years did.

Picture courtesy of the California Highway Patrol

1982-1987: Blue embossed digits over Reflective White, with Red and Yellow silk-screen. Embossed aluminum. CALIFORNIA in silk-screened stylized red script on the backdrop of a yellow sunset over <E> followed by registration number in ###### format over
The Golden State
silk-screened in yellow. The plate
also has screened in red, MONTH and YEAR on the yellow
screened line below and on either side of the state name.
These plates were made until August of 1987, and despite
being more artistic, were not as popular and "identifiable
with California" to some motorists and residents as the
previous blue plates were.

1987-1994: Dark Blue embossed digits over Reflective White with embossed state name in red. Embossed aluminum with debossed border. CALIFORNIA over
<E>
followed by registration number in ###### format.
No decal boxes or "navels" in the top corners as the
passenger and truck plates of those years did.
This version was a "throw-back" to the simpler
blue version, but the colors missed the mark to most
people. This plate was known as the "Generic" issue.

1994-1997: Dark Blue embossed digits over Reflective White with silkscreened state name in "lipstick-scrawl" red.
Embossed aluminum with debossed border. CALIFORNIA
over
<E> followed by registration number in ######
format. Two silkscreened decal boxes or "navels" are
positioned on either side of the state name
(MO and YR), but never used validation decals.

Plate courtesy of the
Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1997-Current: Dark Blue embossed digits over Reflective White. Embossed aluminum with debossed border.
CA EXEMPT
silkscreened in red over a seven digit number.
When California exceeded the #999999 state exempt plate
number, the "Diamond E" that had been used for over 80
years had to be removed to make way for
a seven-digit number.

MOTORCYCLE LICENSE PLATES OF THE CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL
As with the "car sized" plates of the CHP, motorcycle plates of the CHP were based on the same color and formatting as regular motorcycle license plates issued by the state with the exception of the "Diamond E" prefix for a state exempt motor vehicle. Again, if we are to surmise that California DMV Inspectors, the "pre-CHP" officers used state exempt plates on their motorcycles, the following specimens would have been used:

Plate courtesy of the
Eric Tayler Collection
Plate courtesy of the
Rob Tyler Collection

The earliest versions were porcelain enamelled steel plates measuring 3" x 10" and in a curved or concave format to fit the front fender of the motorcycle. The colors were blue characters over a white background. Two mounting holes were provided with one at the top and one at the bottom of the plate. CAL was written horizontally across the top of the plate over <E> followed by a number and over two more numbers. A year tab was affixed to the lower portion of the plate. The years for the plates from 1916 to 1919 were validated by tab attachments with the corresponding registration number engraved upon the device made of the following designs/ material:

1916: Walking bear profile made of lead
1917: A yellow painted embossed tin poppy
1918: A green painted embossed tin mission bell
1919: A red painted metal embossed star

Motorcycle plates went from porcelain enameled to embossed steel with painted borders from 1920 until 1956. Embossed steel continued into the 1970's and replaced with aluminum. Vertical format motorcycle plates were used in California from 1920 until 1933. Three mounting holes at the top and three mounting holes at the bottom.
(Plate picture needed)
1920
: White over Black
(4" x 7 1/4") 20 CAL over
<E> over number up to ###
Picture of plate on motorcycle is needed

1921
: Black over Deep Yellow
(4" x 7 1/4") <E> over number
up to ### over CAL 21
Plate courtesy of the Rob Tyler Collection
Picture of plate on motorcycle is needed
(Plate picture needed)
1922
: Blue over White
(4" x 7 1/4") CAL 22
over <E> over number
up to ###
Picture of plate on motorcycle is needed
(Plate picture needed)
1923
: White over Black
(4" x 7 1/4") <E> over CAL 23
over number up to ###
(Plate picture needed)
1924
: White over Green
(4" x 7 1/4") CAL 24
over <E> over
number
up to ###
Picture of plate on motorcycle is needed
(Plate picture needed)
1925
: Black over Yellow
(4" x 7 1/4") <E> over CAL 25
over number up to ###
Picture of plate on motorcycle is needed
(Plate picture needed)
1926
: White over Slate Blue
(4" x 7 1/4") <E> over CAL 26
over number up to ###
Picture of plate on motorcycle is needed
(Plate picture needed)
1927
: White over Maroon
(4" x 7 1/4") <E> over CAL 27
over number up to ###
Picture of plate on motorcycle is needed
(Plate picture needed)
1928
: Deep Yellow over Dark Blue
(4" x 7 1/4") <E> over CAL 28
over number up to ###
Picture of plate on motorcycle is needed
(Plate picture needed)
1929
: Orange over Black (4" x 7 1/4")
<E> over CAL 29 over number up to ###
Picture of plate on motorcycle is needed
(Plate picture needed)
1930
: Black over Orange (4" x 7 1/4")
<E> over CAL 30 over number up to ###
Picture of plate on motorcycle is needed

1931
: Orange over Black (4" x 7 1/4")
<E> over CAL 31 over number up to ###
Plate courtesy of the Rob Tyler Collection
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1932
: Black over Orange (4" x 7 1/4")
<E> over CAL 32 over number up to ###
Plate courtesy of the Rob Tyler Collection
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1933
: Orange over Black (4" x 7 1/4")
<E> over CAL 33 over number up to ###
Plate courtesy of the Rob Tyler Collection
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?
From 1934 onward, motorcycle license plates went to a horizontal format
(Plate picture needed)
1934
: Black over Orange (4 1/8" x 7 1/4")
1934 CALIF over <E> and a number up to ###
Picture of plate on motorcycle is needed

1935
: Orange over Black (4 1/8" x 7 1/4")
1935 CALIF over <E> and a number up to ###
Plate courtesy of the Rob Tyler Collection
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1936
: Black over Orange (4 1/8" x 7 1/4")
<E> and a number up to ### over 1936 CALIF
Plate courtesy of the Rob Tyler Collection
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?
(Plate picture needed)
1937
: Orange over Black (4 1/8" x 7 1/4")
<E> and a number up to ### over 1937 CALIF
Picture of plate on motorcycle is needed

1938-1951
: Black over Lemon Yellow (4 1/8" x 71/4")
CALIFORNIA over <E> and a number up to ####

(Although some may state this plate is a 1940-1951
version, the colors and timing in conjunction with
multi-year car plates for the CHP seems to
tie-in to 1938- We welcome any correction
to this based on photographic evidence)
Plate courtesy of the Rob Tyler Collection

We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1951-1956
: Chrome Yellow over Black (4 1/8" x 7 1/4")
<E> and a number up to #### over CALIFORNIA
Plate courtesy of the Rob Tyler Collection

Picture courtesy of the California Highway Patrol

1956-1963: Black over Deep Yellow (4 1/8" x 7 1/4")
CALIF over
<E> and a number up to ####

Plate courtesy of the
Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)

Picture courtesy of the California Highway Patrol

1963-1969
: Chrome Yellow over Black (5" x 8")
CAL
(top center) over <E>
followed by number up to ####
Plate courtesy of the Rob Tyler Collection
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?

1969-Circa 1982: Chrome Yellow over Blue (5" x 8")
CAL (top center) over <E>
followed by number up to ##A##
We are looking for a picture showing
this type plate on duty....
Can you help us?
(Plate picture needed)
Circa 1982-Circa 1987
: Blue Digits over Reflective White (4" x 7") CAL (top center IN RED) over
<E>
followed by ##A##
Picture of plate on motorcycle is needed

Late 80's-Current: Blue over Reflective White
(4"X 7") CAL (top center) over
<E> followed by ##A##

Plate courtesy of the
Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)

1987-1997 issue- Very low number
Plate courtesy of the Collection of
Patrolman John Yeaw (CHP Ret.)

 


National Troopers Coalition Plate

Picture courtesy of Bill Ceravola