In 1933 and 1934, the state of Montana led the U.S. in traffic fatalities with a 74% increase over those two years. The call for a measure of effective traffic law enforcement from Big Sky Country's citizenry and law makers was clear and urgent.
The birth of the Montana Highway Patrol commenced the following year, 1935. The force saw its first 24 recruits extracted from a pool of 1500 candidates, and Ford Coupes and Harley Davidsons were the patrol vehicles of choice.
The MHP officers were only permitted to enforce 11 traffic laws at the time. Education of road safety was the emphasis. In the first year of the MHP's mandate, there was a 25% decrease in traffic fatalities.
In 1948, the Driver License Bureau was created within the Montana Highway Patrol to administer the written and driving tests necessary to get a driver's license. In 1961,Montana Highway Patrol officers assumed the enforcement of gross vehicle weight laws on the motor carrier industry.
In 1972,The Montana Highway Patrol was reorganized as a bureau within the Montana Department of Justice, resulting in the elimination of the Highway Patrol Board. The MHP saw another reorganization in 1979 with the Driver License Bureau moved from the Highway Patrol to the Motor Vehicle Division. Civilian employees assumed the testing duties previously performed by Highway Patrol officers.
A true honor was bestowed upon the MHP in 1988 when the agency became the first state highway patrol in the nation to become nationally accredited. The accreditation process took three years to complete and was considered a critical element in enhancing the professionalism of the Montana Highway Patrol.
Today, the 200+ officers of the MHP patrol 33,000 miles of roadways via eight patrol districts within the state and answer on over 70,000 calls for assistance every year.
License Plates of the Montana Highway Patrol
The Montana Highway Patrol is one of only a handful of state law enforcement agencies who were issued distinctive "agency specific" license plates since their inception.
The agency used the same annual standard passenger car type license plate in the same color and format, however the prefix P-X (Patrol Exempt) was placed ahead of the assignment number from 1935 until the dash was dropped for the 1938 issue.
Montana Highway Patrol has used the assigned Patrolman's badge number on the plate, but it is not 100% confirmed if that practice went as far back as the 1930's.
The colors and formats are as listed below:
1935: Embossed steel. Approx. 5 3/4" x 13 1/2". White over black. State outline perimeter. P-X ### over MONTANA- 35
1936: Embossed steel. Approx. 5 3/4" x 13 1/2". Black over orange. State outline perimeter. P-X ### over 36- MONTANA
1937: Embossed steel. Approx. 5 3/4" x 13 1/2". Black over green. State outline perimeter. P-X ### over MONTANA- 37
1938 Embossed steel. Approx. 5 3/4" x 13 1/2". Black over orange. State outline perimeter. PX- ### over MONTANA- 38 with PRISON MADE in 3/8" letters embossed at bottom center.
1939: Embossed steel. Approx. 5 3/4" x 13 1/2". Orange over black. State outline perimeter. PX- ### over MONTANA- 39 with PRISON MADE in 3/8" letters embossed at bottom center.
1940: Embossed steel. Approx. 5 3/4" x 13 1/2". White over medium blue. State outline perimeter. PX- ### over MONTANA- 40 with PRISON MADE in 3/8" letters embossed at bottom center.
1941: Embossed steel. Approx. 5 3/4" x 13 1/2". Medium blue over white. State outline perimeter. PX- ### over MONTANA- 41 with PRISON MADE in 3/8" letters embossed at bottom center.
1942: Embossed steel. Approx. 5 3/4" x 13 1/2". White over black. State outline perimeter. PX- ### over MONTANA- 42 with PRISON MADE in 3/8" letters embossed at bottom center.
In 1943, the state of Montana, much like all other states in the US at the time was in a campaign to conserve metals for the war effort. As a result, full-size license plates were foregone for a 5 3/4 inch by 2 1/4 inch validation tab made to fit over the left side 2 1/4 inch section of the 1942 plate (as seen in photo above). The tab had the western outline of the state to "marry-up" with the remainder of the state outline on the 1942 issue beneath it. There was a 3/16 inch serial number stamped into the bottom of the tab that was to reflect the validation of the 1942 registration number. These tabs were manufactured from scrapped Montana license plates and often revealed the bygone markings under the paint.
In 1944, the state was still contributing to the war campaign overseas and still conserving metal. The state reached out to the state of Illinois who was already in the process of making their state's license plates out of screened fibreboard. It is unknown if the Montana Highway Patrol utilized these fibreboard license plates or just continued running the '43 tabbed 1942 plates into 1944.
Had they used the 1944 issue, the type measured 5 1/4 inches by 11 1/2 inches. The color scheme was cream over green. The numbering would have been the same as previous issues: PX-### over MONTANA 1944.
With the end of World War 2 in 1945, the state of Montana returned to the previous style/size steel license plates.
1945:Embossed steel. Approx. 5 3/4" x 13 1/2". White over black. State outline perimeter. PX- ### over MONTANA- 45 with PRISON MADE in 3/8" letters embossed at bottom center.
1946: Embossed steel. Approx. 5 3/4" x 13 1/2". Black over white. State outline perimeter. PX- ### over MONTANA- 46 with PRISON MADE in 3/8" letters embossed at bottom center.
1947 saw the issuance of a windshield decal to validate the 1946 license plate. The decal measured 3 inches by 5 3/4 inches and colored in black and orange over white as seen in photo below. The validation number box would have comprised of the PX-### registration number if the Montana Highway Patrol used these windshield decals. There is no confirmation of such, only speculation thusfar.
1948: Embossed steel. Approx. 5 3/4" x 13 1/2". White over black. State outline perimeter. PX- ### over MONTANA- 48 with PRISON MADE in 3/8" letters embossed at bottom center.
1949: Embossed steel. Approx. 5 3/4" x 13 1/2". Black over white. State outline perimeter. PX- ### over MONTANA- 49 with PRISON MADE in 3/8" letters embossed at bottom center.
In late 1949 and into 1950, the state of Montana introduced a new license plate design. The new plates were still made of embossed steel and measuring 6 inches by 13 1/2 inches. The same format including the state outline was used, however a smaller die was used for the registration number to not only permit more numbers for the increasing motor vehicle population, but also to accommodate the state slogan THE TREASURE STATE along the top of the plate.
1950: Embossed steel. Approx. 6" x 13 1/2". White over black. State outline perimeter. THE TREASURE STATE over PX- ### over MONTANA- 50 with PRISON MADE in 3/8" letters embossed at bottom center.
- 1951 issue. Embossed steel. Approx. 6" x 13 1/2".
Yellow-orange over blue. State outline perimeter. THE TREASURE STATE over PX- ### over MONTANA- 50 with PRISON MADE in 3/8" letters embossed at bottom center.
- 1953-1954 issue. Embossed steel. Approx. 6" x 13 1/2".
White over black. State outline perimeter.
STATE OWNED over PX- ### over MONTANA and two vertical slots to accommodate 1954 validation tab.
PRISON MADE in 3/8" letters embossed at bottom center.
This plate was used by Ptlm. C. M. Hendrickson of Great Falls.
In 1955, Montana Highway Patrol vehicles were issued with new STATE OWNED license plates. The traditional PX prefix was dropped and a number in the 100 series was issued solely for the MHP. The plates still measured 6 inches by 13 1/2 inches, made of embossed steel and utilized the state outline as its perimeter. STATE OWNED was centered at the top and a number in the 100's occupied the center field of the plate with MONTANA in the bottom center. It is unknown if there was a provison for validation tabs as there are no known specimens aside from the one pictured in the photo above. The plates would have been revalidated for 1956.
In 1957, the state of Montana "replated" once again. The new plates were still made of embossed steel but now complied with the new continental standard sizing of license plates at 6 inches by 12 inches. The state outline was dropped in favor of a standard perimeter border. There was no state slogan, only PRISON MADE in 3/8" letters embossed sideways along the inside of the left border of the plate. MONTANA - 57 occupied the lower portion of the plate with slots on either side of the year to accommodate the 1958 validation tab. It is unknown if the MHP used these new plates but it is believed that if they did, they also had the title STATE OWNED along the top with the number in the 100 series. There are no known specimens or photographs of this type that would have been used between 1957 and 1958. We would really appreciate any photos or confirmation as to what was used during this "missing link" period.
- 1959-1966 issue. Embossed aluminum.
Orange over aluminum.
PRISON MADE in 3/8" in bottom center.
Number 118 issued to Sgt. Al Buck who later was promoted to Captain and known for his traffic safety initiatives. You can see this exact plate attached to the back of this former US Marine's 1959 MHP Chevrolet in the photo to the right.
- Sgt Al Buck and MHP license plate number 118. 1959
- 1961-1966 issue. Embossed aluminum.
Same as 1959 issue above but dropped the PRISON MADE lettering along the bottom.
Number 201 was issued to Ptlm. Chuck Whitson
- 1961-1966 issue. SAMPLE
(Courtesy Robert Ward)
In 1967, the Montana Highway Patrol were issued STATE OWNED license plates but now with their own prefix of MHP which preceded the assignment number. This format was used until the end of 1975, however the MHP-### registration number has carried-on uninterrupted until today.
- 1967 issue. Embossed aluminum.
Reflective yellow-orange over blue.
MHP prefix used for first time.
Number 113 was issued to Sgt. Al Rierson of Kalispell who was a prolific cigar smoker during his years with the MHP.
- MHP-228 (1967)
- 1968-1969 issue. Embossed aluminum.
Green over reflective white.
Number 244 was issued to Ptlm. Dick Boettscher
- 1970-1972 issue. Embossed aluminum.
Blue over reflective white.
Number 116 was issued to Sgt. Dale Stinson
- MHP-151 (1971)
- 1973-1974 issue. Debossed aluminum.
Reflective white over reflective green.
Buffalo head motif in bottom left corner.
- 1975-1976 issue. Debossed aluminum.
Reflective white over reflective blue.
Buffalo head motif in bottom left corner.
In 1976, US Bicentennial celebrations were in full-swing and many states issued commemorative license plates with a bicentennial theme. Montana was no different, and they issued a graphic multi-year license plate that served on Montana motor vehicles for over a decade.
The plates had embossed numerals and a step border on an aluminum base. The embossed characters were painted blue over a reflective white field with all other features silkscreened. The state outline in red served as the perimeter of the plate. The 76 Bicentennial logo preceded the state name MONTANA in white over a wide red band which spanned the top portion of the plate just below the upper mounting holes. The bottom left corner featured a buffalo head motif in blue. The slogan BIG SKY in blue occupied the bottom center and '76 in blue occupied the bottom right corner.
From 1977 until approximately 1980, the MHP license plates were validated annually with decals for those years. Shortly thereafter, a reflective white decal was used instead as someone finally determined that tax exempt vehicles did not need to bear any validation decals.
The latest versions of these plates issued around 1986-1987 had no dot to separate the letters from the numbers. It was also the time where higher ranked officers began being issued double digit badge numbers which were reflected on the license plates issued to them. For example, Captains were issued with numbers 11 through approximately 24. Sergeants were issued 25 through approximately 150 and patrolmen had all the numbers after that.
These plates were taken out of service by the MHP in late 1987.
- 1976-1987 issue. Embossed aluminum.
Plain white decal to cover '76 in bottom right corner.
Number 139 issued to Sgt Don Seyfert of Custer MT.
this plate can be seen on his MHP Plymouth seen to the right.
- 1976-1987 issue. Embossed aluminum.
Bicentennial version. SAMPLE
(Courtesy Robert Ward)
In January of 1988, the state of Montana was preparing for their State Centennial. As part of this milestone, the state issued centennial license plates for all motor vehicles including the Highway Patrol.
The plates had embossed numerals and a step border on an aluminum base. A reflective white silhouette of the state is imposed over a reflective gold background. A mountain range motif is silkscreened in dark brown and occupies the space over the numerals. 100 YEARS is silkscreened in dark brown in the lower left corner and MONTANA is silkscreened in brown also but from the lower center to lower right portion of the plate. The letter O for MONTANA is the Centennial logo which reads MONTANA Centennial 1889-1989.
These plates were used by the MHP until they were replaced in 1991.
- 1988-1991 issue. Embossed aluminum.
State Centennial Version.
- MHP-260 (1989)
With the state centennial celebrations long behind them, the state decided in 1991 to issue a whole new license plate design for the motor vehicles of Big Sky Country.
The new plates which were also used by the MHP once again featured embossed numerals and a step border on an aluminum base. The numerals were painted in dark blue. The background of the plate is a reflective medium blue at the top which gradually fades to lighter blue and to white as it approaches the bottom portion of the plate. MONTANA is silkscreened in white at the top left corner of the plate. Immediately below and running straight across the span of the plate is a jagged set of lines representing Montana's mountains and then flattens-out to represent its prairies. The lines are colored yellow, orange and magenta. BIG SKY is inscribed in dark blue cursive font to the left of the lower right mounting hole and a dark blue bison head is situated just to the right of lower right mounting hole. The traditional outline of the state takes up its place as the perimiter in very light blue. There is also a partial border in white that proceeds from the tip of the A in the state name across to the inside edge of the upper right border and proceeds down to the top of the prairie line design.
Later versions of this type of plate used by the MHP had the words STATE OWNED silkscreened in white just below the upper right mounting hole.
- 1991-2000 issue. Embossed aluminum.
Jagged Line version.
Early type without STATE OWNED in top right corner.
(Courtesy Robert Ward)
- 1991-2000 issue. Embossed aluminum.
Jagged Line version.
Later type with STATE OWNED in top right corner.
With the advent of the new Millenium, the state of Montana released new license plates for all motor vehicles for the year 2000, and these plates were also displayed by the Montana Highway Patrol.
The new plates once again featured embossed numerals and a step border on an aluminum base. The embossed numerals were this time painted in black. The background of the plate was a mixture of reflective medium blue, light blue and white depicting the Big Sky. The state name was silkscreened in medium blue and centered just below the upper mounting holes. Above that was 2 0 0 0 spaced widely and in a small font in white. A motif of a purple mountain range and straw-colored prairie occupied the lower center of the plate. The blue cattle skull and BIG SKY flanking its image occupied the lower corner.
- 2000-2004 issue. Embossed aluminum.
The early 2000's provided more uncertainty than clarity as to the license plate usage by the Montana Highway Patrol. The state of Montana at this time began issuing so many special graphic license plates, that there was a lot of overlap and variety on what was gracing the bumpers and back decks of motor vehicles in the Big Sky State during this time.
The writer has had to rely on determining vehicle model years to determine the time usage for some of the MHP license plates used since the early 2000's.
One such type was released in 2001 and used well-into 2006 and was issued to commemorate the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition. This was the first MHP license plate that was entirely silkscreened. Only the step-border of this aluminum plate was embossed. The MHP prefix and numerals were silkscreened in black. To the right of the numerals, blue graphic silhouette figures of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea take their place. A large outline of the state bordered in yellow covers the background. MONTANA silkscreened in burgundy occupies the top of the state image. LEWIS & CLARK BICENTENNIAL is silkscreened in burgundy at the bottom over a horizontal band and the Bicentennial logo in the same color in the bottom left corner.
- 2001-2006 issue. Flat screened aluminum.
Lewis & Clark Bicentennial version.
(Courtesy Bob Bruce)
- 2001-2006 SAMPLE issue. Flat screened aluminum.
(Courtesy Raymond Bak)
In 2006 another graphic license plate was issued in Montana. This was another "all-screened" aluminum plate with an embossed step border. This one also had the MHP and assignment number silkscreened in black. The background starts at the top in reflective blue and fades to white towards the bottom. The bottom of the plate features a row of sage-colored mountains leading to foothills then leading to prairies from left to right. MONTANA is silkscreened in gold and black stylized font at the top over BIG SKY COUNTRY in black top. A faint gold outline of the state encloses most of the perimeter of the plate.
These plates were used by the MHP until 2008.
- 2006-2010 issue. Flat silkscreened aluminum.
(Courtesy Tony Aleria)
In 2008, the Montana Highway Patrol capitalized on the state's "special license plate craze" by having a graphic license plate made for its sponsored charity, the Montana Hope Project. These aluminum plates were entirely flat and entirely silkscreened. They had a reflective light green background bordered in white. MONTANA occupied the top center to top right portion of the plate silkscreened in black and outlined in yellow. GRANTING WISHES TO MONTANA'S ILL CHILDREN was spelled-out in black below it. The MHP and assignment number was once again silkscreened in black in the center field of the plate with www.montanahope.org screened in black at the bottom center. The logo of the charity occupies the entire left portion of the plate which features a brown bear in MHP uniform with three children above a yellow banner which reads MONTANA HOPE PROJECT in black. The slogan "The Bears That Care" is curved below the logo in yellow-trimmed black.
These plates were used until 2010.
- 2008-2010 issue. Flat screened aluminum.
Montana Hope Project version.
2010 marked the 75th Anniversary of the Montana Highway Patrol, and what better way to commemorate the occasion than yet another new license plate for its fleet!
These plates were also entirely flat silkscreened aluminum. The plates were black and trimmed in reflective white. MONTANA appears between the upper mounting holes in white directly over the MHP prefix and assignment number also in white. The full-color emblem of the MHP occupies the center left portion of the plate. The slogan SERVICE.INTEGRITY.RESPECT is screened in yellow with white separators. SERVING MONTANA FOR is screened in white to the left of a diagonal multi-linear graphic occupying the lower right corner of the plate with 75 in the center circle in yellow over YEARS in white.
These plates are still in use in 2013.
- 2010-Current issue. Flat screened aluminum.
75th Anniversary version.
(Courtesy Tony Martin and Shari Woods)
A Career's worth of Montana Highway Patrol License Plates
Although we have already listed similar MHP plates above as part of the archival information, we found it truly worthy to show this marvelous group of Montana Highway Patrol license plates assigned to and retained by Retired Captain Don Seyfert over the course of his impressive 32 year career with the Patrol.
Don commenced his career in 1966 and was issued badge #235. He began as a traffic officer out of Havre where he remained until he was promoted to Sergeant in 1979. With the promotion, he was issued badge 139 and re-located to Custer. In April of 1984, Don was promoted to Lieutenant and issued badge number 114. With that came the move from Custer to Glendive.
On January 1st, 1988, the badge numbering system for the MHP changed, and Lt. Seyfert's badge number was changed to 25. In April of 1990, the MHP promoted Don to Captain and assigned badge # 105, but this time, he didn't have to move and remained in Glendive.
In January of 1992, Captain Seyfert bid for the District Commander's position in Great Falls, where he became badge #102. On December 1 1998, Captain Don Seyfert officially went 10-7 for his career with the Montana Highway Patrol. Statetrooperplates.com thanks Retired Captain Don Seyfert for allowing us to showcase his keepsakes and spotlight his career of distinction in one of the premier law enforcement agencies on the continent.
- 1966: the year Ptlm. Don Seyfert commenced his rookie year with the MHP. This plate was fastened to his 1965 Ford 235 (390 engine) as he patrolled the beat of Havre Montana.
- 1967: Ptlm. Seyfert's second year with the Patrol.
This plate was also fastened to that same 1965 Ford in Havre.
- 1968: Ptlm Seyfert was now behind the wheel of a 1968 MHP Plymouth, and this plate was hanging onto it through the end of 1969.
- In 1970, this plate also made it onto Ptlm Seyfert's '68 Plymouth, but that car was replaced with a 1971 Plymouth. So this plate was transferred onto the new car which was equipped with AIR CONDITIONING!- Don was one of the first guys in the district to get the A/C equipped car, which made many a colleague envious!
- 1973 and this was fastened to Ptlm. Seyfert's new 1973 Plymouth right through the end of 1974.
- 1975 and Ptlm. Seyfert gets a new 1975 Plymouth with this plate on it.
- With a new promotion to Sergeant, a badge number change from 235 to 139 took place as did a transfer to Custer Montana.
- In 1984, Sgt Seyfert was now promoted to Lieutenant and issued badge and license plate number 114 and a move to Glendive.
- January 1 1988 and the MHP revamped its badge numbering system. Lt. Seyfert trades badge number 114 in for badge number 25. It was fastened to his 1989 MHP Plymouth.
- Another promotion so another new number! Captain Seyfert, the Commander for Great Falls had this new MHP 105 license plate fastened to his 1992 Chevrolet as his last number and car before taking his well-earned retirement.
Motorcycle License Plates used by Montana Highway Patrol
The Montana Highway Patrol began in 1935 with six motorcycles in its fleet.
By 1940 that number dropped down to five.
By 1947 the MHP disbanded the use of motorcycles for patrol.
No special license plates plates were issued to the MHP, just standard motorcycle license plates in the 200 series.
As seen in the photo below, plates number 225, 226, 227 and 228 were used on these four MHP cycles. They would have measured approxmately 2 1/2 inches by 9 inches and made of embossed steel. The would have had MONT embossed in the upper left corner and the last two digits of the year below it.
No other types are known.