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On September 1, 1939, the Wisconsin legislature passed a statute creating the Motor Vehicle Department, which consisted of three divisions - the new enforcement division began with 46 “inspectors” to enforce the state motor vehicle code and the regulating of motor carriers. This was the nucleus of the Wisconsin State Patrol.

The "State Traffic Patrol" as it was known, saw their new officers in 1939, purchase their own patrol cars, and received a $30 per month reimbursement from the state, plus fuel, oil and grease. Each STP Officer received a siren, a flashing red light, and special license plates to display while on duty.

When the patrol car had to be used for personal reasons, the special plates had to come off and be replaced with regular personal plates. Despite this tiresome practice, the departmental shield on the doors of the car remained in place whether on or off duty.

During the 1950's, the Patrol underwent major changes. The Patrol jumped from a force of 70 uniformed officers to 250. The patrol became authorized to use radar for traffic speed enforcement in 1953. Formal education instructions were started in 1955 with the establishment of a training academy at Fort McCoy. This was also the year that STP officers commenced firearms training.

The Patrol used gray patrol cars with a black roof and trunk, and 10% of patrol cars were unmarked. In the mid-1960's, the WSP went to a blue and white paint scheme which remained in place until the 1980's when cost considerations moved the WSP to choose an all blue car.

In 1956, the WSP acquired Harley Davidson motorcycles for the fleet. The division currently operates 14 safety and weight stations and the Wisconsin State Patrol academy which provides diverse law enforcement training programs for federal, state and local law enforcement officers.

The State Patrol promotes highway safety and enhances the quality of life for all Wisconsin citizens and visitors by providing professional, competent and compassionate law enforcement services. Some of the services they provide are: size/weight inspection, motor carrier safety assistance, ambulance inspection, school bus inspection, crash reconstruction, and mobile data communication.

Other services include aid to local law enforcement agencies through civil disturbance countermeasures, natural disaster recovery support, communications services and chemical testing services for drivers suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

Through the years many changes have been made, but the patrol’s goal has always been and will continue to be assisting the motoring public and making Wisconsin’s highways safe. The size of the patrol has increased to the present day strength of 400 troopers and 112 inspectors.




License Plates of the Wisconsin State Patrol

It is believed that from 1939 to 1941, patrol vehicles used by Wisconsin State Traffic Officers (purchased by the officer himself until 1951!) were issued ordinary passenger license plates with no specific number alotment. The earliest known titled Wisconsin State Traffic Patrol plates commenced around 1941 and used a similar format until 1955 although earlier versions varied. The early plates were painted black over yellow-orange and were made of embossed steel measuring 13 3/8" X 6". From the left of the plate there was a five point star over WIS followed by STATE over TRAFFIC over PATROL followed by the assignment number up to 2 digits. The eariest of this type used the smaller and more angular number dies where the background color utilized a more orange shade and the later types used the larger and more rounded number dies where the background color was more of a yellow.
These plates also featured a total of eight mounting holes (4 on top and 4 on the bottom).
They were run on the marked WSTP fleet until the end of 1955.

  • Wisconsin  police license plate image1941-1955 issue. Embossed steel.
    Approx. 6" x 13 3/8". Black over yellow orange.
    Four mounting holes top and bottom.
    Earlier version with thinner number dies and darker background.

    (Courtesy Tony Aleria)
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Wisconsin  police license plate image1952- Courtesy James Westover
  • Wisconsin  police license plate image1941-1955 issue. Embossed steel.
    Approx. 6" x 13 3/8". Black over yellow orange.
    Four mounting holes top and bottom.
    Later version with thicker number dies and lighter background.
  • Wisconsin  police license plate image

In 1956, when North America went to a standard size of 6" x 12" for all passenger car license plates, the Wisconsin State Patrol issued an embossed thin aluminum license plate of these dimensions but painted black over white. The layout of the plate set the design standard for all subsequent WSP license plates for the next 30+ years. The state name was always embossed at the bottom center of the plate, and the words STATE over PATROL always occupied the center left field of the plate. A five-point star motif preceded the assignment number. It was at this time when line cars were issued 3 digit numbers with the first number indicating the patrol district.
Though not confirmed for this far-back, the District assignment numbers based on the writer's earliest records (1967) were as follows:
1##: Madison
2##: Waukesha
3##: Fond du Lac
4##: Wausau
5##: Spooner
6##: Eau Claire
Numbers from 99 down were for headquarters and special units not assigned to a particular district. By May 6 1959, these three digit assignment numbers also became the radio call number for the vehicle. The numbers after the District number indicated the hierarchy for each location with the District Commander assigned 01, the Deputy District Commander assigned 02 etc... It was also at this time that WSP Communications Officers ran Wisconsin Municipal Government plates on their assigned cars and utilized assignment numbers 9, 10, 100, 300, 400 and 600. From 1956 until the WSP's 50th Anniversary in 1989, there were only eight variations to the black-and-white plates which will be itemized below.
The 1956 issue featured a long mounting slot in top left corner with 3 mounting holes in the other corners of the plate. The plate also had validation tab slots with squared edges in the top far-right corner, but WSP plates were deemed tax exempt, therefore annual validation tabs were not necessary or utilized. The plate featured a full length crease over the state name. A "broken" crease was applied below top mounting holes. It was believed that these indented creases gave the thin aluminum some structural rigidity. This issue ran until late 1959.

  • Wisconsin  police license plate image1956-1959 issue. Embossed aluminum. Black over white.
    Long mounting slot in top left corner. Circular mounting hole in top right corner as well as for bottom of plate.
    Full length crease over state name, "broken" top crease. Validation tab slots in top right corner with squared edges.
  • Wisconsin  police license plate imageArt Shrock-1957
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The next issue was for 1960-1961. This issue was not part of a fleet-wide change-over, but rather a current issue for newly-assigned cars during that time. It was also made of thin embossed aluminum. It was distinguished by a long mounting slot in lower left corner with 3 mounting holes in the other corners. The tab slots on this issue had rounded edges as opposed to the squared ones on the previous issue. There was once again a full length crease over the state name, but it had no top crease.

  • North  police license plate image
  • Wisconsin  police license plate image1960-1961 issue. Embossed aluminum.
    Black over white. Long mounting slot in bottom left corner. Circular mounting hole in bottom right corner and top.
    Full length crease over state name, no top crease. Validation tab slots in top right corner with rounded edges.
    District 1 (Madison) 28
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Wisconsin  police police officers image
Patrol Vehicle Inspection-District 2 (1961)
(Courtesy James Westover)

The next design change was for 1962-1964. This issue was also not part of a fleet-wide change-over, but rather a current issue for newly-assigned cars during that time. It was also made of thin embossed aluminum. The only difference between this issue and the previous issue was that the long mounting slot was now in the upper left corner of the plate with 3 mounting holes in the other corners. Otherwise, it was identical to the previous issue.

  • Wisconsin  police license plate image1962-1964 issue. Embossed aluminum.
    Black over white. Long mounting slot in top left corner. Circular mounting hole in top right corner and bottom.
    Full length crease over state name, no top crease. Validation tab slots in top right corner with rounded edges.
    District 1 (Madison) 23
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  • North  police license plate image

1965-1966 issue- This issue was also not part of a fleet-wide change-over, but rather a current issue for newly-assigned cars during that time. It was also made of embossed aluminum. It was also made of thin embossed aluminum. This issue was identical to the 1962-1964 issue but did not feature any validation tab slots.

  • Wisconsin  police license plate image1965-1966 issue. Embossed aluminum.
    Black over white. Long mounting slot in top left corner. Circular mounting hole in top right corner and bottom.
    Full length crease over state name, no top crease.
    No validation tab slots.
    District 1 (Madison) 72
  • Wisconsin  police license plate image

1967-1972 issue- This issue was part of a fleet-wide change-over. The plate was made of a more durable embossed aluminum. A dull reflective white sheeting was used in lieu of the previous flat white painted background. This version was characterized by the "Keyhole" mounting slot in the lower right corner with 3 mounting holes in the other corners. This version featured a full length crease just below upper bolt-holes but with no bottom crease. WISCONSIN was embossed in larger dies. Plates on this series ending in 00 were assigned to the radio technicians for each district and trooper numbers began at 11 for each district. These plates although only issued until 1972 were still considered valid until 1987.

  • Wisconsin  police license plate image1967-1972 issue. Embossed aluminum.
    Black over dull reflective white.
    "Keyhole" mounting slot in lower right corner.
    Circular mounting holes for remainder of plate.
    Full length top crease below upper mounting holes.
    District 6 (Eau Claire) 2 (Assistant District Commander)
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  • North  police license plate image

1972-1977 issue- This embossed aluminum plate also utilized dull reflective white sheeting. This issue was not part of a fleet-wide change-over but rather a current issue for newly-assigned cars during that time. As with the 1967 issue, the "Keyhole" mounting slot was placed in the lower right corner with 3 mounting holes in the other corners. Partial crease that runs the span below the two upper bolt-holes. On this base, plate numbers 10, 11 and 12 were issued to the Patrol Academy and 13 was issued to the Director of the Academy. Plates issued in the 900 number bloc were for "Loans out of Madison" which were cars in-transit from HQ to a post or while being repaired.
In 1975, the WSP District Headquarters were as follows:
1##: Madison
2##: Waukesha
3##: Fond du Lac
4##: Wausau
5##: Tomah
6##: Eau Claire
8## Spooner

  • Wisconsin  police license plate image1972-1977 issue. Embossed aluminum.
    Black over dull reflective white.
    "Keyhole" mounting slot in lower right corner.
    Circular mounting holes for remainder of plate.
    Partial top crease below upper mounting holes.
    District 6 (Eau Claire) 2 (Assistant District Commander)
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Wisconsin  police license plate image1976- District 1 (Madison) Courtesy Neal Sieglaff

1977-1987 issue- This embossed aluminum plate was similar to the 1972 issue with the only exception being the use of bright reflective sheeting, and a full length crease just below upper bolt-holes.

  • Wisconsin  police license plate image1977-1987 issue. Embossed aluminum.
    Black over bright reflective white.
    "Keyhole" mounting slot in lower right corner.
    Circular mounting holes for remainder of plate.
    Full length top crease below upper mounting holes.
    District 6 (Eau Claire) 42
  • Wisconsin  police license plate imageDistrict 3 (Fond du Lac) 56
    (Courtesy James Westover)
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1987-1988 issue- This embossed aluminum plate was characterized by bright reflective sheeting. 4 round mounting holes and no creases.

  • Wisconsin  police license plate image1977-1987 issue. Embossed aluminum.
    Black over reflective white.
    "Keyhole" mounting slot in lower right corner.
    Circular mounting holes for remainder of plate.
    Full length top crease below upper mounting holes.
    District 6 (Eau Claire) 42
  • Wisconsin  police license plate imageMadison # 23
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  • Wisconsin  police license plate imageMid 1988 issue- Embossed aluminum plate with bright reflective sheeting- STATE PATROL and the 5-point star were silkscreened instead of embossed. This issue was short-lived as the 50th Anniversary license plates were rolled-out during this time, and it was believed that the silkscreened section only applied to Motor Carrier Enforcement plates.
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  • North  police license plate image

1989-2000 issue- This multi-colored and attractive embossed aluminum plate was created to commemorate the WSP's Golden Anniversary in 1989. This issue had embossed numerals in dark blue situated on a field of reflective "gold" that occupied the center horizontal span of the plate just below the upper and just above the lower mounting holes. The remainder of the plate was silkscreened in white. The emblem of the WSP was silkscreened in full color to the left of the first number. 1939 50 YEARS 1989 was silkscreend in blue in the top white banner and WISCONSIN was silkscreened in blue in the bottom white banner. This plate was used for over 10 years and began to be phased-out by 2000.

It was on this base plate where the numbering alotment was as follows:
The District number is represented as an X:
X00-XX00: District Radio Techs
X01- District Commander
X02- District Deputy Commander (Executive Officer)
X03-X10- District Sergeants
XX01-XX09- District Motor Carrier Enforcement Sergeants
XX10- District Motor Carrier Enforcement Inspectors

Wisconsin state patrol district map
  • Wisconsin  police license plate image1989-2000 50th Anniversary issue.
    Embossed aluminum.
    Dark blue over reflective gold and white.
    District 6 (Eau Claire) 42
  • Wisconsin  police license plate imageWaukesha- # 34
  • North  police license plate image
  • Wisconsin  police license plate image1989-2000 50th Anniversary issue.
    Embossed aluminum.
    Dark blue over reflective gold and white.
    Assigned to Lt.Colonel Robert Young.
  • Wisconsin  police license plate imageEau Claire- # 26
  • North  police license plate image
  • North  police license plate image
  • Wisconsin  police license plate image1989-2000 50th Anniversary Sample issue.
    Embossed aluminum.
    Dark blue over reflective gold and white.
  • Wisconsin  police license plate image
  • North  police license plate image
  • North  police license plate image
    Courtesy James Westover
  • Wisconsin  police license plate image1989-2000 50th Anniversary issue.
    Embossed aluminum.
    Dark blue over reflective gold and white.
    District 6 (Eau Claire) Motor Carrier Enforcement Sergeant
  • Wisconsin  police license plate imageEau Claire Motor Carrier Enforcement Unit 18
  • North  police license plate image

2000-Current issue. This embossed aluminum plate also has the image of the WSP door-shield emblem in full color in the center left field of the plate. This version has a reflective medium blue background at the top of the plate which gradually fades to white as it descends to the bottom. WISCONSIN is silkscreened in bold dark blue font in the top left corner of the plate while STATE PATROL is screened is smaller dark blue font in the top right corner of the plate. The slogan Improving Highway Safety is silkscreened in dark blue along the lower center span of the plate.

It was in 2005 when the WSP changed from Districts to Posts under Regional assignments:
1##: DeForest Post (Southwest Region)
2##: Waukesha Post (Southeast Region)
3##: Fond du Lac Post (Northeast Region)
4##: Wausau Post (North Central Region)
5##: Tomah Post (Southwest Region)
6##: Eau Claire Post (Northwest Region)
7##: Spooner Post (Northwest Region)

 

  • Wisconsin  police license plate image2000-late 2013 issue.
    Embossed aluminum. Dark blue over gradient blue.
    Senior Command.

    (Courtesy Bob Bruce)
  • Wisconsin  police license plate image
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  • Wisconsin  police license plate image2000-late 2013 Sample issue.
    Embossed aluminum. Dark blue over gradient blue.
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  • North  police license plate image
  • North  police license plate image


Much like they did in 1989 for their last milestone, the Wisconsin State Patrol commemorated their diamond anniversary with the commissioning of yet another bold graphic design license plate for their marked fleet. The embossed aluminum plate is colored dark blue over reflective white. A dark blue graphic band spans the top of the plate with 1939 75 YEARS 2014 in yellow, and another dark blue graphic band spans the bottom of the plate with STATE WISCONSIN PATROL. A stylized WSP shield occupies the center left field of the plate with a silver/grey halo at the neck of the shield. "Celebrating 75th Anniversary" is emblazoned on the halo. 1939 (red star) 2014 is placed at the bottom of the shield. The regular unit numbering is embossed in the center and right field of the plate.

  • Wisconsin  police license plate image2014-Current 75th Anniversary issue.
    Embossed aluminum. Dark blue over reflective white.
    Post 2 (Waukesha) 40

    (Photos courtesy of James Westover)
  • Wisconsin  police license plate image
  • Wisconsin  police license plate image2014-Current 75th Anniversary issue.
    Embossed aluminum. Dark blue over reflective white.
    Post 3 (Fond du Lac) Motor Carrier Enforcement Sergeant

    (Courtesy Jennifer Austin)
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  • Wisconsin  police license plate image2014-Current 75th Anniversary issue.
    Embossed aluminum. Dark blue over reflective white.
    WSP Academy type.

    (Courtesy James Westover)
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  • Wisconsin  police license car
    Wisconsin State Patrol/Taxi "Choose Your Ride" Message Car against drunk driving. These vehicles have used both the PICK 1 license number as well as the 10-55 (Radio Ten Code for Impaired Driver) number as seen below.
    (License plate close-ups seen below courtesy of Cody JM Corbett)
  • Wisconsin  police license car
  • Wisconsin  police car



Motorcycle License Plates of the Wisconsin State Patrol

Motorcycle license plates used by the WSP are not as well-documented for their short use in the earlier days, but believed to be standard motorcycle issue plates. From the 1960's until 1989, the WSP used standard Wisconsin motorcycle plates but in the reserved number bloc of 4001 to 4100.

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  • Wisconsin  police license plate image1967 WSP motorcycle in 4000 series.
  • Wisconsin  police license plate image
  • Wisconsin  police license plate imageCirca 2000-2014 motorcycle issue.
    Embossed aluminum. Dark blue over reflective white.

    (Courtesy James Westover)
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  • Wisconsin  police license plate image2014-Current motorcycle issue.
    75th Anniversary. Embossed aluminum
    Blue and yellow over reflective white.
    (Courtesy James Westover)
  • Wisconsin  police license plate image



Specialty Issues

The following are specialty issues attributed to the Wisconsin State Patrol.

  • Wisconsin  police license plate image1989-2000 50th Anniversary issue.
    Embossed aluminum.
    Dark blue over reflective gold and white.
    Souvenir issue for WSP Trooper
  • Wisconsin  police license plate image1989-2000 50th Anniversary issue.
    Embossed aluminum.
    Dark blue over reflective gold and white.
    Souvenir issue for WSP Motor Carrier Enforcement Inspector
  • Wisconsin  police license plate image1989-2000 50th Anniversary issue.
    Embossed aluminum.
    Dark blue over reflective gold and white.
    Souvenir issue for WSP Communications Officer
  • Wisconsin  police license plate image1989-2000 50th Anniversary issue for VIP.
    Embossed aluminum.
    Dark blue over reflective gold.
    Potentially a token of appreciation for visiting official.
    Need confirmation.

    (Courtesy of Mike Doucette)
  • Wisconsin  police license plate image2000-2013 issue souvenir plate.
    Plastic. Possibly for National Troopers Coalition event.

    (Courtesy Bob Bruce)
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