Interestingly, Massachusetts was the first state, in 1903, to produce license plates. From passage, until sometime after 1903, New Yorkers had to obtain or create their own license plates. Initially the plates did not have numbers, but rather had the owner’s initials (pun intended). In addition, New York did not recognize out of state plates, nor did New Jersey, requiring drivers to register their cars in each jurisdiction they wished to drive in.
While New York may have been the first state to require license plates for their vehicles, there were already cities that required plates. The city of Chicago passed an ordinance in 1899 that required their owners to pass a health test, an oral test, demonstrate their capability to operate the type of vehicle they owned, such as gasoline, steam, or electric, and mandated that the owners place a registration number issued by the city on the back of their vehicle. While this Chicago ordinance took effect in 1899, the first tests were not held until February 17, 1900.