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State Historical Society puts list of early automobile licenses, auto dealers online

State Historical Society puts list of early automobile licenses, auto dealers online

The State Archives of the South Dakota State Historical Society recently added to its website searchable indexes to motor vehicle licenses issued from 1905-1911 and automobile dealer licenses issued from 1913-1919.

Visit the State Archives website at A link is found on the Collection Indexes page to Automobile Licenses/Dealers.

The first auto license was issued to Jason T. Bigelow of Flandreau in March of 1905. The vehicle had a 4.5-horsepower Olds Motor Works engine and featured signals of a gas lamp and bell.

The Secretary of State’s office issued the motor vehicle licenses from 1905-1911. The records, contained in two leather-bound volumes, include the license number, automobile owner’s name, town, make of motor, vehicle horsepower and available signals on the automobile.

“We’ve received a fair amount of requests from people with old license plates looking to connect the plate with the owner and vehicle,” said South Dakota State Archivist Chelle (“SHELL-ee”) Somsen.

Auto dealer licenses were also issued by the Secretary of State. The auto dealer records date from 1913-1919. Information includes dealer name, license number, town and county, date and year the license was issued, and types of cars sold at the dealership.

Volunteers with the State Archives were tasked with adding the information into a searchable database.

“We are thankful to the volunteers who’ve worked on this project the last few years,” said Somsen.

For more information, contact the State Archives, located at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre, at 605-773-3804 or

Editor’s note: An automobile license with South Dakota plate number 6834 was issued to Konrad Stiffler of Worthing in August of 1910. The car had a 12-horsepower engine and included signals of both a horn and lights. (Photo courtesy South Dakota State Historical Society-Archives)

About the South Dakota State Historical Society
The South Dakota State Historical Society is a division of the Department of Education. The State Historical Society, an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is headquartered at the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre. The center houses the society’s world-class museum, the archives, and the historic preservation, publishing and administrative/development offices. Call 605-773-3458 or visit for more information. The society also has an archaeology office in Rapid City; call 605-394-1936 for more information.

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