Florida Memory, a website developed by the State Archives of Florida, has launched a new collection called “Early Auto Registrations, 1905-1917,” which contains Florida’s first automobile registrations. Handwritten in a ledger, these records were recorded by the Secretary of State from 1905 to 1917. Each entry indicates the name and post office address of the registrant as well as the manufacturer, style, horsepower and factory number of the vehicle. Each entry was dated and assigned a registration number, which was sent to the registrant on a special certificate.
Records for Madison County, as well as any other county in Florida, can be found by selecting the drop-drown menu bar that says “County-All.” Those who view the website may also search by vehicle make or registrant name. Madison County alone has over 60 entries.
There are registered automobiles from over 300 distinct manufacturing companies in a variety of models and styles.
By the 1900s, the first “automobile” had already appeared in the Sunshine State.
At first, there were no laws established for the regulation of automobiles on public roads; however, State Representative Edward L. Wartmann of Marion County introduced a bill (that later became a law) to the House in 1905 that would require automobile owners to register their vehicles, equip their vehicles with safety equipment and follow some basic rules for driving. According to Florida Memory, the bill stated that:
• Every automobile had to be registered with the Secretary of State and the certificate of registration had to be present with the vehicle at all times during its use.
• The vehicle’s registration number had to be displayed on a tag in Arabic numerals of not less than three inches long and two inches wide.
• Every vehicle operating on public roadways had to have a bell, horn or whistle available as a signal as well as two “lamps” to be used for illumination between sunset and sunrise.
• Drivers had to abide by a “proper and reasonable” statewide speed limit.
• Motorists had to give a signal when approaching horses or other draft animals and were obligated to immediately stop if given a signal to do so by someone riding or driving said animals.
• Boards of county commissioners were empowered to set aside times for speed tests or races on public roadways, which drivers had to adhere to.
The Secretary of State recorded these registrations until 1917, where the duty was passed on to the Comptroller’s Office.
Want to take a look through some of these records? Visit www.floridamemory.com/collections/early-autos/.
Note: when searching for a specific individual’s name in the Early Auto Registrations, start by entering the person’s name in the search box on the main page and selecting a county to narrow your results. If you do not find the individual you are looking for, search for just the surname. The clerks recording the auto registrations used abbreviations or phonetic spellings of names, which can derail your search. Clerks often abbreviated names, even on official documents, so, for example, “George” is abbreviated to “Geo.” and “Richard” is abbreviated as “Richd.” For more information on how to search for specific names, visit www.floridamemory.com/collections/early-autos/using_s644.php.