drivers license and photography

I have been known to go off on tangents in the blog, and this is one of them for sure, but since when did it become necessary for automobile drivers to have licenses.  The reason I ask is because it was the first time that citizens essentially had to carry identification papers.  Did the early licenses have photographs?  I can’t imagine that a license is much proof of identification without a photograph so was there a merger, a point in time when photographs became widely available and it then made I.D. licenses for automobiles possible?

I never heard of anyone needing a license in the old west to ride a horse, or to take a ride in a surrey (with a fringe on top).   It would be ironic to find out that the near universal i.d. (the drivers license) didn’t come into existence until the advent of easy-to-make photographs.

This doesn’t fall under the category of whining – just idle curiosity.


Published by


My name is Dave Beckerman. I am a fine art photographer working in New York City.

3 thoughts on “drivers license and photography”

  1. No photographs until the 50s or 60s. I believe that California did have a thumbprint on theirs (although that may have been on the car registration, which I read about in Perry Mason stories).

  2. Ironically, the advent of easy-to-make photographs was accompanied by easy-to-alter photography, so that the security benefits of photo I.D.s were negated as soon as they became the norm.

    The most striking recent example was when Lybian president Muammar Qadhafi was stopped yesterday by a savvy highway cop in Bedford, NY. The cop said Qadhafi was using Harpo Marx’s expired photo license. Diplomatic immunity prevented any action against the Arab leader.

    The same thing happened a year or so ago when Iran’s president Ahmadinejad (pronounced “I’m a dinner jacket”) was ticketed by a NYC traffic cop for using Bob Denver’s driver’s license. Iranian forgers had simply photoshopped facial hair on to “Gilligan’s” photo. Because “Gilligan’s Island” is still shown in reruns on Iranian TV, the forgers hadn’t realized that Bob Denver was dead.

Comments are closed.