1921 Buick

1921 California Automobile Registrations

Automobile Registrations are something most of us do now without thinking twice, though probably with a little grumbling as to the cost. The start of the 20th century ushered in a new mode of transportation, the horseless carriage, or motor wagon. When first introduced into the countryside of California, they were not readily embraced by all counties. Several counties passes ordinances requiring the horseless carriage to “pull to the side of the road and remain standing when horse drawn vehicles approached.” 1

California State statutes of 1901 authorized cities and counties to license bicycles, tricycles, automobile carriages, carts, and similar wheeled vehicles.

The secretary of state was empowered in 1905 to register and license motor vehicles. This took the task from the counties and provided a uniform statewide registration system. Owners paid a $2 fee and were issued a circular tag. Later, tags were either octagonal or had scalloped edges. Owners had to conspicuously display tags in the vehicle. In addition, they had to display the license number on the rear of the vehicle in 3-inch-high black letters on a white background. Some owners also painted numbers on headlamp lenses. Vehicle registration prerequisites included satisfactory lamps, good brakes, and either a bell or a horn.

The secretary of state handled vehicle registrations from 1905 until 1913 when the legislature gave the task to the state treasurer. At the same time, the Engineering Department became custodian of vehicle records.

1921 Buick
1921 Buick six 49, 6 cylinder, 3,67 litres. Photographed by Alf van Beem

This engineering department published the 1921 California Automobile Registrations in a collection of 14 volumes that were actually bound together as 7 books, two volumes per book. At the end of volume 14 are the “corrections and transfers” and there were a couple hundred pages worth, so it’s important for you to check/search those as well after finding the reference to your ancestor.

The books are not in alphabetical order, but rather numerical order of the Registration Number. This means to find people within the manuscript you will have to conduct a search of the records. You’ll find the search in the top right of the screen once you’ve opened each volume. There is no method of searching all volumes at once. These are extremely large volumes, over 1100 pages each and the search may be slow at time, but it appears to be quite accurate. I suggest a search by last name only if possible (Smith or Jones would be unreasonable, so use first names with more common surnames) as William appears as William, Wm and W in the records. It depends on how your ancestor submitted it.

The first vehicle to be registered under state law was a White Steamer owned by John D. Spreckels of San Francisco. His, however, was not the first automobile in California. The San Francisco Sunday Call, of May 11, 1902, recorded there were 117 motor vehicles in use in the city on that date. Six years earlier, the same paper reported that Charles L. Fir had owned the city’s only horseless carriage. By 1905, registered vehicles in California totaled 17,015.

The 1921 California Automobile Registrations shows that by 1921 there were 585,940 registrations which would represent the total number of legal vehicles in the state. What an amazing jump in registrations in that few of years!

The information in these registrations provides the registration number, name of registration holder, address, make, type, year and engine number, as well as the county number in which the registration holder resided. You can reference the list below to correspond the number with the correct county.

1921 California License Plate
1921 California License Plate

The first registration, #1 was assigned to the State of California and probably represented the Governors official vehicle, a 1917 Packard Tour with engine #130951.

The last registration, #585,940 was assigned to James Rianda of the community of Gonzales, Monterey County. He owned a 1921 Buick Tour with engine #774054.

California County Reference List

  1. Alameda County
  2. Alpine County
  3. Amador County
  4. Butte County
  5. Calaveras County
  6. Colusa County
  7. Contra Costa County
  8. Del Norte County
  9. El Dorado County
  10. Fresno County
  11. Glenn County
  12. Humboldt County
  13. Imperial County
  14. Inyo County
  15. Kern County
  16. Kings County
  17. Lake County
  18. Lassen County
  19. Los Angeles County
  20. Madera County
  21. Marin County
  22. Mariposa County
  23. Mendocino County
  24. Merced County
  25. Modoc County
  26. Mono County
  27. Monterey County
  28. Napa County
  29. Nevada County
  30. Orange County
  31. Placer County
  32. Plumas County
  33. Riverside County
  34. Sacramento County
  35. San Benito County
  36. San Bernadino County
  37. San Diego County
  38. San Francisco County
  39. San Joaquin County
  40. San Luis Obispo County
  41. San Mateo County
  42. Santa Barbara County
  43. Santa Clara County
  44. Santa Cruz County
  45. Shasta County
  46. Sierra County
  47. Siskiyou County
  48. Solano County
  49. Sonoma County
  50. Stanislaus County
  51. Sutter County
  52. Tehama County
  53. Trinity County
  54. Tulare County
  55. Tuolumne County
  56. Ventura County
  57. Yolo County
  58. Yuba County


  1. California State Government. CA Department of Motor Vehicles History of CA DMV. Last Accessed: 9 May 2014.[]

Fir, Rianda, Spreckels,


AccessGenealogy. California State Genealogy. Web.

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