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Buffalo's first big license plate problem, 1948

As Buffalonians and people all across New York State deal with an epidemic of license plate peeling, it's worth remembering that this is not the first time plate problems have popped up.

In 1948, the problem wasn’t with the paint peeling off the plates — it was with plates peeling off bumpers.

Despite the fact that New York required new license plates every year in the 1940s, Buffalo Police Detective Sergeant Guy Dewey, who was the head of Buffalo’s Auto Theft Division, had hundreds of valid 1948 tags piled up in his office by midsummer.

Between stolen cars with switched plates and those just found along the side of the road, Buffalo cops were picking up as many as 60 wayward plates every day.

Part of the rash of plate losses, it was figured, was because of faulty brackets on many front bumpers.

But no matter the reason, the massive amount of legwork that went into trying to reunite Western New Yorkers with their misplaced tags was too much, especially when too often, by the time the plate owner was tracked down, new tags had already been purchased and the plate wasn’t worth the metal it was stamped on.

If you were missing a plate, you were invited to wait for a telephone call from headquarters if you lived in the city — but if you lived in the suburbs, you’d have to wait for a card in the mail.

But, Dewey said, be forewarned, as he issued a stern warning, surrounded by misfit vehicle tags.

“If you have not reported the loss of a license plate to the police and a car which has been used in some illegal operation is picked up by the police carrying your license number, it is entirely probable that you will be pulled out of your house, place of business, or even your bed at any hour to go to headquarters and explain ‘how come?' ”

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