The Fight For #1
That’s the underlying question at the root of an idea off Illinois State license plate “1″ to the highest bidder.
Illinois Governor Quinn came up with the idea after he was alerted to the fact that the number 1 plate had been kept out of circulation for a decade by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Now he wants to sell the plate to the highest bidder and use the proceeds as revenue to fund veteran’s assistance programs, an area of concern for Quinn.
Delaware had an auction for the number 11 plate and that fetched–get this–$675,000.
Quinn believes, in a state the size of Illinois and auctioning off number 1, he could get a decent amount.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the Sun-Times story is tracking the storied past of the ownership of the plate.
The Sun-Times lays out the history this way.
Plate No. 1 was issued in 1907. It went to Sidney Gorham, a Chicago lawyer for the Chicago Automobile Club who wrote the state vehicle code. His yearly renewal of No. 1 attracted coverage from Chicago newspapers until his death in 1936.
After that, for two years in the late 1930s and then again starting in 1942, the plate was in the hands of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
That lasted until 1970, when then-Cardinal John Cody gave it up, saying he regarded it as too showy for a person who had taken a vow of poverty.
After Cody gave up the license plate, then-Secretary of State Paul Powell claimed it for himself, ostensibly to avoid controversy over who should get it.
Powell died in 1970, and more than $800,000 in cash — much of it stuffed in shoeboxes — was found in his Springfield hotel suite. It was a stunning discovery, given that Powell had never made more than $30,000 a year during a 42-year career in politics.
After Powell’s death, his successor as secretary of state, John Lewis, an appointee of Republican Gov. Ogilvie, gave the plate to Ogilvie’s wife, Dorothy.
She held onto it for three decades. She joked that she got it by “sleeping with the governor.”
Dorothy Ogilvie — who lives on Chicago’s Gold Coast and recently celebrated her 90th birthday — gave up the plate when she quit driving and sold her car, said her daughter, Elizabeth Simer.
The Sun-Times does some digging into the owners of some other single digit or single letter license plates and found most are owned by people the newspaper believes have political “clout” in Illinois.
The only downside to owning the plate would be that it would probably be a magnet for parking tickets. But, if you can pay six figures for a license plate, you can hopefully afford to pay your parking tickets.
It’s a great historical piece, entitled “Illinois’ most-coveted license plate, No. 1, could be available again.”