Ontario pioneered auto licensing in 1903

Published November 1, 2012

In the earliest days of Canadian motoring, auto ownership was simple: you bought a car and drove it. But it didn’t take too long for provincial governments to realize there could be money in licensing.

Ontario was the first, passing a law in 1903 that required motorists to pay $2 for a leather licence patch with aluminum numbers. John C. Eaton bought the first two — one for his 1903 Winton, a model made in Ohio, and the second for his Indiana-built National electric vehicle.

Dr. Perry Doolittle, who would later found CAA, bought the third of what would eventually be 178 plates issued that year.

The price went to $4 in 1906 and the plates changed from leather to rubber. They went to porcelain-covered metal in 1911 and then to plain metal the year after. Except for some cardboard ones due to war shortages in late 1915, they’ve been metal ever since.

Other provinces followed Ontario’s lead, although some simply issued the number and left it up to the owner to put it on the car. That was the case in Alberta, where Joe Morris of Edmonton was issued the very first number after licensing was enacted in 1906.

The story goes that Morris stuck a broomstick upright on the back of his 1904 Ford and was arrested for not having a proper registration. He argued that the stick formed the number 1 and was found not guilty. Whether or not that’s true, he did receive the first province-issued plate in 1912.

Toyota started in textiles

Toyota is named for Sakichi Toyoda, whose company began making textile looms in 1924. His son, Kiichiro Toyoda, was fascinated with automobiles and began experimenting with them in 1930. The company added an auto department three years later.

There are a few theories about the name change. One is that Toyoda takes 10 brush strokes in Japanese, whereas Toyota uses eight, which some believe to be a luckier number. It has also been suggested the name was changed to distance the auto department from its parent company in case it should fail.

Toyota arrived in the United States in 1957, when Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. was established in a former Rambler dealership in Hollywood. Sales began the following year — the company sold 287 Toyopet Crown sedans and a single Land Cruiser.

The underpowered and overpriced Toyopet was discontinued in 1961. The Land Cruiser was the sole offering until the Corona, designed specifically for the U.S. market, arrived in 1965 and tripled the company’s sales to 20,000 vehicles within a year.

The Corolla arrived in 1968 and, by 1975, Toyota overtook Volkswagen to become the top import brand in the United States.

Ford’s jungle debacle

Rubber plays a huge role in auto manufacturing, but ensuring a steady supply was a major issue in the 1920s, when Britain controlled most of the Asian rubber plantations and set high prices. Determined to be self-sufficient, Henry Ford decided to grow his own.

Early cars were largely made of wood and Ford already owned lumber towns in northern Michigan. He ran his factories with an iron fist and extended that to his timber communities, which imposed standards on how workers lived and kept their homes. His plan for Brazil would be no different.

In 1927, he acquired 2.5 million acres from the Brazilian government in return for a share of future profits and began building the town of Fordlandia. From the start, nothing went right, mostly because Ford set a factory schedule that seldom worked with agriculture. Supplies were delayed by weather and the rubber trees were planted in the wrong season.

Ford also counted on a considerable return from exotic hardwood to cover costs as the forest was cleared, but the timber couldn’t be milled profitably.

The workers didn’t like their American-style meals, and Ford insisted on Michigan-style bungalows that became ovens in the Amazonian heat. The company also forbade drinking and gambling.

One day in December 1930, when a change in meal service left workers lining up for food, they rioted and destroyed the town. Fordlandia was rebuilt on a smaller scale and Ford started another plantation city in Belterra, about 100 kilometres away.

The trees suffered from insects and disease and at the height of production, annual rubber production at the two plantations was less than what Ford’s factories were using every week. Henry Ford had sunk $20 million into them.

Installed as company president in 1945, Henry Ford II sold both back to Brazil for the pay legally due to the workers: $244,200.

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