March 1, 2010

Connecting our Collections

Every day those of us who are fortunate enough to work at the Montana Historical Society learn something new about Montana history and about our own collections. It may be a bit of trivia or perhaps its something significant, but every day something new is revealed. While working at our reference desk – our front line for assisting the public – I answered a telephone call from a patron who was trying to find some information about a photograph he had. The photograph was taken in Montana and showed several automobiles, including their license plates. The license plates had a year on them – 1915. The patron wanted to know if we could find out who owned the cars with the license plate numbers.

Well, it turns out that we can! In our Archives resides a collection of records from the Secretary of State’s Office (Record Series 250) that contains a wealth of information. In addition to oaths of office for notary publics in the 1860s, examples of coal mine inspector examinations from the 1910s, and inventories of state agencies from the 1900s, this collection contains a listing of all automobiles registered in Montana from 1913 to 1921.

In 1913 the Montana Legislative Assembly passed the first automobile registration laws, which required the Secretary of State’s Office to keep an index of all registered motor vehicles. The first motor vehicle registered in the state was registered by E. C. Largey of Butte. Edward Largey, the son of Patrick Largey, was involved in many Butte businesses and served as a state Legislator in 1909 and 1911. Some of Edward's papers can be found in our Archives in the
Patrick Largey Collection.

A simple phone call led me to discover many things about Montana history and our collections. First, Montanans have been required to register their vehicles for nearly a century now, although the fee has increased a bit (it cost $2 in 1913). I also discovered these wonderful records – what great information about who owned cars in Montana and where they lived – Butte seems to have the most registered cars in 1913. Finally, I rediscovered the wonderful link between the different types of materials that document our past – photographs, records of state government agencies, state laws, and personal papers. What a great way to spend a work day!