Gravesite of Lenard Mennes – Bismarck, North Dakota - Atlas Obscura

Gravesite of Lenard Mennes

Fairview Cemetery

Mennes invented the tags we all place annually upon our license plates, and his story is told frankly and in full upon his headstone. 


Some stories take longer to tell than others. But if you’re writing it on a tombstone, brevity becomes more important. Sometimes, as with the carving of a Quija Board on inventor Elijah Bond’s headstone, an image speaks louder than words. Other sites take a more multimedia approach, such as the words and sheet music carved into the memorial for the famous Titanic bandsmen.

By contrast, Lenard Milo Mennes’ story is a complex and matter-of-fact one, and the lengthy straightforwardness of the description on his headstone bears that out.

Mennes was a humble computer worker for the Department of Motor vehicles, who never imagined that he would invent something that changed the world. But he did just that, when he invented the “tags”, or date stickers, now required to be placed on license plates annually.

At first just a requirement for Mennes’ home state of North Dakota, the tags quickly caught on and are now a matter of course throughout the world. Although Lenard Mennes was a mid-century mind, he operated like a contemporary techno-entrepreneur, not patenting his concept nor his methodology, but rather giving it freely, and encouraging it to be used wherever people felt it was a good idea.

Turns out, they felt that way everywhere, and just like modern-day open source technology, it spread like wildfire, and remains a staple of DMV regulations to this day. All it took was one curious man who wanted a better way to keep track of cars, and gave it to anyone who asked.

Mennes’ tombstone, in the straightforward way of the man himself, recounts this story and more in a simple, quite lengthy single-spaced entry etched eternally upon his grave.

Know Before You Go

Enter site and take your first left. Go down the hill. Site is about halfway up the next hill on your left. His actual headstone is behind the marker.

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June 25, 2012

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