The first license plates were issued in the German state of Baden in 1896. Massachusetts was the first state in the United States to manufacture license plates in 1903. The earliest license plates were made of leather, wood and porcelain. The state of Delaware still permits the use of porcelain license plates.
Mexico was the first country to issue reflective license plates in 1936. The embossed numbers were a coated with ink containing glass-like beads to achieve reflective properties. The state of Connecticut introduced the beads-on-paint reflective license plates in 1948. The invention of reflective sheeting by 3M replaced the beads-on-paint process in the 1960's and adopted by most of the states for license plate manufacturing by 1970.
In 1924, New York and California had each manufactured and issued 1,000,000 license plates. In the United States, license plates are manufactured in correctional facilities which are state or quasi-state owned. Only Alaska, Hawaii and Oregon license plates are manufactured by a privately owned facility but the license plates are issued or distributed by the state government. In Europe and most countries around the world, license plates numbers are state issued, but privately manufactured (motorists take documents to a private manufacturing facility for license plates production).
Idaho was the first state to manufacture license plates with a graphic a potato in 1928. Pennsylvania manufactured the first custom, vanity or personalized license plate in 1931. As Americans became more prosperous, custom or official vanity license plates became very popular. The increased fees for custom, personalized or vanity official license plates have earned the states hundreds of millions of dollars and a great source of tax revenue for education (colleges), wildlife conservation and other projects.
Over 30 states in the United States and some Provinces in Canada do not require front official license plates. Many auto and license plates enthusiasts install vanity, custom or personalized license plates on their vehicles to add a unique touch. License plates can be promotional to promote a business or group, vehicle brand, hobby, antique or old USA State, European, sport team, Greek Fraternity or Sorority, International country of origin or custom creations. Other popular vanity license plates are: nautical license plates, religious license plates, military license plates, flag license plates, fun license plates and may more.