License plates have come a long way since Massachusetts started making license plates in 1903. The earliest tags were made from leather, wood and porcelain (Delaware still permits porcelain plates). The earliest reflective plates were actually introduced in Mexico in 1936, but reflective plates didn't come into use in the United States until 1948 in Connecticut. A beads-on-paint process accomplished this early reflective technology. This technology was essentially replaced by the introduction of reflective adhesive sheeting. Most states have already converted to reflective sheeted plates, a process first introduced in the 1960’s.The earliest plates were simply numbered sequentially, but both California and New York reached tag number 1,000,000 in 1924 - coincidentally the same year the John R. Wald Company was founded.
License plate manufacturing has typically been a correctional industry with an emphasis on inmate employment and a relatively low level of technological integration. However, as early as 1928, Idaho introduced tags with a potato motif and in 1931, Pennsylvania became the first to produce ‘vanity’ tags. These early forays into the use of license plates for advertising / personalization statements have grown to become a major driving force in the modern day license plate business. In light of all the changes license plate manufacturing has seen, it remains important to remember the core purpose of license plates: To provide a unique and clear personal identity of a vehicle and its owner, day or night.
As plate designs and numbering requirements have become more complex, technology has become an important factor in the manufacturing process. With ever increasing usage of computer technology in manufacturing processes, there has been a digital revolution in the license plate industry.
For a more thorough overview and description of license plate manufacturing technology, please refer to our White Paper on the subject.