Investigative data reporter Jon Keegan comes across plenty of fascinating visuals while conducting research on the websites of government agencies. In fact, he even created his own website called Beautiful Public Data to share some of his favorite findings. You can see drone footage of volcanic eruptions from the U.S. Geological Survey, for example, and a snapshot of the rock samples NASA has collected from the moon.
You can also explore the 8291 license plate designs currently available in the U.S. To build his database, Keegan had to compile all the designs from each state’s (and Washington, D.C.’s) motor vehicle agency. Some websites were easier to navigate than others, and he ended up filing six Freedom of Information Act requests to procure details from less forthcoming states. In short, it was a pretty extensive project. It’s also worth mentioning that his research took place between June and July 2023, so it’s possible that today’s total plate count isn’t exactly 8291.
The best—or maybe just most fun—way to see just how expansive the design options are is to type a random term into the search bar of the table Keegan constructed. Animal, for instance, turns up plates mostly decorated with dogs and cats alongside phrases like Animal Friendly and I Care for Animals. Want to convey your passion for music? If you live in Washington state, you can purchase a plate covered in musical notes and the phrase Music Matters. Texans can choose one with a guitar headstock next to the words Texas Music.
The options aren’t confined to general hobbies and interests. There are plates for everyone from physicians and veterans to barbershop quartet singers—one of Maryland’s many niche offerings. In fact, Keegan found that Maryland has the most plate designs of any state: 989, to be exact, nearly twice as many as runner-up Texas (476). Hawaii has the fewest, with just 14.
You can discover more intriguing takeaways from Keegan’s survey and search the database for yourself here.