By on July 23, 2012

While stopped in traffic on the 405 today, I gazed at the California license plate on the Mini in front of me, marveling at the clever phrase that Sacramento has chosen to promote the Golden State: “dmv.ca.gov.”

Sadly, a dozen states have gone the website route recently for their license plate message, including Michigan which dumped its long-standing and perfectly descriptive phrase, “Great Lakes” for “www.michigan.gov.” Aren’t license plates supposed to brand their state? What do kids say nowadays when they play, “Count the License Plates?” Most likely, “Look Dad, a car from travel2sc.com!”

Hopefully, states with classic mottos like “The Grand Canyon State,” The Garden State” and Minnesota’s “10,000 Lakes” will not change to a URL name. Maybe they will. Part of this new state strategy may be designed to force drivers to shell out more money for more attractive “specialized” plates.

In no other state has changing license slogans caused more controversy than in Indiana. The Hoosier State used to hold a contest every few years for voters to submit their own ideas for a state motto for their plates. This led to the memorable 1984 tag that said “Wander” at the top and “Indiana” at the bottom. Hoosier humorist Jean Shepherd once pointed out that the scourge of the highways is always the drivers from neighboring states. In this case, you could just hear folks in Illinois yelling, “Look Martha, there goes another idiot from Indiana, WANDERING all over the lanes, just like his license plate says!”

Equally amusing are some of the rejected contest entries over the years:

Indiana: Keeping Illinois and Ohio separated since 1837

Indiana: More than just Good Looks

Indiana: Gateway to Ohio

In 2003, Hoosiers were outraged when the state decided to replace, “Back Home Again” with “www.IN.gov”. After churning through 9 phrases in 32 years, the state grew weary of the whole plate debate and dropped license mottos in 2008.

Over the years plates have revealed a state’s self-analysis, (“Oklahoma is OK”), their political bent, (New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die”) and odes to dairy products and potatoes. I particularly like Alabama’s current tip of the hat to legendary rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd with, “Sweet Home Alabama.”

I must also give kudos to the District of Columbia for truth in advertising for plating the phrase, “Taxation without Representation.” Uh,Washington, isn’t the word “No” supposed to precede that motto? It turns out this optional plate is part of a local campaign to appoint a first-ever Congressman to represent DC, but to many people it neatly describes our federal government’s position on taxes.

So what are your favorite, least favorite or fantasy state license plate slogans? In the meantime, I am off to visit the Land of Enchantment…

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21 Comments on “Tales from the Cooler: Come Vacation In Beautiful Starspangled200 Dot Org!...”


  • avatar
    Motorhead10

    I can’t speak for all states and slogans – but having done undergrad in New Hampshire – “Live Free or Die” was not only cool, but the state was really run that way. I go back less frequently now, maybe once or twice a year and some things have probably changed. I remember no sales tax, no state income tax, no helmet laws, no seatbelt laws, smoking allowed in restaurants and bars, talk on your cell phone or text while driving. I used to think the slogan should be “Live Free AND Die”. Then they were strict on some other (mostly alcohol related) things. Growing up in NY, I never got used to NH’s last call at 12:45am.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      Washington State errors toward being a nanny state, but as a non smoker, the smoking ban we have out here in restaurants & bars is awesome.

      Our license plates are lame. Evergreen State and a crappy drawing of Mt Rainier.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Not a motto change, but Hawai’i lost the plot completely when it changed its hibiscus/Kamehameha plates to the bland, anonymous rainbow arc in the 90s.

    And while it’s near the top of the list when it comes to specialty license plate count, I’ll never consider Colorado’s plate to be anything but the mountain range in green and white.

  • avatar
    Carl Kolchak

    A great idea having web addresses on a license plate. That way you can access the web page on your phone while driving (and cause a major accident. A suggestion for a phrase for Illinois: Our Politicians become Prisoners.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    No one, but no one, has a cooler plate than the Northwest Territories’ polar bear.

  • avatar
    Bushwack

    Having been born, raised and (unfortunately) still living in Los Angeles, the state of California has nothing…NOTHING to be proud of. Besides, I don’t think there’s enough room on a plate for the motto “We’re the highest taxed state in the nation. Deal with it”.

  • avatar
    1998redwagon

    two comments on license plates in general. when i lived in maine i was told that the ‘live free or die’ new hampshire plates were stamped out – wait for it – by prisoners in the state penitentiary. if that is true it should be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

    the best license plate i ever saw was from the northwest territories (before nunavut was split out) it was in the shape of a walking polar bear! no more boring rectangle.

  • avatar

    I love our plates here in NC, “First in Flight” with a lightly laid image of the first flight. Plus we have many beautiful extra plates that support a cause, like the popular Great Smoky Mountain Foundation plate.

    • 0 avatar
      LeeK

      I like it too, having been a resident of NC for thirty one years. But Ohioans are not very happy about the whole NC claim about being “First in Flight”. The Wright Brothers were from Dayton, did all their research there, and only used Kill Devil Hills because of the steady winds needed to launch their gliders and later powered fliers. The controversy also arose on the state quarter when NC once again used a Wright Flyer theme. North Carolina added little to the effort other than a big sand hill.

      The best selling specialty plate is the orange and green one of the Blue Ridge Parkway foundation. For some bizarre reason, there is a bill in progress to change all specialty plates to plain white with just a tiny bit of artwork because the plates are supposedly hard to read by the new highway toll cameras that are being put in place (the first ones just went up the RTP area). The State DOT says there is no problem reading any of the specialty plates, so it is unclear why the bill was raised in the first place, other than some disgruntled legislator doesn’t like them.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    I think the DC plates are spot on and perfectly worded to describe their situation, pointing out the obvious flaw of residents not having representation in congress. The final throwaway line about it applying to government in general it just poisons the entire article by parroting the usual ‘too high’ tax mantra conservatives can’t seem to shake.

  • avatar
    stottpie

    i put white out over the dmv.ca.gov on my license plate.

  • avatar

    In the 1950s, Michigan plates had the motto “Water Wonderland” and in 1965 it was changed to “Water-Winter Wonderland”. In ’68 it changed to Great Lakes State and then in ’82 that was shortened to Great Lakes, which I think is lame. Michigan isn’t the only state adjacent to the Great Lakes. Great Lakes State was a bit better because the lakes do define Michigan’s geography, but I’m guessing that a lot of baby boomers like myself prefer Water-Winter Wonderland.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    I lived in Indiana during the “wander” slogan and always wanted to get a customized plate (only one, Indiana didn’t require a front plate at the time) that read “OUT OF”.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      Native Hoosier here. The “WANDER” plates were embarrassing and loved by very few. In days of yore, Indiana plates where the colors of whoever won the state basketball championship. Then we went to class basketball, messed with the time zones, and to show complete foolishness, built a pond for a “riverboat casino” in front of an historical building that was built as a casino. Just glad I’ve got a good jumpshot.

  • avatar
    pdog

    Why did California’s license plates get so boring? Is this for legibility, cost, or are they trying to get people to pay extra for the special charity plates?

    California’s default Golden State plate with the sunset was far more attractive than anything they’ve put out since. It seems like most other states still have much more interesting plates.

  • avatar
    360joules

    As a college student in Indiana in the late 80′s we all muttered “Meander Indianer”

  • avatar
    stuart

    Apocryphal story: Years ago, a Canadian radio station held a contest to determine the Canadian equivalent of “As American as Apple Pie.” The wining slogan:

    “As Canadian as possible, under the circumstances.”

    Dunno if that would fit on a license plate. (No disrespect intended to Canada nor Canadians; I admire your ability to poke fun at yourselves!)

    stuart

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    At least states like SC put the tourism website on their plates (also PA, http://www.visitpa.com), which makes some sense. But California features the DMV site! Where no one goes unless they have to.

  • avatar
    replica

    The previous Texas plates were sweet. There was a space shuttle, a cowboy, oil dykes, a moon! It had everything that made Texas awesome!

    I recently moved to Washington and the plates, well, they’re boring. I want state specific things on the plate. In Washington’s case, it would be a hipster wearing an ironic trucker T-shirt one size too small, holding a tallboy “Rainier” (the equal to PBR or Lonestar), and a carrier bag with a bunch of small button pins on it with cleverly ironic sayings on them.

  • avatar
    Southerner

    Dear Clutch, Thanks for a BIG laugh.


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