Ranking Michigan’s License Plates Over the Past 50 Years
I can trace my fascination with license plates all the way back to early childhood.
I remember walking down my grandma's street in Swartz Creek, writing down her neighbors' tag numbers in my little note pad.
I remember suffering through bowl after bowl of barely-edible Honeycomb cereal, just to get the little metal bike-sized license plate in the box.
I remember telling my parents that when I grew up, I wanted to make license plates. (They urged me to set other goals.)
Of course, this was all before the proliferation of specialty tags and personalized plates. Today in Michigan you can get plates in a myriad of designs - to support special causes or certain universities, to show your military or veteran status, and much more.
For those of us who are content with the standard-issue state plate, there have been seven basic designs since the early 1970s. Some of them are iconic; some of them are downright boring.
Here's my ranking of Michigan's basic seven license plates since the early 1970s.
7. Old black and white. This plate was standard-issue in Michigan between 1979 and 1983. Can't get much more generic-looking and uninspired than this.
6. Dark blue-and-white. These were first issued in 1973 and stayed on Michigan cars and trucks until 1975. Just barely better than the black-and-white plates that would follow a few years later. I gave it extra points for the dark blue, thinking of it as a nod to the water that surrounds the state.
5. Maroon and white. These plates graced Michigan vehicles in 1971 and 1972. Still drab, but at least there's some color.
4. Blue and white. Disregarding a few font changes and character spacing updates, this standard-issue Michigan plate was the longest-running of all. It was first issued in 1983, and continued in service until 2007. Still pretty plain, but again, the nod to the "Great Lakes" with the bright blue was an appropriate choice.
3. White and blue, with the Michigan band at top. In use from 2007 to 2013, this plate marked the first time in nearly 30 years that the state's main license plate showed any dynamic qualities at all. For the first time, seven characters were standard from the start. The plate also featured the URL for the state's governmental website. (This would be improved upon in 2013.)
2. White and blue, with the michigan.org band at the bottom. Instead of directing those who saw the plate to visit Michigan's governmental website, the powers-that-be chose to use the plate as opportunity to promote tourism within the state with the .org website, and doubled down by including the "Pure Michigan" slogan that had been featured in state tourism commercials since 2008. This is Michigan's current base plate and has been used since 2013.
1. The bicentennial plate. This old Michigan license plate just makes my heart happy. A salute to the nation's 200th birthday, this plate was an abstract representation of the American flag and was standard issue between 1976 and 1978. It was proud, patriotic, and emblematic of the times.
Maybe Michigan's got something similar up its sleeve for America's 250th birthday in 2026? Here's hoping. I'll even volunteer to help make them.
Photo: Jtplates // No Changes Made // CCAS: 4.0
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