US State License Plate Mottos Quiz: Where Are We?
For so many Americans, our 2020 travel plans were limited to just that – plans – as the year saw sharp declines in air, rail, bus, cruise line, and even highway travel. As the travel industry struggles toward normalcy in 2021, maybe you’re considering a driving trip to a state that is so confident of its destination desirability that it calls itself “Vacationland” on its license plates.
Another of our 50 states immodestly tells you that it’s a “Sportsman’s Paradise” on its license plates. Do you know your geography? Which states do that? Do you know your US state license plate mottos?
A new license plate game
About three-fourths of the 50 states have a slogan or a motto on their license plate that reflects a marketable aspect of the state’s personality. Some are historically based (“Land of Lincoln,” First In Flight,” “War of 1812”), some are geographically based (“Grand Canyon State,” “Evergreen State,” “Cornhusker State”), some are just plain bragging (“Land of Enchantment,” “Wild, Wonderful”). A few make strong political statements (“Live Free or Die,” “No Taxation Without Representation”).
Let’s try a variation of the License Plate Game and see how well you know the individual U.S. states and their license plate mottos.
License plate mottos quiz
It should be noted that many states allow resident drivers to order special message plates, such as environmental messages. But this quiz focuses only on each state’s standard license plate.
Match the state with the motto. This won’t be easy because many of these slogans seem as though they could apply to more than one state. (Answers and explanations follow the quiz.)
|License Plate Motto
|1. Land of Lincoln
2. Famous Potatoes
3. Live Free or Die
5. Sunshine State
6. Sportsman’s Paradise
7. First in Flight
8. Aloha State
9. Grand Canyon State
10. The Last Frontier
11. Lone Star State
12. Ocean State
13. Land of 10,000 Lakes
14. Land of Enchantment
15. Volunteer State
16. Empire State
17. Constitution State
18. Green Mountain State
19. Spirit of America
20. The First State
21. War of 1812
22. … is for Lovers
23. Great Faces, Great Places
24. Wild, Wonderful
25. Big Sky Country
26. Greatest Snow on Earth
27. Heart of Dixie
28. The Silver State
29. Heart of It All
30. The Natural State
31. Discover the Spirit
32. The Show Me State
33. The Garden State
34. The Cornhusker State
35. The Evergreen State
37. Bluegrass State
38. No Taxation Without Representation
G. New Hampshire
H. North Carolina
J. New York
K. South Dakota
T. New Jersey
W. Rhode Island
Z. North Dakota
EE. New Mexico
HH. West Virginia
II. Washington, D.C.
List of state license plate mottos
Land of Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky and raised in Indiana. But Illinois claims Lincoln on its license plates. It was Lincoln’s work in central Illinois as a young lawyer and, for one term, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives that earned him a reputation which led to the White House. Springfield, the Illinois capital, is also the site of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library. His remains are entombed in a cemetery just outside of town, too.
Famous Potatoes. This one’s not the most difficult on the list. It’s Idaho, of course. The state has had this promotional plug on its plates for many years, forgoing its more dramatic state motto of Esto Perpetua (“Let it be perpetual”). While you’re in Idaho, don’t forget to visit the Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot. And have an Idaho Spud, which is not a potato but a candy bar. Idaho also puts the word “Scenic” on its license plates to remind you that its good vistas, in addition to good potatoes, await visitors.
Live Free or Die. Probably the most famous license plate motto of all. New Hampshire adopted this as its official state motto in 1945. It’s a line from a letter written in 1809 by a Revolutionary War general from New Hampshire, John Stark, as he recalled the reason for the Revolutionary War.
Vacationland. How many state officials believe their state offers families the location and opportunities for nice vacations? All 50, surely. But Maine is so sure of the beauty of its mountains, lakes and ocean shoreline that it puts “Vacationland” on its license plates.
Sportsman’s Paradise. This is another slogan that more than one state could claim. Louisiana’s license plates carry this slogan because residents and state officials are proud of the state’s hunting and fishing options.
Sunshine State. Yet another multi-state possibility. Hint: oranges. Yes, it’s Florida. A few other states have more sunshine annually, such as Arizona and Nevada, but they’ve already got their own license plate slogans. Keep reading.
Birthplace of Aviation and First in Flight. These are similar, but the states aren’t. The Wright Brothers made their first successful flights on a hill in North Carolina, but they were from Ohio, and Ohio therefore claims the first of these two slogans. It even got the okay to do so in a 2003 vote in the U.S. Congress. (The North Carolina congressional members voted against the resolution.)
Ohio did see the birth of Orville, while Wilbur was born in Indiana. Ohio is also the home of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on Wright-Patterson Air Base near Dayton. But North Carolina took the second of these slogans to remind everyone exactly where the first airplane flights took place, at windy Kitty Hawk. Ohio has since moved “Birthplace of Aviation” into a background lettering on its plates, along with the not-very-modest “Heart of It All.”
Aloha State. This one’s so easy that we’re going to deduct extra points if you got it wrong. Hawaii has very little competition for this slogan.
Grand Canyon State. This is a geography-based question. The Grand Canyon – one of the greatest natural wonders on Earth – is in northern Arizona, close to Nevada and Utah (but that’s the Colorado River running through the bottom of the Canyon).
Lone Star State. Another easy one. This is Texas’ license plate motto, the state flag of which has a single star on it to represent its former status as an independent republic before it became the 28th state of the United States in 1845.
Ocean State. Eighteen states touch either the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean, not even counting the states on the Gulf of Mexico or Long Island Sound, both of which are technically part of the Atlantic Ocean. (Including those, the number would jump to 23 states.) But only one state puts this label on its license plates. It’s Nebraska. Just kidding! It’s not Nebraska, which is proud of its main crop, corn, and calls itself The Cornhusker State.
The correct Ocean State answer for this license plate motto is tiny Rhode Island, which, despite its size, claims nearly 400 oceanfront miles (when you count the ins and outs of all the coves and beaches and promontories).
Which brings up another geography question: which state among the Lower 48 has the greatest amount of shoreline? This is a trick question! You’re thinking about a state on one of the coasts, aren’t you – but the correct answer is Michigan, which used to brag about it on its license plates with the slogan of, simply, “Great Lakes.”
Michigan was entitled to the brag. It’s the only state that touches four of the five Great Lakes, and it has a total of 3,224 miles of shoreline, far ahead of any other state in the Lower 48. Look at a U.S. map and you’ll see why – both parts of Michigan (they’re called Upper and Lower) are peninsulas. A few years ago, Michigan’s legislators apparently got tired of that statement and changed their license plate to say…Pure Michigan.
By the way, Florida has the most Atlantic Ocean coastline miles, and California has the most Pacific Ocean coastline miles among the Lower 48. Including our second-newest state, though, Alaska has more than California, with more than 6,000 miles of Pacific and Arctic Ocean coastline, depending on whether one includes the tidal coast or only the general coast. And speaking of Alaska …
The Last Frontier. This Star Trek-like slogan sits comfortably on the license plates of Alaska, the most geographically remote of the United States.
Land of 10,000 Lakes. You’re skeptical, aren’t you? Could Minnesota really have this many lakes? In fact, Minnesota claims 11,842 lakes. That’s so many, in fact, that the state ran out of lake names. If someone asks you, “Where’s Lake Alice?” you’d be correct in answering, “Which one?” Minnesota has two Lake Alices, four Lake Annes, five Lake Pleasants, nine lakes with the name “Bass,” etc.
Land of Enchantment. New Mexico’s mountains and forests and all-around beautiful scenery have been acknowledged on this state’s license plate since World War Two.
Volunteer State. Tennessee is proud of the fighting capabilities of the many volunteers the state sent to the 1814-1815 Battle of New Orleans (and later in the 1846-1848 Mexican-American War).
Empire State. The origin of New York’s nickname is unclear, although its common usage can be traced to the early 1800s. One possible reason: George Washington referred to New York in a 1785 letter as the “Seat of the Empire,” possibly referring to New York’s status just then as the capital of the United States. (The nation’s capital moved more than once before the completion of Washington, D.C.)
Constitution State. Several New England states have strong connections to the development of our U.S. Constitution, but Connecticut puts this on its plates because it was the first colony to have a written constitution – all the way back in 1639, almost 150 years before the federal Constitution.
Green Mountain State. Vermont, home of the Green Mountains and also the Green Mountain Boys, a renowned Revolutionary era fighting group, puts this on its plates.
Spirit of America. This slogan could certainly be claimed by all 50 states, couldn’t it? But Massachusetts, home of important early Patriots, site of the Boston Tea Party, and several of the first Revolutionary War battles, uses this on its license plates.
The First State. First in what sense, you might ask. How about literally – the first state to accept the U.S. Constitution as the law of the land, thus making it the first to become one of the United States. Delaware delegates voted to accept the Constitution on Dec. 7, 1787, beating Pennsylvania, the second state, by five days and New Jersey, the third state, by 11 days.
War of 1812. Moving forward one war, Maryland – which saw much of the action of the War of 1812 – reminds us of that fact on its license plates.
Virginia is For Lovers. Oddly, this is on Indiana’s license plates. Not! Just kidding. Virginia’s gentle, unusual slogan has been popular in the state for many years.
Great Faces; Great Places. Where can you find the most famous faces in North America? No, not Hollywood. Well…okay, yes, Hollywood. Let’s try it this way: where are the most famous inert, non-moving faces in North America? All right, that’s still Hollywood – or at least, the waiting room of any Hollywood plastic surgeon. So forget Hollywood for this question. The answer: Mount Rushmore. Hence the reference on South Dakota license plates.
Wild, Wonderful. This statement has been on West Virginia’s license plates for more than 40 years, although its current marketing campaign calls the state by an equally immodest “Almost heaven.”
Big Sky Country. The glorious vistas among the plains and mountains give Montana a grand and expansive feel, which extends upward into the air. Also, the state itself is the fourth-largest of the 50 states in square miles (only Alaska, Texas and California, in order, are larger) – so it’s literally true that there’s a very big sky above Montana.
License plate pictures
Pennsylvania, Iowa, Indiana and Oklahoma put their state’s website on their plates to entice travelers to see vacation possibilities. No slogan; just pictures: Kansas has wind power – windmills, old-fashioned and new wind turbines – pictured above waving fields of wheat. Indiana’s plates feature a covered bridge. Wyoming puts an outline of a cowboy on its license plates. The state of Washington uses silhouettes of evergreen trees and calls itself The Evergreen State.
Greatest Snow on Earth. This is Utah, which is among the states with wonderful skiing. The slogan is a twist on “Greatest Show On Earth,” the marketing slogan for the former Barnum & Bailey and Ringling Brothers Circus.
Heart of Dixie. Alabama put this on its plates following a 1950s public relations campaign by the Alabama Chamber of Commerce. The state is in the approximate middle, geographically, of the U.S. South, a region often known as Dixie. Interesting note: “Stars Fell On” was added to the plates in 2002 above the word Alabama. That partial-sentence slogan was both a reference to an astronomical phenomenon – an 1834 meteor shower – and a sweet and popular 1934 love song, one of the lines of which is, “And stars fell on Alabama last night.” The state’s most recent plates have dropped the song lyric but kept “Heart of Dixie.”
The Silver State. This license plate motto comes from the extensive silver mining done in Nevada, not the sound of coins falling into slot machines in Reno and Las Vegas. Although, come to think of it, that second reason works, too.
The Natural State. This somewhat imprecise slogan is the result of an Arkansas state promotional campaign, intended to lure tourists to the lakes, rivers, mountains and forests of Arkansas.
Discover The Spirit. This is a reference to North Dakota’s location as home of several native American indigenous tribes. North Dakota also calls itself “The Peace Garden State” because it has the U.S. section of the International Peace Garden, which celebrates the long peace between the United States and Canada.
Show-Me State. “You’ve got to show me!” is an old-fashioned expression for those among us who are chronically skeptical about new information. Although Missouri license plates are currently celebrating the state’s bicentenary (1821-2021), for many years it had enough pride in its citizenry’s studied reflection that it displayed “Show Me” on its license plates.
The Garden State. Those who see only the parts of New Jersey closest to New York City might be surprised to learn that this is New Jersey’s license plate motto. But agriculture is the state’s third-largest industry. The state’s farmers grow more than 100 kinds of fruits and vegetables.
Bluegrass State. Kentucky has a species of grass, known as bluegrass, in many of the pastures where racing horses are raised for the world-famous Kentucky Derby. The state recently added “Unbridled Spirit” to its license plates, with a silhouette of a horse.
No Taxation Without Representation. This is the slogan on the one area in this article that’s not actually a state, although it would like to be: the District of Columbia, within which sits our capital city, Washington. The slogan sounds like it belongs to Patriots in 1776, and it does. But Washington, D.C., residents are touchy about not having voting representation in Congress (the lone representative is non-voting) – so touchy that they put this fiery statement on their license plates.
No license plate mottos at all
Eleven states don’t put their state slogan or nickname on their license plates. For example, Indiana doesn’t. It’s known as the Hoosier State (no one knows exactly why), but the state’s official motto is “Crossroads of America.”
That does seem like a bit of a brag, but Indiana is moderately close to the middle of the continent (even though it’s in the Eastern time zone), and several interstate highways cross it (I-65, I-69, I-70, I-74, I-80, U.S. 31).
With all those highways, maybe Indiana should also have put “Drive Carefully” on its plates, but Maryland had that on its plates (until it changed to a reminder of its importance in the War of 1812). And it’s certainly good advice as we all motor around America in our RVs.