That Wonderful '65 Love Affair? Michigan Revives the Iconic Water Winter Wonderland Plate Just in Time for Christmas

Joseph Serwach

Long before Pure Michigan and Say Yes, the Great Lakes State thrived with the Water Winter Wonderland Campaign
The revived “Water-Winter Wonderland” plate is back.Image courtesy Michigan Secretary of State.
Michigan Secretary of State Joycelyn Benson Thursday announced she’s reviving a mid-1960s icon, the “Water-Winter Wonderland” license plate that graced all Michigan vehicles in 1965–67.

In Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story, author David Maraniss argues Detroit and Michigan reached their peak of global and national cultural influence in the early 1960s as Motown, and the Mustang were born in an age when the Motor City was admired around the world.

The new navy blue plate with gold letters recreates Michigan’s 1965 license plate in colors and is available as another optional plate. In that same golden era:

  • Detroit was in the running to host the 1968 U.S. Olympics (a bid endorsed by John F. Kennedy). But, unfortunately, the city lost to Mexico City.
  • Martin Luther King tested his “I have a dream speech” before going to Washington, where he delivered the identical speech that made history in the civil rights movement.
  • Detroit’s Big Three became the Big Four and owned the U.S. auto market while influencing manufacturing and advertising.
  • Michigan Gov. George Romney (founder of American Motors Corp. and father of U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney) was touted as a presidential candidate.
  • And long before anyone heard of the “world wide web,” Michigan had its own “WWW,” the “Water-Winter Wonderland.”“I am proud to give Michiganders back a longtime favorite license plate that also marks a critical moment in the history of our nation’s democracy,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a statement.

“In 1965, we worked together as a nation to protect and advance voting rights in pursuit of a more perfect union, just as today we must come together as a nonpartisan, pro-democracy coalition to protect and advance our elections.”

Michiganders purchasing the retro plate will pay a one-time $5 graphic plate fee in addition to the regular registration fees. Personalization of the plate is available but is limited to 6 digits due to the font style and size accompanying the vintage reissue.

Water Winter Wonderland: A successful ad campaign

Before today’s Pure Michigan campaign and the 1980s “Say Yes to Michigan” ads, Michigan boomed in the post World War II 1950s with its “Water Wonderland” campaign.

The Michigan Tourist Council had an amusing slogan in the 1940s, “Michigan: Tourist Empire of the Inland Seas” (gracing a map showing the Great Lakes). The council shifted to Water Wonderland” in the 1950s.

Water Wonderland graced all Michigan license plates from 1955 to 1964. Then, the state decided it also needed to push its winter activities, so it amended the campaign to “Water Winter Wonderland,” part of license plates in 1965, 1966, and 1967.

In 1968, the state changed its plates to say “Great Lakes State.” License plates that used to change every year got pretty plain and predictable in those next several years as the Great Lakes region became known as the Rust Belt:

  • From 1979–83, Michigan plates were black with white letters.
  • From 1983–2007, they were mainly blue with white letters, and “Great Lakes State” was shorted to “Great Lakes.”
  • Since 2007, they’ve been white with blue letters except for a host of special personalized and vanity style plates supporting everything from universities to causes.

State Sen. Mallory McMurrow, D-Royal Oak, authored legislation to allow Michiganders to re-use some of those older “classic” plates for a $100 fee that would support road improvements.

By 1970, the tourist council tried, “The Michigans — the Almost Islands of the Great Lakes.” Then-chairman Ron Gamble argued, “Michigan is the only two-part state in the union, and on the map, it appears to be islands nestled in the midst of the Great Lakes.”

In 1982, the state launched its “Say yes to Michigan!” campaign along with a catchy jingle that never made it to license plates.

The forgettable “Great Lakes, Great Times” campaign followed in 1997, replaced with the award-winning “Pure Michigan” campaign since 2006.

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