May 16, 2022

Botu Linum

The Car & Automotive Devotees

Ohio License Plate Mistake Went Unnoticed Throughout Entire Design Process, Records Show

3 min read

Records show that an Ohio license plate mistake depicting a backward Wright Flyer did not raise any flags during last year’s approval process.

With Ohio being where the Wright brothers were born, the new “Sunrise in Ohio” plate showed a Wright-era plane with a banner reading “Birthplace of Aviation” sprawling behind it. However, upon the license plate’s public unveiling, people noticed the banner was trailing behind what was supposed to be the front of the plane, not the back.

By today’s plane standards, the front of the Wright Flyer looks like a tail, so some guess that was the source of the confusion. About 35,000 plates were made with this mistake before it was noticed.

Through a public records request, the Associated Press obtained images and emails from 15 months of the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s license plate design process.

According to the documents, the flipped plane appeared to be part of the design from the start. And while many factors such as symbolism, color saturation and readability were accounted for, the plane issue was not discussed in any of the unredacted parts of the emails.

The mistake has since been corrected, with the new plate released to the public last week.

The backward Wright Flyer that was at the center of an embarrassing license plate mistake in Ohio last year flew through the approval process with little to no discussion, records show. Above, the license plate with the mistake, unveiled by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine on Thursday, October 21, in Columbus, Ohio.
Jessie Balmert/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP, File

Designers at the Ohio Department of Public Safety fussed over such issues as color saturation, centering and image placement. The Ohio State Highway Patrol tested the license plate’s lettering for readability.

Meanwhile, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and his wife, Fran, controlled the imagery’s overall messaging—from its rural and urban themes, to its nods to Ohio’s water resources and history, to the breed of the plate’s playful pup.

Greg Wyatt, the department’s visual communications manager, declined an AP request for comment on the plate or the design process.

The Wright brothers’ historic aircraft was intended as a proud symbol of Ohio’s place in aviation history, but it turned into a punchline in October, after the new plate design was unveiled and people immediately noticed it was oriented incorrectly.

“Y’all leave Ohio alone,” tweeted the Department of Transportation in North Carolina, where the Ohio-bred Wright brothers took their famous first flight in 1903. “They wouldn’t know. They weren’t there.”

The mistake was fixed immediately once it was discovered. The new “Sunrise in Ohio” plate became available to the public last week. It is the state’s 76th new plate and its first since 2013.

The 2009 “Beautiful Ohio” plate on which the faulty one was loosely based used clipart of the plane that wasn’t approved for commercial use, according to the emails. Lawyers worked the issue out, though their specific advice was redacted. The Republican governor conceded when unveiling the plate this fall that he and the first lady “probably drove them crazy” at the Public Safety Department with all their input.

In a January 17 email, Wyatt listed the plane as the governor’s first priority.

At the plate’s release, DeWine said he and Fran had a “particular interest” in the Wright brothers. That’s because the famous brothers’ early flight tests took place in their county, at Huffman Prairie less than 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the DeWines’ Cedarville, Ohio, home.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Wright Flyer
The “Sunrise in Ohio” license plate designers likely incorrectly assumed the front of the Wright Flyer plane was a tail or rudder, leading to the plane being flipped. Above, a replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer takes off from a track on December 17, 2003, during the Centennial Celebrations of the first flight at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images