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Wright Flyer Wrong

FILE - Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, unveiled the new "Sunrise in Ohio" license plate in Columbus, Ohio. 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. The mistake was fixed immediately once it was discovered. The new “Sunrise in Ohio” plate became available to the public last week. (Jessie Balmert/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP, File)

Ohio and North Carolina have quarreled for years over which state is the birthplace of aviation. Ohio claims the title because the Wright brothers were from that state. North Carolina’s claim comes from the fact the brothers’ first flight was in that state.

Back when the U.S. Mint was issuing quarters to honor each state, North Carolina wanted its quarter to say, “First in Flight.” Ohio wanted its quarter to say “Birthplace of Aviation.” The Treasury Department wanted to stay out of this spat, so it changed one to “First Flight” and the other to “Birthplace of Aviation Pioneers,” a nod to both the Wright brothers and Neil Armstrong.

The tussle over bragging rights came up again a few months ago. Some states, such as West Virginia, rarely change the design of their vehicle license plates. Ohio tends to change its plates and its marketing slogan every few years, so someone decided Ohio needed a license plate with the Wright brothers’ airplane, known as the Wright Flyer, on it pulling a banner saying “Birthplace of Aviation.” It was a nice design except that the designers got the plane backward. What is now considered an airplane’s tail was at the front of the Wright brothers’ plane, so the license plate instead had the Wright Flyer pulling the banner from its nose.

According to the Associated Press, North Carolina officials had some fun with the blunder this past October.

“Y’all leave Ohio alone,” tweeted the North Carolina Department of Transportation. “They wouldn’t know. They weren’t there.”

The AP reported this week that designers at the Ohio Department of Public Safety fussed over such issues as color saturation, centering and image placement on the new plate. The Ohio State Highway Patrol tested the license plate’s lettering for readability. But no one paid attention to getting the Wright Flyer right.

The faulty design was fixed as soon as Ohio officials learned of it. The new plate, known as “Sunrise in Ohio,” became available to the public last week. It is the state’s 76th new plate and its first since 2013. It replaces the former “Beautiful Ohio” plate, which debuted in 2009.

The new plate was a pet project of Gov. Mike DeWine. An Ohio license plate probably hasn’t gotten this much scrutiny since the infamous “Seat Belts Fastened?” plates issued in the early 1970s when John Gilligan was governor.

There’s something to be said for classic, simple designs that last for years — even generations. West Virginia’s plates are plain compared to Ohio’s recent offerings, but they get the job done without endless tinkering from whoever occupies the governor’s mansion (assuming someone does). Ohio will get over its recent flub, just as Kentucky did years ago when its “Unbridled Spirit” plates replaced the old plates featuring a rising sun with a smiley face (seriously), although that plate is being replaced, too.

Keeping it simple is good advice in most situations. As Ohio’s experience shows, it’s good advice in license plate design, too, especially when another state is ready to troll you.

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