Wyoming’s New Black License Plate Is Getting A Mixed Reaction

in Wyoming Life/News

UPDATE: WYDOT Says License Plate Is Dark Blue, Not Black

By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Wyoming residents can get a sneak peek at their new license plate design, and so far the reception has been mixed. 

The new license plate takes a dramatic turn from the traditional design with large, white block lettering on a black background framed by a red border. The numerals with the requisite silhouette of Steamboat (aka Wyoming’s famous bucking horse logo) are overlaid on the state seal and a bison in the background. 

There’s also a tagline at the bottom of the plate, inviting visitors to check out Travelwyoming.com. In the lower right corner is the “That’sWY” tagline.

Get Used To Them

The new plates will be mandatory for all motorists starting in 2025, but those renewing their license plates in 2024 for a two-year period can get them a little earlier. These new plates have already been printed and are now being sent out so they will be available for distribution on the right timeline. 

The new design isn’t a prototype or up for a public vote, and any opportunity to change the plate’s design has passed. That hasn’t stopped some people posting about the new plate and urging others to call lawmakers to get the plate changed.

Public Reacts

Objections online have ranged from “that’s ugly” to posts wondering what happened to Wyoming’s picturesque scenery.

“I find it interesting that for many, many years the background of our plates has been beautiful Wyoming scenery,” a Facebook post from Sean Valentine reads. “Now we’re planning to promote tourism with our plate and change the background to the state flag. Unfortunately, the flag doesn’t scream, ‘visit Wyoming’ to me.”

Valentine continued, saying if the goal is to promote tourism, this isn’t the image to do it.

“If they’re trying to promote tourism, why not keep it a beautiful tourist attraction from around the state?” Valentine asked. “Better yet: why not make 23 plates with the same look and feel as one another but a significant landmark from each county as the background?”


Wyoming’s famous Steamboat bucking horse logo made its first appearance on the state license plates in 1936. Here is then-Secretary of State Lester Hunt showing off the plate.  The original black-and-white photo is from the Wyoming State Archives. Photo was sharpened and colorized and is from Bill Sniffin’s coffee table book “Wyoming At 125, Our Place In The West.”

Law Says Plates Must Change

Doug McGee, Wyoming Department of Transportation public affairs officer, had some answers for the questions.

Wyoming law requires a new plate every eight years. As such, the design and planning process begins a few years in advance of that.

A committee considers feedback from a wide variety of people, including the public, as well as those who have to work with the license plates, such as law enforcement, when selecting a new design.

Another important consideration, aside from public feedback, are the design limitations of license plate printing equipment, which is done in-house these days.  

“They do print, you know, on high gloss reflective material, so some images don’t take as well,” McGee explained.

The Options

The license plates used to be printed by prisoners in the corrections system until about 15 years ago, McGee said. This was discontinued after the equipment aged out. Doing it in-house saves money because the scrap materials can be recycled and re-used.

Design limitations were a primary reason the new plate does not have scenery like the existing plate does. The photo featured on the current plate was taken from the Green River area.

“It just doesn’t reproduce as well as we would like on the material that we use,” McGee said. “So, we were kind of going to go old school. 

“One option was a red background with white letters and numbers, which comes from the early 1900s. I believe there was a Wyoming plate that way. And another option was a beige-brown background with brown numbers. And again, that’s an early 1900s. In fact, I think that plate was 1917. And then the flag.”

All three of the designs were more basic, and that was primarily to make them easier for law enforcement to read. 

The Process

The three designs were presented to the Wyoming Transportation Commission, which ultimately settled on the state-flag theme as the best design.

Adding Travelwyoming.com to the plate did not cost anything extra, McGee said, and is something many other states also do to encourage tourism.

“The Department of Transportation is very proud to partner with tourism whenever it’s appropriate,” he said. “The tourism industry, I believe, is still the No. 2 industry in the state of Wyoming, so it’s certainly vital to the economic success of our state.”

McGee said he has seen the negative Facebook comments on the new plate’s design.

“We try to pay attention to that, but we feel like this is, of course, it’s our state flag,” McGee said. “We have a lot of pride in that. We think it’s a great choice.”

Can’t Please Everyone

McGee also pointed out that there are posts approving of the new design.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t know if we’ve ever in the history of license plates designed a license plate that pleased everybody,” he said.

For those who really don’t like the new plate, there is a specialty plate for the University of Wyoming Alumni Association as well as one for Wildlife Conservation. Both plates will result in a donation to the relevant organization.

Steamboat Stays

Some of Facebook posters also have asked about the Steamboat logo on the license plate and whether they could get a design without it. But the horse, it turns out, is required by state statute, McGee said. 

“The bucking horse rider is a very proud image in Wyoming,” McGee said. “The university uses it. Quite a few people use it. It pretty much says Wyoming when you see it.”

McGee confirmed the horse is thought by many to be the profile of the famous bucking horse named Steamboat, ridden by Guy Holt in 1903; although, he added, no one has ever officially confirmed this that he knows of.

The image is meant to convey grit and courage from both horse and rider. Steamboat was 1,100 pounds of muscle and determination, with three white forelocks.

Very few men ever managed to stay atop Steamboat during the horse’s career. One report notes that the man who rode Steamboat in 1904, for a then-record 10 seconds, ultimately suffered a concussion after he was thrown and throat damage so severe he could only whisper for weeks afterward.

Steamboat came to be known as “The Horse that Could not be Ridden.” He died in 1914 in Cheyenne after being hurt by a barbed wire fence during a thunderstorm in Utah. He is said to be buried in Frontier Park — the same location where he tossed cowboys to the dirt from 1900-1908.

The iconic bucking horse image began appearing in lots of places not long after the horse died, including Wyoming National Guard equipment in France during World War I and on UW athletic uniforms in the 1920s. 

Steamboat, meanwhile, was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1975, where his legend as a singularity of the West lives on.

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