Before Pure Michigan …

Slogans promoted “Playground of a Nation” and “Tourist Empire of the Inland Seas.” Photography courtesy Vintage Views
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Michigan Water WonderlandLong before 2006 when the “Pure Michigan” campaign launched, different slogans were used to promote Michigan as a travel and tourist destination. These slogans met with varying degrees of success.

We like the quirky “Tourist Empire of the Inland Seas” slogan. Although laid on a little thick, it captured the spirit of the times.

Michigan Empire of Inland SeasIn the early days, different parts of Michigan used their own slogans. “Playground of a Nation” was used as early as 1924 by the Michigan Tourist and Resort Association (later the West Michigan Tourist Association).  Grand Rapids promoted itself as the “Gateway to the Playground of a Nation” while Traverse City called itself the “Heart of the Nation’s Playground.” The East Michigan Tourist Association promoted “Peninsula Paradise” in the late 1920s and “Vacationland” in the 1930s through the 1950s. The Upper Peninsula boasted itself as “Cloverland” in the 1920s and later as the “Land of Hiawatha.” Subsequently “Hiawathaland” was used in the 1950s to promote tourism across the Mackinac Bridge.

We like the quirky “Tourist Empire of the Inland Seas” slogan. Although laid on a little thick, it captured the spirit of the times. The Michigan Tourist Council used the phrase from the 1940s through the 1950s. “Water Wonderland” caught on in the 1950s, and in the transition period both slogans were used. In the 1960s “Water-Winter Wonderland” was used. Both of these “Wonderland” slogans were heavily used by tourist associations, advertisers and postcard companies and appeared on the state’s license plates. A variation, “White Winter Wonderland,” was used by the Michigan Tourist Council in the late 1980s to promote winter sports.

One of the strangest slogans was adopted by the Michigan Tourist Council in 1970: “The Michigans — the Almost Islands of the Great Lakes.” Ron Gamble, chairman of the council at the time, said “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.” The cumbersome phraseology never caught on. It would, however, emphasize the fact that there are two Michigans.

Say yes to Michigan!

The “Say Yes to Michigan” campaign was launched in January 1982 during the Super Bowl weekend, a time when national attention was focused on the Pontiac Silverdome. Advertisements, T-shirts, buttons and other items were created. The slogan also appeared on the official state map in 1982. A variation of the phrase was a simple “Yes! Michigan.” A television commercial was created in 1986 to celebrate Michigan’s 150th birthday. A syrupy jingle was produced: “Yes! Michigan — The Feeling is Forever.” The “Yes to Michigan” slogan reached almost cliché status when it was used to sell everything from apples to automobiles. In 1984 a U.P. version evolved, “Say Ya to da U.P., Eh!”

Cloverland - Tourist's ParadiseIn 1997 Travel Michigan created the slogan “Great Lakes. Great Times” accompanied by a new logo featuring a lighthouse, orange sun and blue waves. Welcome signs with the new logo were placed at various points entering the state. An extensive advertising campaign was carried out.

In 2006 the “Pure Michigan” phrase was created by the McCann Erickson advertising agency for Travel Michigan, and an advertising campaign was launched regionally. In 2007 Pure Michigan received the Mercury Award for Best State Tourism Advertising Campaign and Best State Television Commercials, which used Tim Allen’s voice to describe the Michigan’s beautiful sunsets, idyllic lakes and quaint villages. The Pure Michigan campaign expanded to the national level in 2009. Forbes magazine placed Pure Michigan sixth-best among the top 10 all-time travel campaigns. Beside raising awareness of Michigan’s tourism potential, Pure Michigan also instills a sense of pride for those of us who are lucky enough to live in this great state.


Michigan License Plate Slogans

Michigan Water Wonderland Plate

Michigan first used a slogan on its license plates in 1954 with “Water Wonderland.” This was used until 1965, when “Water-Winter Wonderland” replaced it. Other slogans on license plates included “Great Lake State,” which ran from 1968 to 1975. A U.S. bicentennial plate without a slogan was offered from 1976-1978. The “Great Lake State” plate was offered again in 1979 and available until 1983. Shortened to “Great Lakes” in 1984, this phrase was used until 2006.


BLUE Vintage Views columnists M. Christine Byron and Thomas R. Wilson reside in Grand Rapids. They are authors of the new book “Vintage Views Along Scenic M-22 including Sleeping Bear Dunes.”

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