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The curious history of the “BEEF” license plate

Filed by KOSU News in Feature.
March 27, 2013
 

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There’s license plates for military service, for sororities and fraternities, for child abuse prevention, even for the Oklahoma City Thunder. But some would make the case those can’t touch the popularity of the BEEF tag. It’s meant for the front of the car, and comes in a couple of different forms, and may be one of the oldest ones on the road today…

At the Oklahoma Beef Council, they couldn’t figure out where the idea for the bold black letters on the tag came from. But the meaning is much more apparent…

“I think that it’s quite frankly, that there’s no one that’s more proud of their product than farmers and ranchers.  And so this is a small way, but a big way for them, to be able to promote their own product and tell people that they proudly produce beef.”

Heather Buckmaster told me they go through about 5,000 a year, with requests sometimes from as far away as Germany. She says the tags have been around for more than 20 years, with the idea first coming from the national office.

“They are now black with a hint of orange and that came across because one of our board members said he thought we were promoting the other school and so we also needed to promote OSU.”

That’s not a concern at the Oklahoma State University Cattlewoman’s Association:

“This is just a way for me to express where I come from and the part of the beef industry but also OSU is a big part of my life, I truly bleed orange.”

Megan Bryant was once a member of the group, she’s now a graduate student at OSU, studying animal science. And these tags are a little different…labeled Eat Beef, with Pistol Pete parked in between the two words.

But this design didn’t start in Oklahoma either. This time, Kansas State University, where they became popular thanks to ag legend Colonel Stanley Stout.

“I think it’s such an effective message. You’re not trying to beat around the bush, you’re not going around anything, you’re just saying, ‘Hey, eat beef.’”

Rosie Templeton is a current member of the cattlewomen’s association, which sells the orange and black tags.

“It encompasses so many things. For me, I’m really passionate about agriculture and the cattle industry and I’m also passionate about the fact that I go to Oklahoma State and that I’m in the agriculture faculty here. It just kinda puts so many things into one that make up who I am and that I’m very, very proud of.”

And these tags pop up across the country, not as often as Oklahoma, but they get requests all the time from other states. Sarah Harris, an OSU alum living in Austin, went so far as to bid far above retail value for one at an auction.

“There were very few people that probably would’ve wanted it in the first place, so I just decided it had to be mine.”

That was all for her to put in her office, since Texas requires both front and back tags.

And Heather with the Oklahoma Beef Council says there’s a very practical use for these tags too.

“Some hunters wanted them on their trucks because they said farmers and ranchers were more likely to let them on their place if they had that beef plate.”

So if there’s any question about what dominates the food discussion in Oklahoma, just walk through some parking lots.

“It seems like every other vehicle has the eat beef license plate.”

After all, there probably won’t be any plates marked PORK or EGGS.

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On April 4th, the OSU Cattlewomen’s Association will be selling the plates on the Stillwater campus, behind the Edmon Low Library. They also take orders online. And the Oklahoma Beef Council says their plates are always available at their offices near Stockyard City.

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