Skip to main content

Highway Shields and University Logos

Michigan, Wyoming, and, at one point, North Carolina.  Three states that have or had what appears to be their flagship university's logo within their highway shield.  Is that truly the case?

Within the roadgeek community - specific to those that are more sign enthusiasts - there has been debate on whether or not the three states do, did, or do not use the logo of their state universities in their highway shields.  Some say yes, while others say no.  So, I decided to take a closer look.


M-39 Highway Shield (Tom Fearer)

Big Blue. Trunkline highways which are noted as "M-Route Number."  At first glance, it sure does look like the M in a Michigan highway shield are the same - but when you look closely - they are not.

University of Michigan logo (

The M in the University of Michigan logo is wider, and the point of the M is much lower than that of the Michigan highway shield.  As shown in the illustration below from Chris Bessert at, you can see that the two 'M's do not line up.  They are just different enough. 

The Michigan Highway M over top of the University of Michigan Block M.  The University logo is yellow, any overlap is Brown, and the Highway M is in blue.  (Image courtesy Chris Bessert /

Even with that, the idea is that the use of the M for Michigan highways came from the university's block 'M.' Again, not really - a quick dive into the history of both 'M's is worth looking at.

The "Block M" of Michigan is to have first debuted on November 16, 1907, at a football game against the University of Pennsylvania. (1) From that point, the "Block M" slowly grew as the symbol of the university and its athletic programs. However, it wasn't until 1948 that the University of Michigan began to showcase the "Block M" in what we would call today its branding.  Over the next few decades, the "Block M" would develop even further as the symbol of the university.  In 1982, the University of Michigan applied for and received a trademark for its "Block M" logo.

Meanwhile, the development of the Michigan highway shield M began with Alan M. Williams with the Michigan State Highway Department.  Williams drafted the first state highway map in 1919, and it is considered that he was instrumental in designing the state highway marker. Williams was a 1916 graduate of the University of Michigan. (2)

In the end, it is just coincidental. The M in the highway shield debuted just as the University's "Block M" began taking hold. However, it was nearly 30 years before the Block M was officially part of the university's logo - and the two shapes are just different enough not to conflict with any trademark issues.


Wyoming Highway Shields (Adam Prince)

The Bucking Horse and Rider. It is synonymous with the State of Wyoming. It is the logo for the University of Wyoming; it's on the state highway shield, and just about anywhere in Wyoming. They are all the same logo, and it is also a trademarked property of the state.

The use of the bucking horse and rider dates to World War I as the insignia worn by members of the Wyoming National Guard serving in France and Germany. (3)  The design is displayed throughout the state - from the university to highway shields and license plates to almost anything. The logo's origin is credited to a photograph of a famous rodeo horse named "Steamboat" taken at the Albany County Fair in 1903.

The University of Wyoming logo (

The University of Wyoming first used the Bucking Horse and Rider for its logo in 1921. By 1936, it was well-known enough to be showcased on the state's license plates and highway shields.  Due to concerns about the counterfeit use of the logo, the state applied for and received a copywrite for the design in 1936. It has been since trademarked as a joint effort between the State of Wyoming and the University of Wyoming.

North Carolina:

NC 150 Cutout shield at the North Carolina Transportation Museum (Adam Prince)

Until the mid-late 1960s, the North Carolina highway shield had an interlocking 'NC' at the top of the diamond above the numerals. And like Michigan's, at first look, it appears to be the same as the logo for the University of North Carolina.  And like Michigan's, it wasn't.

The difference between the two logos is the vertical lines in the letter 'N.' While the NC highway shield N was straight, the UNC 'N' had curved vertical lines.

The 1901-1931 University of North Carolina Logo (

As for what came first, the interlocking NC first appeared as the university's logo as early as the 1890s and has stuck ever since.  The NC highway shield first appeared in 1921 with an interlocking NC, but as discussed earlier, with a slightly different N. At most, the interlocking NC within the highway shield was "inspired" by UNC's logo.

By the 2000s, it was rare to find any interlocking NC signs standing.  This one near Troutman was one of the last standing. (Chris Patriarca, 2003)

The University of North Carolina trademarked the interlocking NC in 1982. (5) By then, the use of the interlocking NC on highway shields had long ended.  It has been suggested within the roadgeek community that it would be nice for North Carolina to bring back the interlocking NC in its highway shield - I am not sure if that will ever happen.

Sources & Links:


Popular posts from this blog

Horace Wilkinson Bridge (Baton Rouge, LA)

Standing tall across from downtown Baton Rouge, the Horace Wilkinson Bridge carries Interstate 10 across the lower Mississippi River between West Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parishes. Unusually, the bridge is actually named for three separate people; three generations of Horace Wilkinsons who served in the Louisiana State Legislature over a combined period of 54 years. Constructed in the 1960s and opened to traffic in 1968, this is one of the largest steel bridges on the lower Mississippi. It’s also the tallest bridge across the Mississippi, with its roadway reaching 175 ft at the center span. Baton Rouge is the northernmost city on the river where deep-water, ocean-going vessels can operate. As a result, this bridge is the northernmost bridge on the river of truly gigantic proportions. Altogether, the bridge is nearly 2 ½ miles long and its massive truss superstructure is 4,550 ft long with a center main truss span of 1,235 ft. The Horace Wilkinson Bridge is one of the largest

Sunshine Bridge (Donaldsonville, LA)

Located about halfway between Baton Rouge and New Orleans in southern Louisiana, the Sunshine Bridge spans the lower Mississippi River near the city of Donaldsonville as part of the longer Louisiana Highway 70 corridor, which connects Interstate 10 and Airline Highway (US 61) with US 90 in Morgan City. In the years following World War II, the only bridges across the lower Mississippi River in Louisiana were located in the area of the state’s two largest cities – Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Postwar agricultural and industrial development along the river in this region led to the planning of a series of infrastructure projects in southern Louisiana that were aimed at spurring this development and modernization of the Delta region. One of these projects was known as the Acadian Thruway and was developed in the 1950s as a toll road intended to connect greater New Orleans with Lafayette and points west while providing a high-speed bypass of the Baton Rouge metro area. The Thruway, which

Natchez-Vidalia Bridge (Natchez, MS)

  Located about halfway between Baton Rouge and Vicksburg near the city of Natchez, the Natchez-Vidalia Bridge crosses the lower Mississippi River between southwest Mississippi and northeastern Louisiana at the city of Vidalia. This river crossing is a dual span, which creates an interesting visual effect that is atypical on the Mississippi River in general. Construction on the original bridge took place in the late 1930s in conjunction with a much larger parallel effort by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to strengthen the area’s flood protection and levee system along the Mississippi River. One of the more ambitious aspects of this plan was to relocate the city of Vidalia to a location of higher ground about one mile downriver from the original settlement. The redirection of the river through the Natchez Gorge (which necessitated the relocation of the town) and the reconstruction of the river’s levee system in the area were undertaken in the aftermath of the Great Flood of 1927, wh