The Preamble in License Plates – Washington, D.C. - Atlas Obscura

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The Preamble in License Plates

The preamble to the U.S. Constitution written entirely from vanity license plates hangs in the Smithsonian museum. 


Mike Wilkins, an artist born in North Carolina in 1959, is best known for his unique and truly American piece of artwork created in 1987 for the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution.

The artist requested a vanity license plate from each of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia to piece together the first lines of the famous document. These license plates mean very little on their own, but when they are organized alphabetically by state name and read phonetically with a little creativity, they form the preamble to the Constitution.

It begins with six plates across the top row, from Alabama to Colorado: “WE TH  P PUL  OF TH  U NI  DIDD  ST8S,” and so on from there.

This wonderfully colorful and creative piece of art can be now found in none other than the Smithsonian American Art Museum, hanging in an out-of-the-way hallway by the gift shops.

Update as of October 2022: This piece is now located on the third floor at the far end of the Luce Foundation Center, at the entrance to the Automobile in American Art exhibit.

Know Before You Go

Admission to the Smithsonian American Art Museum is free. The preamble piece is located near the gift shops on the first floor in the North Wing.


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