In 1684, a publicist, presumably acting on behalf of landowners in the twenty-year-old British colony across the sea, papered Scotland with posters urging restless Scots to leave their lowlands and highlands and embark for the “Province of New East Jersey, a pleasant and profitable country,” which, he boasted, “belongs to Scotsmen.”
As any good PR consultant or ad agent knows, it doesn’t hurt to get an endorsement from some well-known person. One such celebrity in late seventeenth century England was the London mapmaker John Ogilby, who, in his world atlas, had referred to the colony as a place “where the land floweth with milk and honey.” Not content with Ogilby’s paraphrase of Exodus 3:8, the publicist also quoted the noted mapmaker as referring to New East Jersey as the “Garden of the World.” So far as historians know, Ogilby never coined that tagline, but today, more than three centuries later, New Jersey, the nation’s most urban state, still calls itself a garden. It says so on millions of license plates.
New Jersey officially became the Garden State in December 1954 when the state legislature approved a bill requiring the Division of Motor Vehicles to commence imprinting those words on every license plate beginning with the next issue, scheduled for 1956. It almost didn’t happen. A similar bill had been vetoed in 1953 by Republican governor Alfred E. Driscoll, who thought the license plate, being “an important legal device” (representing the automobile’s registration), would be compromised by including