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There’s a bit of color in the story of the old Gold and Blue

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - In the hectic last hours of the 1963 legislative session, with lawmakers warring over "blue laws" and election procedures, members of the West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates came together to give the state something it had long lacked.

Fifty years ago today, the state's 56th Legislature passed a resolution adopting old gold and blue as the Mountain State's official state colors. The move received unanimous support.

The state had used blue and gold in an unofficial capacity for years, since that was the scheme chosen by its flagship school, West Virginia University.

The school adopted its color scheme around 1890.

John Cuthbert, a librarian at the WVU Library's West Virginia and Regional History Collection, said it is not exactly clear why the university picked old gold and blue, but an apocryphal story says the colors are a reference to the state's flag.

The state legislature authorized West Virginia's first flag in 1864. While details sometimes varied, all the flags were made of dark blue silk and featured gold fringe.

Cuthbert said WVU student newspapers began making references to the colors around 1890, although he suspects they probably were being used even earlier.

Use of the university colors was almost uniform throughout the state by the early 20th Century, according to a 1929 edition of the West Virginia Encyclopedia. Many residents even considered blue and gold the official state colors. But they were not.

So, in commemoration of the state's 100th birthday, legislators drafted a resolution.

"Be it resolved ... that the colors of old gold and blue be now and hereafter designated and displayed as the official state colors of the state of West Virginia."

Both houses adopted the resolution on March 8, 1963, the last day of that year's legislative session.

That same year, the state Division of Motor Vehicles issued a special centennial license plate with reflective yellow numbers on a blue background.

Natalie Harvey, spokeswoman for the DMV, said West Virginia issued its first license plate in 1906 but had never set a defined color scheme. Some years the plates were black with red letters. Other times the license plates were yellow and black, or just black and white.

The DMV issued its first blue and gold plate in 1957, but the design didn't stick. In 1958, license plates were green and white. Since 1963, however, every standard license plate has featured some combination of blue and gold.

The color scheme was back in the news in the 1970s.

Following his election as governor, Jay Rockefeller nixed a plan by his predecessor, Arch Moore, to gild the Capitol dome.

"Real gold just struck me at the time as inappropriate. Since I was just starting, it wasn't the thing that I wanted to do," Rockefeller said in a 1988 interview with the Daily Mail.

Rockefeller reasoned the move would save about $160,000, money he then used to buy a snowplow for the state Department of Highways in Preston County.

"It was a question of priorities, and I thought gold paint could be beautiful," Rockefeller said in a 1986 interview with the Daily Mail.

The paint job actually was gold and blue. Critics through the years have even contended that "gold" wasn't an appropriate description, preferring to call the hue  "road paint yellow."

To make things worse, Rockefeller's paint job began to peel off about a year after it was completed. The paint was supposed to last for 10 years.

While Rockefeller defended his decision to paint the dome in his 1988 Daily Mail interview, he said workers did not properly apply the paint and primer.

"Two coats were reversed and that weakened the whole process," Rockefeller said at the time. "The paint should have been very good."

The dome remained blue, gold and peeling for more than a decade until Moore regained the governors' office and moved ahead with plans to apply gold leaf to the structure.

Don't expect the Rockefeller color scheme to reappear any time soon.

While the Capitol dome may now appear blue and gold - it was again refurbished in the mid-2000s - it actually is gold and gray, per architect Cass Gillbert's original design.

The new finish is expected to last about 25 years.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or Follow him at


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