Tom Ferderbar PHOTOGRAPHER
A lifetime of photography from the 40's to today.
A (not so) Brief History of Route 66
- excerpts from the U.S. Government Department of the Interior Special Resource Study on Route 66, http://wkww.cr.nps.gov/rt66/SpecialResourceStudy.pdf
The history of this country has included a number of periods of human migration. Shortly after its emergence from the War of Independence, the new nation saw the steady outward drift of its people across the Appalachians into the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys. Navigable rivers and foot trails and military roads were the earliest transportation network. While some turnpikes leading to and from burgeoning centers of trade were surfaced with gravel or "pounded stone," most roads were improved only to the extent of removing stumps, boulders, and other major irregularities. Most backwoods trails remained impassable to wheeled vehicles, especially during the winter or subsequent spring thaws. For the most part, bridges were nonexistent; early travelers forded smaller streams and crossed larger ones by ferry.
At the beginning of the 19th century the first federal subsidies of roads and highways were granted. East of the Mississippi River, postal roads and public thoroughfares like the Cumberland Road benefited from limited government appropriations for construction and maintenance. Meanwhile, west of the Mississippi, land-hungry settlers traveled wagon roads forged earlier by U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers. When Mexico ceded to the United States the vast western territories from Texas to the Pacific Ocean, the great trails Santa Fe, Oregon, California and Mormon made possible a mass westward movement of Americans in search of economic prosperity and free land. A century later, the rut-filled corridors of the western frontier yielded to the smooth-surfaced, all-weather highways of a highly urbanized, postwar America. U.S. Highway 66 was one of several roads that hastened the continuous flow of emigrants west during the most recent decades.
Americans assumed an identity as a people on the move, constantly in hope of job opportunities and new beginnings. The trend westward continued well into the present century. When the United States Bureau of Census published its findings in 1980, it revealed for the first time that neither the industrialized Northeast nor the agricultural Midwest were the nation's most populous regions. Census figures for 1980 indicated that most Americans resided either west of the Mississippi River or south of the Mason-Dixon Line. A decade later, the West, traditionally a region of uninterrupted vistas and sparsely populated states, became decidedly urban. The 1980 census showed that 78% of all westerners lived in metropolitan areas (defined as major cities with populations in excess of 50,000 inhabitants). While this demographic transition from snowbelt to sunbelt was in evidence as early as 1920, the decades from 1930 to 1980 clearly marked a high point in the migration of thousands of Americans.
Not since the great Oregon migrations and California gold rush of the 1840s had the nation witnessed such a dramatic shift in population from east to west. When contrasted with demographic figures for the 1940s and 1950s, however, the westward movement of the previous century pales in comparison. The most obvious consequence of this major population influx to the West Coast was the increase in metropolitan areas in the region, which clearly outpaced the remainder of the United States. The West by 1980 added 39,121,000 metropolitan residents, or 1.4 times its entire regional population in 1940. During the decades 1940 to 1980 the average size of western metropolitan areas increased more rapidly than those in either the East or the South. Moreover, while the western metropolis was substantially smaller than its eastern counterparts in 1940, it was effectively equal in size by 1980. Whereas the metropolitan West accounted for merely 9% of the nation's residents in 1940, it harbored 23% just four decades later. In fact, 14 of the 20 American metropolitan areas with the largest population increases since 1980 were west of the Mississippi River.
The urbanization of the 20th century West resulted in no small measure from America's love affair with the automobile and the longstanding belief of millions of enthusiastic motorists that the federal government should underwrite the cost of a comprehensive network of all-weather, cross-country highways. U.S. Highway 66 was one of only a handful of east-west corridors to appear early in the 20th century as a result of federal and state partnerships. Still, the genesis of one of America's most popular modern highways is rooted in the mid 1800s. Like the primitive trails that tenuously linked the vast open spaces of the west to the population centers of the East and Midwest, U.S. Highway 66 evolved from a government-sponsored wagon road program initiated just before the Civil War. In the 1900s America's infatuation with personal mobility brought forward the notion of an all-weather, surfaced highway connecting Chicago to Los Angeles. Proponents joined a populist-based national cause known as the "Good Roads Movement."
One response to the public outcry for an ocean-to-ocean highway was U.S. Highway 66. What sets Route 66 apart from the other roads that were absorbed into the body of national highways is (1) it was America's first continuously paved link between Los Angeles and Chicago, gateway to the industrialized Northeast, and (2) it (along with the segments of interstate highway that replaced it) remains the shortest all-weather route between these two cities. To the average motorist the importance of Route 66 was that it reduced cross-country travel between the Midwest and the Pacific Coast by at least two hundred miles. Beginning at the corner of Jackson Boulevard and Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Route 66 wound 2,400 miles across America to Santa Monica, California. Its oiled surface etched a trail across the landscape by way of St. Louis, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, San Bernadino, and Pasadena. Its broad, sweeping arch connected Illinois with Missouri, then sliced through the agricultural Midwest, rolled across the Great Plains, and crossed the desert Southwest. To many Americans, Route 66 represents more than just an official highway. According to cultural geographer Arthur Krim, it (Route 66) was the symbolic river of America moving west in the auto age of the twentieth century. For others, the well traveled public road was a commercial lifeline. From its inception in 1926, U.S. Highway 66 was designed to connect rural communities to their respective metropolitan capitals. In so doing, gas stations, motels, "Mom and Pop" restaurants, and grocery stores were built in the hope of servicing an increasingly mobile public. When bypasses and interstate freeways were introduced in the 1960s to increase speed and reduce travel time, the economic base stimulated by the appearance of Route 66 began to erode.
Route 66 is an excellent physical illustration of the method by which the nation's highways evolved. There was a strong government commitment to serve its citizens, who were becoming more dependent on highways for their livelihoods. Although it is only one of several notable highways in America, Route 66 is revered by hundreds of thousands of motorists as the model of the modern American highway and the emerging automobile culture it serviced.
U.S. Highway 66 had its origin in the wake of the nation's first trans-Mississippi migration. In 1853 Congress commissioned Captain Amiel Weeks Whipple of the Army Topographical Corps to conduct a survey for a proposed transcontinental railroad. Congress opted against the railroad and instead subsidized a network of wagon roads intended to improve military and civilian communications throughout the western frontier. In 1857 Congress commissioned Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale to chart a wagon road following the 35th parallel from Fort Defiance (near the New Mexico/Arizona border) to the Colorado River. Beal's Road, as the route came to be identified, established a vital military transportation and communication link between Fort Smith near the Arkansas River and the westernmost reaches of the Southwest. In underwriting the $200,000 expense to establish what Lt. Beale felt certain would become "the great emigrant road to California" the federal government provided the impetus for the creation of the transcontinental railroad.
Beal's Road was the frontier antecedent of Route 66. Interest in the route resurfaced under the National old Trails Road Movement when motorists began to discuss the need for an ocean-to-ocean thoroughfare in the first decades of this century. Promoters hoped to capitalize on the national appeal of the Panama-Pacific Expositions, scheduled to open in San Diego and San Francisco in 1915, as justification for federal subsidies of a continuously paved transcontinental highway. The National Old Trails Road, as conceived in 1912, originated on the East Coast with branches to Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and terminated on the West Coast at San Diego. The road's promotional arm, the National Old Trails Road Association, supported two ideas during its lifetime (1) it promoted improvement of the proposed ocean-to-ocean corridor as it retraced the nation's historic trails, and (2) the association championed good roads in America by advocating direct federal involvement in road construction in lieu of federal aid to state agencies. This concept was eventually incorporated into federal highway policy in 1916 and continues today.
The first leg of the ocean-to-ocean highway proposed by the National Old Trails Association in 1912 originated in Washington, D.C., and traced the Cumberland Road, a well-established historic avenue, to St. Louis. From Missouri, the highway followed the Santa Fe Trail to Albuquerque and Santa Fe before taking a more southerly course through Arizona to Flagstaff, gateway to the Grand Canyon. Flagstaff's pioneer lumberman Matthew J. Riordan detailed the final leg of the route, which most closely approximates the 1927 orientation of U.S. Highway 66. Christened the "Grand Canyon Route" the road was eventually constructed from Williams to Ashfork and Seligman in Yavapai County to Topock on the Colorado River, where automobiles could be loaded on railway flatcars and transported across an expansion bridge built by the Santa Fe Railroad to Needles, California. From this desert community, the road proceeded 164 miles across the Mojave to Barstow and the desert communities of Bakersfield and San Bernadino to San Diego.
The official origin of Route 66 was the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921. A road assessment taken a decade earlier estimated the total mileage of rural roads in America at approximately 2.5 million miles, 10.5% of which were listed as surfaced. Of those 257,291 miles only 32,180 were paved with bituminous material, brick, or concrete. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921, successor to the earlier highway appropriations legislation of 1916, was designed to create a coherent highway network by requiring that federal aid be concentrated upon such projects as will expedite the completion of an adequate and connected system of highways, interstate in character. To that end, a minimum of 60% of federal funds would be spent on what was designated the primary or interstate network.
It can be argued that the miracle of the 20th century was not the automobile, but the construction of the vast network of highways that gave motorists someplace to go. In the case of Route 66, the two technological achievements were together from the outset. The Lincoln Highway, established to facilitate travel across the 3,000-mile stretch of mountains and prairies between New York and San Francisco, predated Route 66 by more than a decade. Nevertheless, from 1912 until the end of the First World War, cross-country travel along the Lincoln Highway was largely limited to the wealthy few who could afford an automobile and dared to challenge the uneven, ill-defined course of the road.
Route 66 was the result of America's infatuation with rapid mobility, mass transportation, and technological change. Historian Richard Davies wrote, the automobile constituted a personalized urban mass transit system, allowing the owner to travel "whenever or wherever he desired" Moreover, it provided a personal means of escape from the congestion of metropolitan America. One significant effect of the increased use of the automobile, according to Davies, was to reduce cross-country travel from an adventure of the affluent and stout hearted to a relatively inexpensive and common occurrence.
The 1920s were the first boom years for the automobile. In 1910, two years before the authorization of the Lincoln Highway, there were 180,000 registered automobiles in the United States a ratio of about one for every 5,000 citizens. During the subsequent decade more than 17 million cars, trucks, and buses were added to America's motor fleet. (This figure increased 6.5 times to 112 million in 1970s. Not surprisingly, Americans demanded improved highways to meet the growing number of vehicles on America's roadways. It was the federal government's early response to these demands that first breathed life into Route 66.
Although entrepreneurs Cyrus Avery of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and John Woodruff of Springfield, Missouri, deserve most of the credit for promoting the idea of an interregional link between Chicago and Los Angeles, their lobbying efforts were not realized until their dreams merged with the national program of highway and road development. While legislation for public highways first appeared in 1916, with revisions in 1921, it was not until Congress enacted an even more comprehensive version of the act in 1925 that the government executed its plan for national highway construction. Oficially, the numerical designation 66 was assigned to the Chicago-to-Los Angeles route in the summer of 1926. With that designation came its acknowledgement as one of the nation's principal east-west arteries. For the most part, U.S. 66 was just an assignment of a number to an already existing network of state-managed roads, most of which were in poor condition.
From the outset, public road planners intended U.S. 66 to connect the main streets of rural and urban communities along its course for the most practical of reasons: most small towns had no prior access to a major national thoroughfare. Before 1926, for example, Cyrus Avery's hometown of Tulsa, and most of what was once called "Indian Territory" before Oklahoma achieved statehood in 1907, claimed few imporved roads. In those days it took six hours to drive 103 miles of uneven dirt roads to Oklahoma City. The same was true of New Mexico and Arizona, which were both admitted to the union in 1912, scarcely fourteen years before construction of Route 66. Use of the new road in these remote desert states was sporadic. In 1925 New Mexico's Ofhce of the State Engineer reported an average daily use of only 207 cars between Albuquerque and Gallup. Although Arizona reported a slightly higher daily count of 338 cars, road conditions left much to be desired. The section between Ashfork and Seligman was described in the summer of 1925 as "Unimproved except in the way of removing boulders from the road that might menace a low- clearance car . . . it is a twenty-mile (per hour) road." Despite these obvious short-comings, the extension of U.S. Highway 66 into these desolate western territories helped facilitate their transition from territory to statehood by offering greater access to prospective residents and travelers.
FORMATIVE YEARS: 1926 - 1932
Route 66 was a highway spawned by the demands of a rapidly changing America. Contrasted with the Lincoln, the Dixie, and other highways of its day, Route 66 did not follow a traditionally linear course. Its diagonal course linked hundreds of predominantly rural communities in Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas to Chicago; thus enabling farmers to transport grain and produce for redistribution. The diagonal configuration of Route 66 was particularly significant to the trucking industry, which by 1930 had come to rival the railroad for preeminence in the American shipping industry. The abbreviated route between Chicago and the Pacific coast traversed essentially flat prairie lands and enjoyed a more temperate climate than northern highways, which made it especially appealing to truckers. The Illinois Motor Vehicles Division reported that between Chicago and St. Louis trucks increased from approximately 1,500 per day in 1931 to 7,500 per day a decade later, 25% of which were "large tractor-truck, semi-trailer outfits." It was the intent of highway designers to make Route 66 "modern" in every sense of the term. State engineers worked to reduce the number of curves, widen lanes, and ensure all-weather capability. Until 1933 the responsibility to improve existing highways fell almost exclusively to the individual states. The more assertive and financially prepared states met the challenge. Initial improvements cost state agencies an estimated $22,000 per mile. In 1929 Illinois boasted approximately 7,500 miles of paved roads, including all of its portion of U.S. Highway 66. A Texaco road report published that same year noted the route fully concreted in Kansas, 66% paved in Missouri, and 25% improved in Oklahoma. In contrast, the 1,2OO-mile western stretch (with the exception of California's metropolitan areas) never saw a cement mixer. Until the height of the Great Depression, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and the desert communities of southeast California collectively totaled only 64.1 miles of surfaced highway along Route 66.
DEPRESSION AND THE WAR: 1933 - 1945
Washington's increased level of commitment began with the Great Depression and the national appeal for emergency federal relief measures. In his famous social commentary, The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck proclaimed U.S. Highway 66 the "Mother Road." Steinbeck's classic 1939 novel, combined with the 1940 film recreation of the epic odyssey, served to immortalize Route 66 in the American consciousness. An estimated 210,000 people migrated to California to escape the despair of the Dust Bowl. Certainly in the minds of those who endured that particularly painful experience, and in the view of generations of children to whom they recounted their story, Route 66 symbolized the "road to opportunity." Contemporary writers have reexamined the Great Depression years and found that thousands of disillusioned immigrants returned home within months after reaching the Golden State. Of the more than 200,000 refugees who journeyed west to California beginning in the early 1930s "less than 16,000 people from the Dust Bowl proper ended up in California." Despite popular perceptions promoted in Steinbeck's novel, James Gregory argues convincingly that barely 8% of the "dust bowlers" who set out for California remained there (Gregory 1989). In fact, California's total demographic growth between 1930 and 1940 reflected scarcely more than a 22% increase (compared to a 53% growth rate in the following decade).
While the importance of Route 66 to emigrating "Dust Bowlers" during the depression years has been widely publicized. less is known about the importance of the highway to those who opted to eke out their living within the devastated economies of Kansas, Oklahoma, West Texas, and New Mexico. During this time, U.S. Highway 66 and other major roads in America were integrally linked to President Roosevelt's revolutionary New Deal program for work relief and economic recovery. Road improvements and maintenance work was a central feature of the New Deal's Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Project Administration (WPA) programs. Erom 1933 to 1938 thousands of unemployed male youths from virtually every state were put to work as laborers on road gangs. As a result of this monumental effort, the Chicago-to-Los Angeles highway was reported as "continuously paved" in 1938. In the final analysis, Route 66 affected more Americans on federal work relief than people who used it during the famous exodus to California.
Completion of the highway's all-weather capability on the eve of World War II was particularly significant to the nation's war effort. The experience of a young Army captain, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who found his command bogged down in spring mud near Ft. Riley, Kansas, while on a coast-to-coast maneuver, left an indelible impression. The War Department needed improved highways for rapid mobilization during wartime and to promote national defense during peacetime. At the outset of American involvement in World war II, the war Department singled out the West as ideal for military training bases in part because of its geographic isolation and especially because it offered consistently dry weather for air and field maneuvers. In keeping with this policy, over $230 million was invested in new military bases in Arizona alone. Several military installations Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri, Ft. Wingate Ordnance Depot in New Mexico, Navajo Ordnance Depot in Arizona, and Edwards Air Force Base in California were established on or near Route 66.
America's mobilization for war after Pearl Harbor underscored the necessity for a systematic network of roads and highways. The War Department's expropriation of the nation's railways left a transportation vacuum in the West that only the trucking industry could fill. Automobile manufacturers suffered critical shortages of steel, glass, and rubber during the war years, and plants in Detroit converted to the production of tanks, aircraft engines, ordnance, and troop transports. According to one government source, the number of new cars produced dropped from 3.7 million in 1941 to 610 in 1943, all of which were rationed.
At the same time trucks capable of hauling loads in excess of 30,000 pounds were produced in sufficient quantity to keep pace with wartime demands. Studies by the Public Roads Administration (PRA) during 1941 to 1943 showed that at least 50% of all defense-related material destined for America's war production plants was transported and delivered by truck rather than by rail. As the shortest corridor between the west coast and the industrial heartland beyond Chicago, it was not uncommon to see mile-long convoys moving troops and supplies from one military reservation to another along U.S. Highway 66.
Route 66 helped to facilitate the single greatest wartime manpower mobilization in the history of the nation. Between 1941 and 1945 the government invested approximately $70 billion in capital projects throughout California, a large portion of which were in the Los Angeles-San Diego area. This enormous capital outlay served to underwrite entirely new industries that created thousands of civilian jobs. By 1942, however, available local labor in most areas of the Pacific Coast had been exhausted, which sent war contractors on a frantic search for skilled and unskilled workers from across the United States. Under the provisions of the West Coast Manpower Plan, initiated in September 1943, contractors prepared to offer jobs to 500,000 men and women to meet the production demands of global war. In February 1942 PRA Commissioner Thomas MacDonald announced that only a small fraction of the 10 million workers required to man the defense plants could possibly be accommodated by the existing rail and bus transit facilities. The rest would have to move in private automobiles.
They moved in unprecedented numbers. The net result of this mass migration was the loss of more than 1 million people from the metropolitan northeast between 1940 and 1943. Three Pacific Coast states California, Oregon, and Washington increased 38.9% in population (measured against a national average of 8.7%).
POSTWAR YEARS: 1945 - 1960
The social dislocation and uprooting of millions of Americans that began during the Great Depression and continued through World War II did not abate with the surrender of Germany and Japan. After the war Americans were more mobile than ever before. Thousands of soldiers, sailors, and airmen who received military training in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas abandoned the harsh winters of Chicago, New York City, and Boston for the "barbecue culture" of the Southwest and the West. Again, for many, Route 66 facilitated their relocation.
One such emigrant was Robert William Troup, Jr., of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Bobby Troup, former pianist with the Tommy Dorsey band and ex-Marine captain, penned a lyrical road map of the now famous cross-country road in which the words, "get your kicks on Route 66" became a catch phrase for countless motorists who moved back and forth between Chicago and the Pacific Coast. One scholar likened the popular recording released in 1946 by Nat King Cole one week after Troup's arrival in Los Angeles to "a cartographic ballad." No doubt Bobby Troup's musical rendition provided a convenient mental road map for those who followed him west.
It was during the postwar decades that the population shift from "snowbelt" to "sunbelt" reached its zenith. Census figures for these years revealed population growth along Route 66 ranged from 40% in New Mexico to 74% in Arizona. Because of the great influx of people during the war years. California claimed over half of the total population of the West between 1950 and 1980. The Golden State attracted over 3 million new residents in the 1960s and an additional 2 million in the 1970s. Based on the census for 1980, "California displayed the most rapid and sizable population development in the industrialized world in the forty years following World War II." Los Angeles and San Diego rivaled New York and Philadelphia as America's most rapidly growing cities. The demographic disruption that began in the 1930s stimulated opportunities for roadside commerce. Store owners, motel managers, and gas station attendants recognized early on that even the poorest travelers required food, automobile maintenance, and adequate lodging. Just as New Deal work relief programs provided employment with the construction and the maintenance of Route 66, the appearance of countless tourist courts. garages, and diners promised sustained economic growth after the road's completion. If military use of the highway during wartime ensured the early success of roadside businesses, the demands of the new tourism industry in the postwar decades gave rise to modern facilities that guaranteed long-term prosperity. The evolution of these facilities is well represented in the roadside architecture along U.S. Highway 66. For example, most Americans who drove the route did not stay in hotels; they preferred the accommodations that emerged from automobile travel motels. Motels evolved from earlier features of the American roadside such as the auto camp and the tourist home. The auto camp developed as townspeople along Route 66 roped off spaces in which travelers could camp for the night. Camp supervisors some of whom were employed by the various states provided water, fuel wood, privies or flush toilets, showers, and laundry facilities free of charge. Camp Joy near Lebanon, Missouri, and Red Arrow Campground in Thoreau, New Mexico, are examples of auto camps that have survived to the present day. The successor to the auto camp was the tourist home, which provided many of the same amenities but with the added feature of indoor lodging in the event of inclement weather.
The natural outgrowth of the auto camp and tourist home was the cabin camp (sometimes called cottages) that offered minimal comfort at affordable prices. Many of these cottages are still in operation; among the better known examples is John's Modern Cabins in Arlington, Missouri. Eventually, auto camps and cabin camps gave way to motor courts in which all of the rooms were under a single roof. Motor courts offered additional amenities such as adjoining restaurants, souvenir shops and swimming pools. An estimated 30,000 motor courts/motels were in operation along the nation's many highways in 1948. Among the more famous still associated with Route 66 are the El Vado and Zia Motor Lodge in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the Coral Court in St. Louis, Missouri.
In the early years of Route 66, service station prototypes were developed regionally through experimentation, and then were adopted universally across the country. Buildings were distinctive as gas stations, yet clearly associated with a particular petroleum company. Most evolved from the simplest filling station concept a house with one or two service pumps in front and then became more elaborate, with service bays and tire outlets. Among the most outstanding examples of the evolution of gas stations along Route 66 are Soulsby's Shell Station in Mount Olive, lllinois; Bob Audette's gas station complex in Barton, New Mexico; and the Tower Fina Station in Shamrock, Texas.
Route 66 and many points of interest along the way were familiar landmarks by the time a new generation of postwar motorists hit the road in the 1960s. Many drew upon memories from excursions with their parents. World War II transformed the American public from a predominantly agricultural-industrial laboring class to an urban-technological society with increasing leisure and recreational time. The American tourists' fondness for automobile travel and their enjoyment of sightseeing made them ideal targets for the service industries that cropped up along U.S. Highway 66. There was a growing fascination with American Indian cultures, which became increasingly commercialized as public highways penetrated once inaccessible reservations. This, coupled with the scenic, geologic, prehistoric, and historic wonders protected by the national park system, lured countless sightseers. To the average motorist, a trip down Route 66 was an adventure through mainstream America accentuated by quaint Mom-and-Pop motels, all- night diners, garish Indian curio shops, and far-too-infrequent restroom facilities.
DEMISE OF INTEREST
Excessive truck use during World War II and the comeback of the automobile industry immediately following the war brought great pressure to bear on America's highways. Automobile production jumped from just over 65,000 cars in 1945 to 3.9 million in 1948. Meanwhile, the national highway system had deteriorated to an appalling condition. Virtually all roads were functionally obsolete because of narrow pavements and antiquated structural features that reduced carrying capacity.
Emergency road building measures developed during wartime left bridges and culverts woefully inadequate for postwar needs. During the 1940s most bridges in Illinois and Missouri used wood as a substitute for steel. Steel reinforcements were virtually nonexistent in concrete pavement, and sporadic maintenance left U.S. 66 and other highways riddled with potholes and gaping fissures.
The need for a modern system of national highways, while painfully obvious, was not a novel idea. In February 1941 Thomas MacDonald, director of the Public Roads Administration, told of the urgency for improved highways across the country in his report, "Highway For the National Defense." MacDonald estimated that 78,000 miles of roads and highways vital to the war effort needed improvements. The director estimared the cost for maintenance and repair to be $458 million. In anticipation of postwar traffic needs, MacDonald proposed a transcontinental expressway not to exceed 40,000 miles, designed to connect all of the major metropolitan centers in the United States. The Interregional Highway Committee, President Roosevelt's advisory group on national defense highways, adopted the so-called MacDonald Plan with the recommendation that $500 million be allocated over three years to implement the interstate highway system. National defense priorities during the war, however, tabled MacDonald's proposal until the surrender of Germany and Japan. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1944 incorporated both civilian and military highway needs into a single piece of legislation. In essence, the act became the legal embodiment of the MacDonald Plan. The act preserved the idea of a 40,000-mile national system of interstate highways, but Congress failed to appropriate funds specifically designated for its construction. Not until the 1950s, and the War Department's prediction that the Korean Conflict was merely a prelude to a more widespread involvement in Asia, did the dream of an interstate system of expressways linking all regions of the United States become reality.
Ironically, the public lobby for rapid mobility and improved highways that gained Route 66 its enormous popularity in earlier decades also signaled its demise beginning in the mid-1950s. Mass federal sponsorship for an interstate system of divided highways markedly increased with Dwight D. Eisenhower's second term in the White House. General Eisenhower had returned from Germany very impressed by the strategic value of Hitler's Autobahn. "During World War II," he recalled later, "I saw the superlative system of German national highways crossing that country and offering the possibility, often lacking in the United States, to drive with speed and safety at the same time." Heightened global tension hastened by the Cold War affirmed Eisenhower's resolve to improve the defense capabilities of the nation's highways.
The congressional response to the president's commitment was the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, which provided a comprehensive financial umbrella to underwrite the cost of the national interstate and defense highway system. In accordance with the terms of the legislation. the major segment of U.S. 66 running west from Oklahoma City, the Texas Panhandle, New Mexico, northern Arizona, to Barstow, California, would be replaced by Interstate 40. By 1960 each of the states along original U.S. 66 expended from $14 million to $20 million to construct their portions of the interstate, which was designed to accommodate 1975 traffic projections. The 1960s were perhaps the period of the most comprehensive federal-state expenditures for the new interstate system.
By 1970 the remaining segments of original Route 66 were replaced by two, equally modern four-lane highways Interstate 55 between Chicago and St. Louis and Interstate 44, which absorbed the old diagonal section from St. Louis to Oklahoma City. On June 26, 1979, the American Association of State Highways and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) accepted the recommendation to eliminate the designation of Route 66. The committee noted that "U.S. 66 markings no longer served as a through-state guide to tourists, but in fact generated confusion because the route coin- cided with interstate designations over much of its length." Many of the states along the route pledged to preserve some symbol of the historic highway with signs reading "OId U.S. 66."
In many respects the physical remains of Route 66 mirror the evolution of highway development in the United States from a rudimentary hodge-podge of state and county roads to a federally subsidized complex of uniform, well-designed interstate expressways. Various alignments, many of which are still detectable, illustrate the evolution of road engineering from coexistence with the surrounding landscape to domination of it. One outstanding example of the highway in its early form is the 3.5 mile section near Miami, Oklahoma, estimated to have been constructed between 1919 and 1924. While many of the original segments of Route 66 have been either abandoned or modified for secondary use, modern improvements such as widened shoulders, adequate swales, gentler curves, resurfaced pavement, and brightly painted safety stripes cannot keep the highway from becoming obsolete.
Route 66 symbolized the renewed spirit of optimism that pervaded the country after economic catastrophe and global war. U.S. Highway 66 linked a remote and under-populated region with two vital 20th-century cities Chicago and Los Angeles. In doing so it etched an imprint on America that bridged a once inhospitable frontier beginning a transformation into an urban oasis. The automobile equipped with all of the modern conveniences of air- conditioning and stereophonic sound provided relative comfort to millions of Americans seeking greater social and economic mobility.
The outdated poorly maintained vestiges of U.S. Highway 66 succumbed to the interstate system in October 1984 when the final section of the original road was replaced by Interstate 40 at Williams Arizona. As the highway nears its 70th birthday in 1996, its contribution to the region as well as the nation must be evaluated in the broader context of American social and cultural history. The appearance of U.S. Highway 66 on the American scene coincided with unparalleled economic strife and global instability that hastened the most comprehensive westward movement in United States history. Like the early trails of the late 19th century. Route 66 helped to spirit a second and perhaps more permanent mass relocation of Americans. One indisputable result of its construction was the transformation of the far west from a rural frontier to a metropolitan region.
copyright 2020 Thomas Ferderbar