Route 66 in the News

A Look at the Building of Route 66

2010-06-23 12:44:58

Despite officially losing its highway status in 1985, Route 66 remains America's favorite highway to this day. Generations of travelers have been down this scenic road. Starting in Chicago, IL, it then goes through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. So how did this road begin? Believe it or not the story of this famous route starts decades before cars were even invented.

Route 66 began in 1857 when the U.S. Army assigned Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale with building a wagon road across the 35th parallel. Fittingly for the new route, Beale was something of a celebrity at the time. A friend of Buffalo Bill, the famous Army Lieutenant also started the California gold rush by bringing gold back from his expedition of 1848. Along the way Fitzgerald also laid the foundations for the transcontinental railroad. This new road would become the forerunner of Route 66.

In the days before highways were numbered by the government they were sponsored by private companies. Route 66 was broken into three separate roads. The Lone Star Route and the National Old Trails covered what would become Route 66. In 1926 Missouri officially named the portion of the road going through the state Missouri Highway 60. A short time later the U.S. Highway system officially named the entire highway Route 66. Soon a Route 66 Association was formed with the goal of getting the entire highway paved and encouraging travel down the road. Promotion of the road included a "Bunion Derby", a footrace from Los Angeles to New York City, which incorporated Route 66.

Once the road was partially paved it became a popular route thanks to its geography. Truckers found the road very appealing due to its flat terrain. During the Depression the road became a major way for migrants to go from the midwest to more promising jobs in California. This traffic also helped boost the communities along the highway. In 1938, due to its popularity and amount of use, Route 66 became the first Federal highway to be fully paved. At the start of WW2 the highway rose to an even higher level of prominence as people flocked to California in the booming war industry sector.

After the war, communities on the highway continued to grow in order to attract tourism. The Painted Desert, Meteor Crater, Wig Wam Hotel, and Petrified Forest are a few of the attractions for tourists, and that is just in Arizona. With so many possible destinations along the Route, it is no wonder the highway became the nation's most popular scenic area.

1956 was the beginning of the end of Route 66 as President Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act. Over the next two decades America's favorite highway was slowly but surely phased out by interstates. Finally in 1985 the highway was officially abandoned, though it is still very easy to travel even today. Recent restoration efforts have been started to satisfy many baby boomers who have started to travel the highway again. Perhaps with the support of the boomer generation, and a little help from today's generation of travelers, Route 66 can again become America's favorite road.

~Roger Quinn,


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