Route 66 in the News

A Look at the Naming of Route 66

2011-09-03 17:45:35

Were it not for a stubborn Kentucky governor 85 years ago, there might never be any of today's Route 66 nostalgia, no touristy coffee mugs or ash trays, and certainly nobody getting their "kicks on Route 66."

In fact, in 1926, when the current numbering system for cross-country highways was introduced, the Route 66 of legend, film and T-shirts was originally supposed to have been a rather ordinary Highway 60.

U.S. Highway 66 came into existence on Nov. 11, 1926, with many of the other major routes of the nation, replacing a system by which important roads were given names, such as the Lincoln Highway.

The roads were under the control of individual states, and their names often confused motorists who already were having trouble finding their way, especially on the West's mostly dirt, unsigned roads.

Richard F. Weingroff of the Federal Highway Administration in Washington said a 25-member committee of politicians and road officials, known as the Joint Board on Interstate Highways, came together in early 1925 to create a uniform program of numbering to assist the oft-lost motorists of the nation.

It seemed easy enough; major north-south roads got odd numbers, the most important of which would end in 1. Thus, the West Coast's major coastal highway, U.S. 101, balanced U.S. 1 along the East Coast.

For the major east-west routes, the committee gave them numbers that ended in 0. Lesser highways got the in-between numbers.

Weingroff said the road from Chicago to Los Angeles was originally designated as U.S. 60, but that's when state pride welled up in the committee meetings.

Gov. W.J. Fields of Kentucky was outraged because the Bluegrass State would not have any of the prestigious "0" highways.

The highway running through Kentucky from Newport News, Va. to Springfield, Mo., had been overlooked, in Fields' mind. He accused representatives from Oklahoma, Illinois and Missouri of stealing 60 for the highway through their states.

"Fields filed a protest over the decision on 60, and the fight went on for months," explained Weingroff.

First they proposed listing the Kentucky highway as 60 and the Chicago-Los Angeles route as 62, but then the Midwestern members objected.

Then it was proposed to designate the Virginia-Missouri road as 60 East, linking it with 60 at Springfield.

No way, said Fields.

Some of the committee members met in Springfield on April 30, 1925, to deal with several issues, including the Route 60 mess.

At that meeting, Oklahoma highway engineer John M. Page pointed out that the number 66 might serve as a compromise, according to an article written by National Route 66 Association President Jim Powell.

The Midwestern committee members said they would accept the distinctive 66 for the highway.

Thus, the Kentucky governor got his U.S. 60, the Chicago-Los Angeles route got a catchy kind of number, and songwriter Bobby Troup was able to pen his oft-recorded hit song of the 1950s, "Get Your Kicks on Route 66," without having to find a word to rhyme with "60."

The final irony is that Southern California ultimately also got Route 60 anyway. It was later extended across the West through Blythe, Beaumont and Riverside, becoming Mission Boulevard in Ontario and on into the San Gabriel Valley via Garvey Avenue.

~Joe Blackstock, Contra Costa Times


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