The now obsolete Route 66 once played a vital role in the development of our country.
Route 66 is the most famous road in America. It brings to mind nostalgic images of road-side diners, tipi shaped tourist cottages, campgrounds, and family vacations. The road originally ran from Chicago through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending in Santa Monica. It spanned a total of 2,448 miles and inspired a famous song and television series.
The idea of building a link between Chicago to Los Angeles was initially conceived of by entrepreneurs Cyrus Avery of Tulsa, Oklahoma and John Woodruff of Springfield, Missouri. The designation of Route 66 was granted in 1926, and the country set out to create a major east-west artery. The non-linear course of Route 66 linked hundreds of rural communities that previously had no connection to a national thoroughfare. This had a major impact on the trucking industry which came to rival the railroad for shipping by 1930. Farmers were now able to transport grain and produce for distribution.
During the 1930’s Route 66 served as the road to rumored opportunity in California for an estimated 210,000 people escaping the Dust Bowl. Thousands of young men around the country were put to work paving the highway from 1933 to 1938. This became significant during war time, as soldiers were trained in the West where the weather was warm and dry, and paved highways allowed for ease of transportation and mobilization of manpower.
After the war, when the auto industry boomed, Americans became more mobile than ever. Many soldiers who trained in West realized they liked the weather better than the cold of the East coast relocated to California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma and used Route 66 to relocate. Families started to take vacations and services such as gas stations, diners and motels sprung up to meet the needs of travelers. Those with very little money still needed places to sleep, even auto camps where local residents roped off sections for people to park in for the night. Tourist cottages became popular as did motor courts that offered swimming pools, restaurants and gift shops.
Beginning in the mid 1950’s the national highway system underwent a massive expansion and revitalization, starting with the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. By 1970 almost all parts of Route 66 were by-passed by the new four-lane highways. It was officially decommissioned on June 27, 1985. Route 66 still holds a great deal of nostalgia for many people and symbolizes the optimism and determination of our country. Parts of the route can still be traveled and there are still original service stations and tourist cottages in existence today, a reminder of the time when Route 66 was America’s Main Street.