Origin of Route 66

National Park Service Route 66 image
Graphic on the National Park Service website https://www.nps.gov/history/index.htm

Route 66 has been an interesting ride in this series.  There is so much to see and interpret.  I can’t do it justice with the few posts I provided – only tidbits.  I’ll close out my focus on Route 66 with this post by providing a little history; although the next few posts will still be along Route 66 (I-40) in Arizona.

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Car bumper bench at the Petrified Forest National Park along the old Route 66. (RonLin Photography)

After being intrigued about Route 66’s origin, I found out its birth was long before the development of cars.

According to https://www.theroute-66.com/history.html, the history of Route 66 began shortly after the U.S. incorporated the southwestern territories it had acquired from Mexico after the 1846 -1848 War.

The U.S. Congress commissioned Amiel Weeks Whipple (1817 – 1863), a Captain of the Army Topographical Corps, to survey a proposed transcontinental railroad, resulting in development of wagon trails in the far west.

“Four years later, Congress instructed Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale to mark a route between New Mexico and California. His expedition charted a route which would be used by thousands of migrants on their way to California. And was the basis for the roads which would later cross the region, like Route 66.”  https://www.theroute-66.com/history.html

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Old cars on display in Arizona along Route 66 that probably traveled along the famous route, with a history to tell.  (RonLin Photography)

Although automobiles had been around since the late 1800s, they began to become more popular toward the end of the first decade of the twentieth century.

The automobile experienced a boom in the early 1920s passing from 180,000 registered vehicles in 1910 to 17 million in 1920. The increase in cars led to a growing demand for better roads and a coherent network of highways. (Route66.com)

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Old cars on display in Arizona along Route 66 that probably traveled along the famous route, with a history to tell.  (RonLin Photography)

No doubt the increase in travels westward triggered the first legislation being passed in 1916, the “Federal Aid Road Act”, which was the beginning of federal government assistance for state highway costs. It was meant to improve any rural road over which the U.S. mail was carried. It obliged the states to have highway departments to design, build and upkeep the roads. (https://www.theroute-66.com/history.html)

The Federal Highway Act of 1921 set up a multi-year plan of federal funding for the program. Congress passed this Act to create a National highway system funded by the Federal government. It was to be an interstate network linking the country.

As the automobile became more popular, the masses took to the roads, and what was once an adventure for the wealthy (and the brave), became commonplace. Americans could now roam across America, free and unchallenged.

Who would think that a person certified to be a school teacher in 1893 in Missouri, and moving to Oklahoma City around 1897 to be an insurance agent, would become the father of Route 66?  Yet that is what Cyrus Avery did. You can read more of his story at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrus_Avery.

Avery was impressed with the Good Roads Movement going on in Missouri and became involved with various commissions and associations to learn more about these endeavors – pushing toward a federal level of roadways.    19624641398_8792293c7c_o

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Because of the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains, Avery argued that the new route requested by Congress from Virginia to California (U.S. Highway 60) should go through Tulsa and Oklahoma City, continue west across the Texas Panhandle, New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California. Apparently his argument had merit and was adopted.  It was also beneficial to commercial development.

19817711181_ffddd5906d_o (2)After the highways were routed, a decision was made not to name the highways but instead follow the pattern of numbering them as established in Wisconsin and Missouri.

The east-west routes would be even numbers, and the north-south would be odd. Major routes would be one or two-digit numbers ending in either “1” or “0” depending on the route.

Route 66 was almost named Route 60.

To avoid a “U.S. 0”, U.S. Highway 2 was treated as a “0” highway and U.S. Route 101 would be treated as a two-digit highway to expand the number of available routes north-south. Avery, arguing that the Chicago to Los Angeles route would be a major highway, numbered the highway US 60.

U.S. 60 vs. U.S. 62

The Virginia Beach–Springfield route had been designated as U.S. 62 and actually terminated south of Ozark, Missouri at U.S. Highway 65. Kentucky would be the only state without a “0” highway. They countered Avery’s US route by pushing for US 60 to run between Virginia Beach and Los Angeles; the Springfield to Chicago section could be “U.S. 60 North”. Avery returned with “U.S. 60 South” for the Springfield–Virginia Beach alignment. Kentucky threatened to walk completely out of the new highway system (individual states could not be forced to participate in it).

Finally, Kentucky offered a compromise: connect their highway with Avery’s in Springfield and give their highway the number 60. Avery could have his Chicago–Los Angeles highway if he would accept the number 62 which was originally assigned to their road.

Avery disliked the number 62, found out 66 was not used, and designated the Chicago–Los Angeles highway as U.S. 66.

In 1926, the Federal Highway System was approved by Congress. With this done, Congress also de-certified all the old “association” highways.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrus_Avery

Route 66 was launched as the nation’s first Federal highway system.  It was intertwined with local, state and national roads.

I believe these changes began an every-increasing growth out west as people began falling in love with their automobiles and traveling farther distances.  The territories along Route 66 increased with travelers exploring the vast homeland.  The Petrified Forest was one of the popular landmarks.

The National Park Service also has excellent information and history on this “special place in American consciousness.”  https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/route66/maps66.html

Cyrus Avery is known as “The Father of Route 66.”  It will remain part of American history although the federal Interstate system has diverted much attention from the old routes.  Let’s not forget them!

Thanks for your interest!

Ron

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