Route 66

No account of early American motorways is complete without an acknowledgment of the importance of Route 66. The iconic Chicago-to-Los Angeles route was approved and named in 1926, with the unstated purpose of connecting urban and rural roads and thereby granting previously unserviced communities access to a national thoroughfare.

This gave Route 66 an untraditional, non-linear trajectory, and its flat path over prairie land made it “particularly significant to the trucking industry.” Route 66 served as a major migratory path to California in the 1930s, during which time it was paved and became known as “The Main Street of America.” It was officially removed from the highway system in 1985, although it still exists as a historic route.

America's Modern Interstate Highway System

While all of these routes were essential to facilitating auto travel and extending the reach of the trucking industry in the U.S., the mammoth Interstate Highway System would be the first to enact wide-scale connectivity across the country, and would eventually absorb portions of each of the highways preceding it.

In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 into law, which created the system we know today. Ike was a strong proponent of public highways, a view he’d famously developed after spending time in Germany during WWII -- but also informed by his domestic work on the Lincoln Highway and Historic Route I.

The Act allocated $26 billion to pay for the highway project. The standard design, which stipulated a minimum of two 12-foot wide lanes in each direction, a 10-foot right paved shoulder, and speed limits of 50-70 mph, was meant to reduce traffic and facilitate high speed driving. These two factors quickly made the highways amenable to truckers, stimulating the industry as the highway system became firmly entrenched by the 1970s. The Interstate continues to be the route of choice for truckers today.


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