History of Route 66

A Brief History of Route 66

The Beginnings of Route 66

The creation of Route 66 began in the early 1920s through the vision and diligence of Cyrus Avery. Avery was born in Pennsylvania, but moved to Tulsa Oklahoma 1907. He set up a realty firm and a coal company, and also speculated in oil and gas leases. He became one of the most prominent citizens of Tulsa.

In 1920, the United States had approximately 3,000,000 miles of roadway, but only 36,000 miles had all weather surfaces suitable for automobiles. Avery was an early devotee of establishing a national roadway system. In 1921, he became president of the Associated Highways Association of America. In 1923, he was appointed Commissioner Highways of the State of Oklahoma. In 1924, he was on the American Association of State Highway Officials, which at its national meeting in San Francisco, requested that the Secretary of Agriculture underwrite and establish a comprehensive interstate road system. Avery was appointed to act as a consulting highway specialist to the Bureau of Better Roads, which was to create the beginnings of that system.

In 1925, Avery and others began selecting existing roads that would be part of the national highway system. Many road clubs around the United States lobbied to have portions of the local roads included. Ultimately, a portion of a transcontinental highway that went from Chicago to St. Louis and Kansas, west through Tulsa and Oklahoma City, and over the National Old Trails, became the genesis of Route 66.


Before the establishment of the national highway system, many roads had local names. The national highway commissioners decided to give roads across state lines shield shaped signs signifying that they were US highways or circular signs for state roads. The most prominent roads were to be designated by two digit numbers ending in zero. Politicians from Missouri and Illinois lobbied for the Chicago to Los Angeles route to be designated Route 60. They lost out, and in early 1926 these politicians selected the designation Route 66 for the national highway from Chicago to Los Angeles.

On November 11, 1926 federal and state highway officials approved the interstate routes for all 48 states, and Route 66 came into existence.

In February 1927, the first meeting of the National US 66 Highway Association was held in Tulsa, and the Association adopted the name "The Main Street of America" for Route 66.

At the outset, only about 800 miles of Route 66 were paved. It took until 1937 to surface the entire route. The national US 66 Highway Association, along with corresponding state Route 66 associations, set out to get the entire route paved and promoted as the shortest and most direct route between the Great Lakes and Pacific coast.� Advertising campaigns in national and local magazines and newspapers promoted the use of Route 66 and the businesses along the way. These advertising efforts were successful and the towns and businesses along Route 66 prospered.

Route 66 During the Great Depression through World War II

The stock market crashed and the Great Depression began in 1929, only three years after Route 66 was opened. Then in the 1930s, severe droughts in the mid west and southwest resulted in the Dust Bowl. Route 66 became the highway that many poor dirt farmers hoped would take them to a land of better opportunity. It became romanticized as the road to progress that resulted in the greatest westward migration in the country's history.

Route 66 came on hard times during World War II. Gas and tire rationing made traveling west impractical. In addition, production of new cars was suspended during World War II, making the purchase of reliable vehicles difficult. Most of the traffic along Route 66 was confined to military convoys and job seekers heading to large manufacturing plants in California.

An even bigger migration along Route 66 occurred immediately after World War II as veterans followed Route 66 eastward from California to their pre-war homes, and families moved westward to California in search of better jobs. Tourists and vacationers also increasingly used Route 66, using Jack Rittenhouse's 1946 A Guidebook to Highway 66 to steer them through. 1946 also was the year Nat King Cole came out with Bobby Troup's Get Your Kicks on Route 66.

Route 66 Boom Years 

In 1952, the Main Street of America Highway Association (formerly the Highway 66 Association) traveled Route 66 from the Chain of Rocks Bridge connecting Illinois and Missouri to Santa Monica California and dedicated Route 66 as the "Will Rogers Highway".

Route 66 was at its peak in the post-World War II boom years of the 1950s. However, in 1954 President Eisenhower established the President's Advisory Committee on a National Highway Program. This Committee formed what became our modern national highway system. It simply bypassed much Route 66, which no longer could handle the increasing westward traffic. Although some Route 66 towns continued to prosper, the replacement of Route 66 with superhighways like I-55, I-44 and I-40 led to an inevitable deterioration of the road that was once The Main Street of America.

Decommisioning Route 66

Route 66 was decommissioned in 1984. The US Highway 66 Association tried to get the interstate highways over which Route 66 once passed to be designated as Route 66, but it was unsuccessful in those efforts. I-66 now designates a road connecting I-84 in Virginia with Washington DC.

Although a little more route 66 disappears every year, there still is much to see. There are lonely strips of concrete that stripe the landscape from Illinois to California. There are small and large towns still displaying the colorful neon signs of the old motels and restaurants where the prosperous would stay on their adventures west, or where weary families would stay in their escape from poverty in search of better lives. Travelers today can still feel what it must have been like to travel the Mother Road when it was the gateway to the west.

Route66mc.com is glad to help you find the magic of Route 66. See as much of it as you can in the most out of the way places you can find. It will change your life.

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