May 26, 2019

Get Your Kicks With the History of Legendary Route 66


Route 66 is a national landmark for good reason.

I love history. It was one of my favorite subjects growing up and as the years have gone by my love for it has grown exponentially. So, today we are going to talk about a road. Not just any road, either.

This road was one of the original highways in the U.S. Highway System and is the most recognized in today’s driving culture. It stretched 2,448 miles and covered seven states in its entirety. It’s the one and only Route 66.

Buckle up: you're now driving on Route 66.

Also known as, “Main Street of America”, “Main Street of America” or “Mother Road”, US 66 opened on November 11, 1926. But, let’s back up even more to see where the inspiration began. In 1857, Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers was ordered to build a wagon road along the 35th parallel.

Photo Source: Legends of America

Interestingly, additional orders saw him testing the feasibility of using camels as pack animals in the southwestern desert. This road became part of Route 66 USA. By 1913, parts of the highway begin to come together. Before numbered highways were even a thing, named auto trails would be marked by private organizations.

The eventual Route 66 was covered by three highways: The Lone Star Route, National Old Trails Road, and Ozark Trails system. Each of these highways connected one major city to another but wouldn’t allow for cross-country traveling from one far destination to the other.

Finally in 1925, Congress passed comprehensive legislation allowing for a national highway. A connection from Chicago to Los Angeles was the inspiration and the American Association of State Highway Officials was lobbied hard enough to put the original 1925 construction plans into place. Thus begins the story of Route 66.

Historic Route 66

The original Route 66 map path started in Chicago, Illinois and weaved it’s way through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending in Santa Monica, California. That’s a grand total of 2,448 miles and coverage of eight states. That’s a lot of ground covered.

Obviously, questions like, “I wonder what car gets the best gas mileage?” or, “Do you know how to save gas while driving?” never entered anyone’s mind in Route 66’s heyday. Automobiles were celebrated especially considering they hadn’t been around for too long and only affordable to a certain class of people.

Classic car on Route 66

It was the only major highway that connected half of the country together otherwise your only option was to travel by train or plane. During the Dust Bowl of the 1930's, US 66 served as a primary route for individuals and families moving west. The road also helped support economies of communities it passed through. Some businesses prospered throughout its use. The highway would see many improvements and realignments over the years only to be officially removed from the United States Highway System in 1985.

While the entire highway is no longer in use, several states have adopted significant bypassed sections of the former highway into their state road networks as State Route 66. In some larger cities such as Chicago, there are markers indicating the original location of 66 with signs reading, “Historic Route 66” but there are some disregarded portions of the road scattered throughout the seven states.

Test your Route 66 knowledge.

I’m a big fan of historical trivia. And, when it comes to any kind of trivia related to Route 66, I’m more than willing to share as much of it as possible:

  • Route 66's entirety was fully finished in 1938.
  • There’s a narrow (9 ft) stretch of the original 1920s road you can drive on between Afton and Miami in Oklahoma.
  • Kansas has the shortest section at a mere 13 miles.
  • The worst stretch of Route 66 in the 1920s and 1930s was the muddy Jericho Gap in Texas.
  • Current maps don’t include old Route 66.
  • The original alignment went through Las Vegas and Santa Fe, New Mexico, but an angry governor re-routed it to bypass the cities in 1937 to punish politicians in Santa Fe.=
  • In Texas, 91% of the original route is used to this day.

For as short a time period as Route 66 existed, its legend has only grown since then. It’s a true American treasure, and one that continues to capture the imagination and curiosity of motorheads across this great land of ours.

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