ROUTE 66 - The American Road Trip, a History

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From Sunday Drives to Cross Country Trips - Route 66 gave American's the Open Road and Freedom

In the early part of the 20th Century the "horseless carriage" aka the automobile was beginning to dot the dirt roads and rural highways of America. The freedom that a personal car brought to the country was a boon to Americans who had a desire to expand their horizons and take a road trip.

Cyrus Avery of Tulsa, Oklahoma and John Woodruff of Springfield, Missouri conceived an idea of connecting Chicago to Los Angeles via one "super highway" that traveled through Small Town America and created the experience of "seeing the country". Their lobbying succeeded when the federal government agreed to link small town America with it's metropolitan capitals in the summer of 1926. The route was designated as 66. The Mother Road was born.

The Great Depression put a temporary halt to the construction until 1933 when the WPA put thousands of unemployed workers on the project. In 1938 2,300 miles of Route 66 was continuously paved from Chicago to Los Angeles and Americans had their now historic and iconic road-trip path cross country.

In 1939 John Steinbeck published his novel "The Grapes of Wrath", in which he dubbed Route 66 as "The Mother Road, thus giving Route 66 it's famous nickname. When a drought caused the infamous "Dust Bowl" in the Midwest hundreds of thousands of Americans migrated West on The Mother Road looking for better lives. Route 66 then became known as the "road to opportunity" as well as The Mother Road.

Thanks to Route 66 a tourist industry started to flourish across the country as people took to their cars and began to explore America. A thriving "road side attraction" industry flourished directly on Route 66, as motels, diners, gas stations and tourist traps aka souvenir shops sprung up across the whole route. There were even special stops where enterprising individuals who lived close to the highway created their own unique and imaginative attractions. Another iconic image that arose from Route 66 was the Burma Shave signs.

During World War II the government used Route 66 to ship troops, equipment and products cross country and at the end of the war thousands of returning servicemen were brought home to their families on this highway.

Americans had cars and then they got Route 66. From that moment there was no going back - we became a country in love with the freedom of the open road and all that it signifies. We were a country on wheels with one hand on the steering wheel and the other wrapped around a Pecan Praline from Stucky's.

Though the entire Highway is now decommissioned, the final section near Williams, Arizona gave way to Highway 40 in 1984, it remains a monument to the pioneering spirit that still resides in America. Route 66 remains in the hearts of all those who traveled even one tiny section, drank one cherry coke on the roadside or slept a night in one of the now famous motels. The Mother Road is alive in our memories and our history.


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