Little Bits of History

Lincoln Highway

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 31, 2015
Lincoln Highway route

Lincoln Highway route

October 31, 1913: The Lincoln Highway is formally dedicated. Carl Graham Fisher, an automotive entrepreneur from Indiana, conceived of the idea. It was America’s first transcontinental automobile roadway and the memorial to Lincoln predated the colossal building in Washington, D.C. by nine years. Inspired by the Good Roads Movement, founded in 1880 to help bicyclists have a surface on which to safely ride, the Lincoln Highway made it possible to travel from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco on decent roads. The original path cut across 13 states. The eastern terminus was in New York and then traveled through New Jersey Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and ended in California.

In 1912, railroads still dominated interstate travel in the US. But the car was an up and coming vehicle and roadways were needed. Initially, roads were haphazard affairs “maintained” by townships or counties in more urban areas. But rural roads were “maintained” by the farmers who had the property next to the road. Many states actually forbade any road construction projects and the federal government did not get into road building until 1921. In 1912 there were about 2.2 million miles of rural roads in the US and only 8.66% or under 200,000 miles were said to have “improved” surfaces which included gravel, stone, sand-clay, brick, shells, or oiled earth. Interstate roads were a luxury for the wealthy who could afford a car and had the time to drive long distances.

But as car sales increased and more people were able to afford them, a decent system of roads was becoming less luxurious and more of a necessity. Fisher (maker of the headlights in most cars of the time and principal investor in the Indianapolis Speedway) fought for better roads. Henry Ford, largest car manufacturer of the time did not invest in the project believing government should build the roads. But other big names including Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, and Woodrow Wilson did invest. The route was investigated by a number of cars which took 34 days to travel the awful present roads from Indianapolis to San Francisco. The drivers returned by train with a route selected.

The original route, which was to be as straight as possible to limit construction costs, covered 3,389 miles. It has been revamped and updated several times since it was finished in 1916. From New York to California could take 20 to 30 days and that was if one was able to maintain the breakneck speed of 18 mph for six hours each day. At the time, the trip was thought to cost about $5/person/day and that included food, gas, oil, and even “five or six meals in hotels”. The cost of car repairs would be extra. Gas stations were still rare, and so it was suggested that you fill up at every opportunity. The roadway took off and many of the towns along the route were able to profit greatly from increased traffic. An interactive map of all the improved routes is here. It is interactive, but you need to select “Points of interest” from the menu to see all the possibilities along old and new routes.

Everyone runs into naysayers, but if you love something enough and feel passionately enough, you just go on ahead, walk right round the person saying it, proceed down the road and don’t look back. – Jennifer Higdon

A good plan is like a road map: It shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there. – H. Stanley Judd

We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run over. – Ambrose Bierce

The open road is the school of doubt in which man learns faith in man. – Pico Iyer

Also on this day: “I’m just a patsy” – In 1959, Lee Harvey Oswald in Moscow, vowed to never return to the US.
Shooting Shooters – In 1912, the first gangster film was released by DW Griffith.
Hot, Hot, Hot – In 1923, a heat wave began in Marble Bar, Australia.
95 Theses – In 1517 Martin Luther posted his Disputation on the church door.
No Escape from Death – In 1926, Erik Weisz died.

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