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Geography of Route 66

Learn Information about America's Historic Route 66

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Route 66

Old Route 66 through Texas.

Jeremy Woodhouse/Getty Images

U.S. Route 66 (map) was one of the original United States highways. It was established on November 11, 1926 and it originally ran from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California. It spanned a total of 2,448 miles (3,940 km) through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. During its heyday, Route 66 was one of the most heavily traveled roads in the country as people began to move west and a variety of towns flourished along its path.

Route 66 was removed from the U.S. Highway System on June 27, 1985 after being replaced by the Interstate Highway System. In that year, the road was considered irrelevant and the new U.S. highways bypassed Route 66 and the towns along it. Portions of the highway have today been designated as National Scenic Byways with the name Historic Route 66.

History of Route 66

The official birthplace of Route 66 was in Springfield, Missouri on April 30, 1926. This was where officials gave the new, Chicago-to-Los Angeles highway its name. In 1927, the highway was signed into law as being one of the first U.S. Highways. Route 66 was not completely paved however, until 1938. In its early days, most of Route 66 was gravel and dirt.

Throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s, traffic on Route 66 gradually increased as people began to move west. In addition because it was a mainly flat highway throughout its length, it became a popular truck route. In the 1930 to 1936, the Dust Bowl caused traffic on Route 66 to further increase as people from places like Oklahoma and Arkansas moved to California in search of work.

The increased traffic on Route 66 during its early days also helped the growth of the several small towns it passed through. These towns became popular stops for motorists passing through as they were able to offer fuel, food and lodging.

During World War II, westward migration continued as California had growing industries related to war-materials manufacturing. As a result, Route 66 (which was fully paved at this point) also became useful for moving military equipment around the country and to forts along its route.

In the 1950s, Route 66 was used mostly for leisure as motorists used it as the main vacation route to Los Angeles. There were also several popular stops along Route 66 at this time, some of which included natural sites such as the Grand Canyon and Meteor Crater in Arizona, as well as newly constructed sites like teepee shaped motels, shops and fast-food restaurants like the first McDonald's in San Bernardino, California.

In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower, signed the Interstate Highway Act which began the decline of Route 66 as the main route from Chicago to Los Angeles. During its existence however, Route 66 was constantly changed as new road construction technologies emerged. Throughout the years, the highway was realigned, widened and bypasses were constructed around its worst parts.

During the construction of the Interstate Highway System in the late 1950s and 1960s, portions of Route 66 were paralleled or incorporated into the new highways but the rural sections were often bypassed entirely. As a result, the towns that grew along Route 66 because of its popularity with motorists began to fear loss of business and several attempts were made in places like New Mexico to stop the construction of bypasses. By the late 1960s though, most of Route 66's rural sections were bypassed.

With the construction of new interstates like Interstate 40, portions of Route 66 were gradually decommissioned and in 1985, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials officially decertified Route 66 and it was removed from the U.S. Highway System.

Names of Route 66

Route 66 was also known as the Will Rogers Highway after the 1920s and 1930s comedian. When it was first constructed, there were also talks to name the highway with various different numbers. U.S. 60 and U.S. 62 were two proposed numbers for the new highway. However because of conflicts between the different states involved, Cyrus Avery, an Oklahoma businessman who created the road's route, chose the designation Route 66.

Route 66 Today

After the decertification of Route 66 in 1985, some states along its route chose to keep the 66 designation and use it as a state road. In addition, beginning in 1987, Arizona founded the Route 66 Association. Several more states followed shortly thereafter and portions of the road have been put on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton signed the Route 66 Preservation Bill aimed at preserving and restoring portions of the route and in 2008, the World Monuments Fund placed the road on its list of the 100 Most Endangered Sites. Additionally, the National Scenic Byways Program has designated portions of Route 66 as Historic Route 66 and this continues to draw motorists to the road.

Finally, in recent years, Route 66 has been featured in a variety of mass media. For example, in 2006, the Disney-Pixar film Cars highlighted the highway.

To learn more about Route 66, visit the National Scenic Byway Program's Route 66 website.

References

Wikipedia.com. (21 September 2010). U.S. Route 66 - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Route_66

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