Often referred to as the ‘Mother Road’ for its status as America’s oldest highway, the famous route will turn 90 this November. For many years it was a driving force for tourism and, whilst only sections of the original road remain, this symbol of the American Dream still inspires minds all over the world.
First constructed as a way to create a network of roads across the country, Route 66 was the first highway of its kind in the US. It became a household name when it hosted a long stretch of the Trans-American Footrace, popularly known as the ‘Bunion Derby’, a 1928 race over 3,423.5 miles from Los Angeles to New York City.
The road, perhaps surprisingly, profited greatly from the Great Depression, when government funds were used to build roads, and paving was completed in July 1937.
The end of World War II saw a boom in the car industry as well as a surge in holidaymakers traversing the route. Towns providing fuel, food and the iconic motels, sprung from the roadside as Route 66 became a huge source of income for the settlements that lined it.
However, with increased popularity came unwelcome peril and the lack of a central reservation led to monikers such as Bloody 66 and Death Alley.
When the Federal-Aid Highway Act was passed in 1956, it was the beginning of the end for Route 66. The towns that had proved so lucrative through the glory years became abandoned and impoverished. In 1985, the AASHTO approved the Route’s decertification, and it seemed headed for oblivion.
That was until Angel Delgadillo, a business owner in Arizona, known as the ‘Guardian of Route 66’, campaigned for its survival. Thanks to his efforts, travelers can still get off the highway and drive along sections of the road today.
In fact, all along the route locals are bringing its original character back to life with great success. Nostalgia-ridden fans can stop in at attractions from Chicago and St Louis to Albuquerque and Santa Monica, with exhibits and events to celebrate the legendary road.
“…Now you go through Saint Louis, Joplin, Missouri, and Oklahoma City is mighty pretty. You’ll see Amarillo, Gallup, New Mexico, Flagstaff, Arizona. Don’t forget Winona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernandino. Won’t you get hip to this timely tip: when you make that California trip, get your kicks on Route sixty-six.”
For more information on the events and stops along Route 66, head to the Historic66 website.