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Route 66.

The Oxford Companion to United States History
Karal Ann MarlingKaral Ann Marling

Route 66. 

Route 66 begins in Chicago's Grant Park and arrives, 2,400 miles and 8 states later, in Santa Monica, California. A reminder of the American love affair with cars and freedom, it was one of the first continuous spans of paved highway linking the East with the dream of the golden West.

Route 66 incorporated sections of the Pontiac Trail, the Mormon Trail, and the Osage Indian Trail. Envisioned as an interstate highway spanning two-thirds of the nation, it was officially dedicated in 1926, a by-product of the “good roads movement” even though only about eight hundred miles were actually paved. The rest consisted of a series of dirt and gravel tracks linked by signs and promises. Thanks to balky local governments, the full length was not finally surfaced with concrete or macadam until 1937.

The physical character of Route 66 was probably always less important than its place in the imagination. Towns fought for the chance to become landmarks on this self-proclaimed “Main Street of America.” Gas stations, diners, motels in the form of concrete wigwams—businesses of all sorts boomed along Route 66 in the 1920s. In the 1930s, when the Great Depression sent many Americans limping westward in search of jobs, Oklahomans bound for California dubbed it “the glory road.” Novelist John Steinbeck, chronicling the plight of the Okies in The Grapes of Wrath, called it “the mother road, the road of flight.”

In the 1960s, a popular TV series, Route 66, followed the adventures of two young explorers in a sports car in search of America. In an age of a fast, anonymous interstate highway system, the old Route 66 continued to evoke the lure of the open road.

See also New Deal Era, The.


Phil Patton, Open Road, 1986.Find this resource:

Michael Wallis, Route 66: The Mother Road, 1990.Find this resource:

Karal Ann Marling