Possibly, you already know or you have heard that the Historic Route 66 has been getting older. The highway, built in the year 1926, is now 93 years and spans over 3940 kilometres (2448 miles) meaning that it has witnessed many things. The number of people who have travelled on it since the construction is uncountable. People have also set up their shops and constructed all forms of tourist attractions along Route 66.
Originally, the number was 60 but Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia thought that the number 66 was important for their interstate. Other states accepted and the Route 60 was changed to Route 66, as we know it today. Within many years, Route 66 has appeared in many pop culture pieces. Perhaps, you have already heard about the Get Your Kicks on Route 66 from Bobby Troup or the Remixes from Rolling Stones, Nat King Cole or Depeche Mode. The road also appeared in John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath”, which won the Nobel Prize.
Moreover, there are three time zones across this route. People find themselves feeling sluggish as they drive west because the road covers eight states and passes through three time zones – Chicago to California. During its launch, only 800 miles of the 2448 miles were paved. That meant that people would expect bumpy road trips. Today, it is a smooth route for tour vehicles. Here are some other facts you didn’t know about Route 66.
1. One of its most famous nicknames was from John Steinbeck
In the year 1939, John Steinbeck penned “The Grapes of Wrath” novel about the 1930s Dust Bowl migrants. When writing the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Steinbeck devoted a whole chapter for the Route 66, but he dubbed it “The Mother Road” and the nickname has remained for many years. Like the farm family displaced in the book, known as the Joads, thousands of Americans fled poverty and drought in Oklahoma, Texas and the neighbouring states during the Great Depression. They travelled west along Route 66 to search for new employment. Contrary to the myth, John Steinbeck did not venture from Oklahoma to California with the migrants as part of the research for “The Grapes of Wrath”. However, he drove to the west with his wife in the year 1937.
2. African Americans were not allowed in some businesses along the highway
The segregation era was unfavourable for African Americans. They were banned from many restaurants, motels and other types of businesses along Route 66. There were many sundown towns bordering the highway and blacks were unwelcome after darkness. They were kept out through local ordinances, force and intimidation. In the year 1936, a black postal worker, Victor H. Green from New York City, published the “Negro Motorist Green Book”, which is a travel guide showing the places to eat, shop and stay that were friendly for the African Americans. The publication continued until 1966.
3. Part of the Route 66 follows Trail of Tears
A part of this route, from Rolla to Springfield, Missouri, overlaps with the northern Trail of Tears, which the Cherokee Indians followed during the forced relocation of 1839. The Indians were forced from their traditional lands in the Southern Appalachians after the United States Congress accepted the Indian Removal Act that authorized the government to start negotiations with the Native tribes of the country so that they can give up their lands situated on the east of the Mississippi River in exchange for the lands unsettled west of Mississippi.
Even though some Indians gave up their land and left to the west peacefully, the Cherokee and other tribes resisted the move. In 1838, the government troops removed them forcefully from the land and made them to trek to the Indian Territory on the west – the area known as Oklahoma today. The largest group, around 12,000 individuals, followed the northern route – from Tennessee to Oklahoma. The tribes used four main routes to reach the west but around 15,000 to 16,000 Cherokee followed the Trail of Tears and around 3,000-4,000 men died along the way from malnutrition, diseases and exposure to harsh conditions.
4. It once served as an epic endurance racecourse
In the year 1928, runners covered 2,400 miles on Route 66 as part of a coast-to-coast marathon covering 3,400 miles from Los Angeles to New York. The press nicknamed the marathon Bunion Derby but the sports Agent C.C “Cash and Carry” Pyle had organized it as a promotional stunt. Of the men who started the 84-day race, only 55 finished it. Andy Payne, a 20 years old man from Oklahoma took home the $25,000 prize.
5. The “Father of Route 66” was a businessman from Oklahoma
A Tulsa businessperson, Cyrus Avery, championed the building of Route 66 highway and helped in its promotion and that alone earned him the nickname “Route 66”. As a child, Avery travelled with his family from Pennsylvania to Missouri by wagon and later decided to settle in the Indian Territory. As an adult, Cyrus Avery continued with farming, oil and real estate, among many other ventures. Avery was a member of the Good Roads Movement that advocated for improved roadways in America. Bicyclists started the movement in the 1800s but the arrival of mass-produced automobiles in 1900s made it grow stronger.
Avery served as the chairman of the home state’s highway commission and participated in the development of the numbered highways system. During the planning phase of Route 66, Avery was instrumental in ensuring that it passed through Oklahoma. In 1927, he was part of the team that founded the US Highway 66 Association that helped boost tourism on this roadway dubbed “Main Street of America”. Moreover, Avery worked hard to see the whole route paved – a job that was completed by the late 1930s.
6. A former Marine wrote a song that helped make Route 66 famous
Singer Nat King Cole released a hit single “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” in the year 1946 written by Bobby Troup in the same year. Troup, a Pennsylvania native composed the song while still in college. This was his first song before he decided to serve the Marines during the Second World War.
After the war ended, the pianist, actor and songwriter left the Marines and returned to the United States where he drove to Hollywood to start a songwriting career with his wife. The idea of writing a song about the highway came into mind when travelling on the route. Upon his arrival to California, he met Nat King Cole who recorded the song. The song name checks several places that the road crosses. Many artists, including the Rolling Stones and Bing Crosby, recorded the Song from Troup too.
7. A television show was named for the highway
Route 66 TV drama was very popular between 1960 and 1964. The show was about two American young men who wandered the country in a Corvette. Originally played by George Maharis and Martin Milner, features two drifters who encounter many characters. The guest stars range from young Robert Redford to Joan Crawford. Despite the name of this program, it did not venture on Route 66 alone and it was shot in over 20 states and Canada. The real-life Route 66 passes through eight states.
8. Dwight Eisenhower is associated with the demise of Route 66
The signing of Federal-Aid Highway Act by President Dwight Eisenhower to establish America’s 47,800 miles Interstate Highway System led to the eventual obsoleteness of Route 66. Eisenhower became aware of the need for good highways in the year 1919 after participating in the United States military motor convoy starting in Washington DC to San Francisco. His goal was to test how the process of moving the American military across the country would be like. The journey lasted for 62 days.
During World War II, Dwight Eisenhower witnessed the strategic benefits of Germany’s autobahn highway network. As the USA’s president in the Cold War era, he advocated for the interstate highway system touting it as important for military defence operations and for the economic growth of the country. So, Interstate 40 replaced a big segment of Route 66 something that might have led to decommissioning of the road in 1985. In the aftermath, many non-profit organizations outcropped to help preserve the highway due to its historical significance. So, its large portion is driveable today. “Historic Route 66” is the phrase people use when referring to some parts of Route 66, spanning on Illinois, New Mexico, Missouri and Arizona.
Even though Route 66 is obsolete today, the government is working hard to preserve it due to the historic significance. President Clinton granted $10 million for its preservation and restoration in the year 1999. After its decommissioning on 27th June 1985, the government removed the road signs and everyone almost forgot it. Including today, the road appears on a few maps but some states have installed Historic Route 66 signs along some portions but there are no exit directions. Businesses emerge and go each day along the highway. So, you will need to take many photos because what is there today might be gone tomorrow.