Route 66 represents the growth of America in the 20th century. It is iconic and uniquely American, and it has been ingrained and romanticized in popular culture. Although the Road has since been decommissioned, there are numerous museums and organizations committed to keeping the Route 66 spirit alive. To understand the importance of the Road, you have to delve into its background.
A little history on Route 66
The early 1900s saw characterized by a boom in the number of cars on American soil. The automobile revolutionized transport for a population that relied on bicycles for transportation. Families needed it to move around while it made it easy for the military to transport supplies.
The Federal Highway Act of 1921 enabled the development of the Road. The task of marking new highways were assigned to Cyrus Avery, an entrepreneur dubbed the “Father of Route 66.”
Avery had settled in Tulsa, which was then a thriving oil town. He recognized the need for a good highway system and joined the Good Roads Association. Avery popularized the idea of a highway from Chicago to Los Angeles and argued that the flat lay of the land would make it an easy road.
Cyrus Avery and other lobbyists of the route, like John Woodruff, greatly promoted route 66 in its early days. The towns along the Road prospered because of the increasing traffic and American concepts like fast food joints, motor inns, diners, and even roadside advertising were invented. More traffic was witnessed during the Great Depression, and the 2nd World War as people went searching for better opportunities. In 1939, John Steinback christened Route 66 as the “Mother Road” in the book “The Grapes of Wrath.”
As traffic increased, there was a demand for advanced construction methods. The development of the interstates was encouraged by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, and Route 66 was subsequently decommissioned in 1985.
What Makes Route 66 Special?
Route 66 occupies a special place in the country’s history. For starters, it displays the development of the US from unpaved dirt roads to superhighways. It illustrates the 20th-century adoption of automobiles in place of less-efficient modes like bicycles. Cars provided unprecedented freedom and mobility for the population. In 1900, a mere 8,000 vehicles were registered in America compared to the almost half a million automobiles on the roads in 1910. The rising number of vehicles and the growing trucking industry boosted the need for good highways.
At the time, Route 66 was built, the West was predominantly rural, while the Northeast and Midwest were significantly urbanized and populated. Chicago had been a vital transshipment hub for goods headed to the West, and the Road helped preserve this socio-economic link. The West subsequently developed into a fast-based metropolitan region.
Route 66 illustrated the optimism that pervaded the country after the 2nd World War.
Thousands of servicemen returned to find a country redefining itself and recovering from the effects of the war. Travelers traversed its course looking for opportunities, and for them, the route was more than a road but a chance to indulge in the new free-spirited independence. Millions of people were able to relocate and transform their lives because of the freedom that the Road offered.
The Road also promoted the tourism boom of the 1950s. Numerous services thrived along its length, including cafes, motels, drive-ins, and rest stops. It displays the most beautiful scenery in the country, with famous attractions like the Grand Canyon.
Route 66 and Popular Culture
Once it began operating, Route 66 soon found its way into popular American culture.
The music classic “Route 66” was penned by Bobby Troup, and it became his most important piece of work. The song has been covered extensively over time by such important acts as the Rolling Stones and Patti Page.
The route has inspired numerous other musical pieces, including “The Mother Road” by Alan Rhody and “Willy Rogers Highway” by Kevin Welch.
Route 66 has been an enduring backdrop in movies and television shows. It is used in productions that recognize and criticize the fundamentals ideas of the “American Dream.” When used in movies, the route commonly metaphorized restless spirit, wanderlust, and a thirst for adventure.
The 1988 feature film “Rain Man” featured various locations along the Road. It starred Dustin Hoffman alongside Tom Cruise and is a celebrated classic. The ambitious “Route 66” television series aired in the early 1960s.
The significance of Route 66 is woven into dozens of American literary works. Perhaps the most iconic novel about the Road is John Kerouac’s “On the Road.” The book adopted a road movie-like inflection and recounted the writer’s adventure from New York to the West Coast. Kerouac came up with the infamous term “Beat Generation” in this semi-autobiography.
In 1939, the novel “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck was published. This landmark piece of literature narrated the brutality of the Great Depression, and it describes the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s through the eyes of the Joad family. They embark on a journey to the West for a better life.
One of the most definitive books about the Road is Route 66: The Mother Road. It chronicles different periods that impacted on the Road’s history and uses newspaper articles and photos to trace the Road’s social heritage.
The Reinvention of Route 66
The importance of Road was ingrained in the Route 66 Study Act of 1990. It sought to preserve the legacy of the route in helping millions of Americans look for a better life. 10 million dollars were allocated to the preservation of historical points in 1999.
Today, the route captures the imagination of its former glory, and you can traverse most of the Road from Illinois to California. Many of its former pitstops are frozen in time like ghost towns, and some iconic structures have been redefined as museums.
Even though the Road has long been decommissioned, tourists nostalgic for the iconic highway take road trips along its course in the summer months. There are still countless attractions, businesses, and motels along the route that cater to the seasonal traffic.
The legacy of route 66 is very much alive in popular culture and people’s imaginations. The Road has often been a mirror of what is going on in America. The traffic boom of the 1930s is, for example, attributed to the Great Depression, when families traveled in search of better opportunities. The Road may not exist in modern maps, but it is immortalized in American popular culture.