Journey Through Time: The Legacy of Route 66

The Birth of a National Icon
In the early 20th century, the United States recognized the need for a comprehensive national highway system to support the growing number of automobiles. Legislation in 1916 and a more detailed act in 1925 laid the groundwork for what would become a network of interconnected roads, including the legendary Route 66. Established on November 11, 1926, Route 66 stretched 2,448 miles across eight states, from the bustling streets of Chicago to the sunny shores of Los Angeles. However, it wasn’t until 1927 that highway signs were erected to guide travelers along this new path.

The Route 66 Highway Association, formed by eight states, was instrumental in accelerating the construction of the highway. Their enthusiasm for the project was evident in their adoption of the moniker “Main Street of America.” This association, along with entrepreneurs Cyrus Avery of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and John Woodruff of Springfield, Missouri, championed the idea of an interregional link that would facilitate commerce and mobility.

The Cultural Impact of Route 66
Route 66 transcended its practical purpose, becoming a cultural phenomenon that inspired music, art, and literature. The 1946 hit song “Route 66,” composed by Bobby Troup and famously recorded by Nat King Cole, celebrated the highway’s journey through cities like St. Louis, Oklahoma City, and Amarillo, immortalizing it in American pop culture. The song’s popularity on both rhythm and blues and pop charts reflected the road’s widespread appeal.

The highway also served as the economic backbone for numerous “mom and pop” businesses, including diners, gas stations, and motels. These establishments thrived as Route 66 facilitated unprecedented mobility and tourism. However, the advent of Interstate 40 led to the decline of many of these businesses as travelers opted for the faster, more direct route.

The Decline and Preservation of Route 66
Despite its eventual decommissioning, Route 66 has not been forgotten. Efforts to preserve and commemorate the highway have kept its legacy alive. Parts of the original route have been designated as a National Scenic Byway, known as “Historic Route 66,” allowing visitors to experience a slice of Americana. Organizations like the National Historic Route 66 Federation continue to promote the road’s history and significance.

Route 66 Today: A Living History
Today, Route 66 remains a vibrant part of American history, attracting tourists from around the world. Guided tours, roadside attractions, and a plethora of Route 66-themed merchandise cater to those looking to relive the golden age of road travel. The highway’s story—a tale of success, struggle, and the relentless pursuit of the American dream—continues to resonate with history buffs and adventure seekers alike.

For those interested in exploring this piece of living history, resources abound. The National Park Service offers a Route 66 Travel Itinerary, and the Route 66 Association provides information on preservation and tourism. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a curious historian, the enduring allure of Route 66 awaits.