The Mother Road Retires

Today in History, June 27, 1985:

Route 66, The Mother Road, Main Street of America, Will Rogers Highway, is decommissioned in the National Highway System, bypassed by more modern “interstate highways.”

In 1857, Navy Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale, working for the US Army Topographical Engineers, charted a wagon road across the western US.

In the 1920’s, amidst Congressional acts creating a national highway system, Tulsa businessman Cyrus Avery and businessmen in Springfield, Missouri began lobbying for a highway that would roughly follow Beale’s route, and incidentally draw business away from Wichita to Tulsa, OKC and numerous other small cities between Chicago and L.A.

In 1926 they got their way and Route 66 was born.

For the next several decades small communities were connected by the highway, the trucking industry took off due to it’s influence, travelers stopped at new motels, drive-ins, etc…the entire culture of America was changed as Americans were able to see their country on vacations easily.

In the 50’s, Congress approved President Eisenhower’s proposals for an interstate highway system, born from his youth as an Army officer when he traveled across the country on insufficient roads.

By the 70’s, the interstates had rendered Route 66 obsolete, and by 1985 it was decommissioned.

85% of the route still exists, and has become a tourist hotspot for those that miss the romanticism it engendered. Traveling it’s route is definitely on my bucket list!

Thank You James Smithson…and Henry Hungerford…

Today in History, June 27: 1829 – Strange that we should be thankful that Henry James Hungerford died childless in 1835. On this date in 1829 a British scientist who had never set foot on American soil died in Genoa, Italy. James Smithson was a wealthy man. He wrote in his will, “In the case of the death of my said Nephew without leaving a child or children, or the death of the child or children he may have had under the age of twenty-one years or intestate, I then bequeath the whole of my property… to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men.”….

So thanks to James Smithson’s eccentricity, which he never explained, and the untimely death of his nephew, the US came into possession of over $500,000.00 in funds dedicated to research and learning. President Andrew Jackson sent a diplomat to receive the funds, President James K. Polk signed the bill creating the Smithsonian Institute once Congress agreed how to use the money. President Theodore Roosevelt saw to the movement of Smithson’s body from Italy to “The Castle” of the Institute in 1904. Smithson was escorted from Genoa to Washington by none other than Institute regent Alexander Graham Bell and his wife. Today the Smithsonian has 19 museums and the national zoo, including the National Aeronautics and Space Museum, the most visited museum in the world. Thank you, Mr. Smithson.