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A Brief History on American Highways

People today take highways for granted, but the introduction of the U.S. highway system is relatively recent. The vast interstate highway system that can take you from coast to coast or north and south, in fact, was only created a little more than half a century ago. Let’s take a brief look at the history of our highways.

Early History

The first major development in highways took place around one hundred years ago, when the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 was passed by congress to improve roads throughout the nation. Yet the first world war siphoned funds and manpower away from this ambitious project.

The Federal Highway Act of 1921 ushered in the era of interstate highways with two lanes. When the depression hit the U.S., various road projects were introduced to give unemployed people gainful jobs. Yet this was postponed when America entered World War ll in 1941.

The Origins of the Interstate System

It wasn’t until after the conclusion of the great war that the U.S. highway system really began to expand in earnest. Although some progress was made under the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, it was really President Dwight Eisenhower who literally got things moving with the Federal Highway Act of 1956.

Throughout the late 1950s and 1960s, highways expanded throughout the nation. In the 70s and 80s, the focus was on completing the Interstate system, which consists of over 40,000 miles of highway. The official name of this system, in honor of the president who began the project, is The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.

U.S. Highways: From 1 to 830

We don’t often think about how the numbered highways got their assigned numbers, but the whole system is based on an elaborate plan. The highways start with US 1, which runs north-south from Maine to Florida. The highest numbered highway in the nation is US 830, which consists of a mere 200 or so miles in the state of Washington.

The Nation’s Most Iconic Highway: U.S. Route 66

Some of America’s most famous highways have a long history. U.S. Route 66, for example, was established back in 1926. It originally ran from Chicago to California, which made it a key link between the Midwest and West Coast. Route 66 was officially removed from the U.S. Highway system in 1985, but portions of it have been preserved as historic landmarks.

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