Happy 100th Birthday to The Great American Road

reno markerThe freedom of the open road — the ability to get on the highway and drive wherever your heart takes you – seems like such a fundamental part of the American character that it’s hard to imagine the country without a coast-to-coast highway network. And yet, at the beginning of the last century, paved roads were unknown outside of city centers. The prospect of driving a horseless carriage any significant distance seemed fraught with outlandish dangers. Then a group of visionary automobile enthusiasts came up with a wildly futuristic plan: to establish a motorway across the whole breadth of the North American continent. At the time, this seemed as far-out as the Hyperloop does today. No one had ever conceived of building a road that long before, let alone figured out how to pay for it, so instead of actually building a new road the group just picked out a route from New York to San Fransisco by linking together of a series of pre-existing roads, tracks and trails, nearly all of it dirt and some it simply open desert. They called the resulting line on a map the Lincoln Highway and announced the route to the public on September 14, 1913.

To begin with, the Lincoln Highway had no official status. It was really nothing more than an idea. But it was such a powerful one that the idea of driving from the Atlantic to the Pacific caught on. Even Emily Post gave it a try. The great adventure captured the public imagination and galvanized political will to get the government involved in building new roads. So you could say that we owe our sacred automotive freedom to a master stroke of public relations. I wrote about my own trip on the Lincoln Highway–or what still remains of it a century later–for Travel +Leisure. You can read the whole thing here.


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