The Mother Road


Highway 66, popularly known as “Route 66,” is significant
as the nation’s first all-weather highway linking Chicago to
Los Angeles. When contrasted with transcontinental corridors
such as the Lincoln Highway and U.S. Highway 40, Route 66 does
not stand out as America’s oldest or longest road. Nevertheless,
what sets this segment of national highway apart from its contemporaries
is that it was the shortest, year-round route between the Midwest
and the Pacific Coast. U.S.
66 reduced the distance between Chicago and Los Angeles by more
than 200 miles, which made Route 66 popular among thousands
of motorists who drove west in subsequent decades.

other highways of its day, Route 66 reflects the origin and
evolution of road transportation in the United States. The often
romanticized highway represents an outstanding example of the
transition from dirt track to superhighway. Not only does Route
66 underscore the importance of the automobile as a technological
achievement, but, perhaps equally important to the American
psyche, it symbolized unprecedented freedom and mobility for
every citizen who could afford to own and operate a car.
numbers of motor vehicles and the rise of the trucking industry
increased the need for improved highways. In response the federal
government pledged to link small town U.S.A. with all of the
metropolitan capitals.

period of outstanding historical significance for Route 66 is
1926 to 1970. The national system of public highways brought
geographic cohesion and economic prosperity to the disparate
regions of the country. As a component of the federal network
Route 66 linked the isolated and predominantly rural West to
the densely populated urban Midwest and Northeast. Chicago had
long served as a transshipment point for goods that were transported
to the West. The creation of Route 66 ensured the continuation
of this vital socioeconomic link. The appearance of U.S. Highway
66 came at a time of unparalleled social, economic, and political
disruption and global conflict. It also enabled one of the most
comprehensive movement of people in the history of the United
States. One result was the irreversible transformation of the
American far west from a rural frontier to a pacesetting, metropolitan

more than any other American highway, Route 66 symbolized the
new optimism that pervaded the nations postwar economic recovery.
For thousands of returning American servicemen and their families,
Route 66 represented more than just another highway. “It
became,” according to one contemporary admirer, “an
icon of free-spirited independence linking the United States
across the Rocky Mountain divide to the Pacific Ocean.”
In recent years Route 66 imaginatively documented in prose,
song, film, and television has come to represent the essence
of the American highway culture to countless motorists who traversed
its course during the more than fifty years of its lifetime.

the road was decomissioned in 1985, federal and state agencies,
private organizations, and numerous members of public realized
that remnants of the road were quickly disappearing, and that
the remaining significant structures, features, and artifacts
associated with the road should be preserved. In 1990, the U.S.
Congress passed Public
Law 101-400, the Route 66 Study Act of 1990. The act recognized
that Route 66 “has become a symbol of the American people’s
heritage of travel and their legacy of seeking a better life.”
The legislation resulted in the National Park Service conducting
the Route 66 Special Resource
Study (pdf) to evaluate the significance
of Route 66 in American history, and to identify options for
its preservation, interpretation, and use. The document provides
an in-depth account of significance and history of Route 66.
This study led to enactment of Public
Law 106-45, and the creation of the Route 66 Corridor Preservation


from the National Park Service Corridor Preservation program at:

Learn more about Route 66 in Oklahoma, visit their website: