10 Facts About Route 66

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Everyone has heard of Route 66. It’s an automotive icon, not just in the United States, but for people spread all around the world. Although Route 66 is now closed, these Route 66 facts will help to peak your interest.

How well do you know the iconic stretch of roadway? Read through the following ten Route 66 facts and see which ones you already knew and which you didn’t.

John Steinbeck

Back when the famous American author took a trip from Chicago to the West Coast, inspiration struck. He drove on Route 66, the road he lovingly called “the long concrete path” and began to formulate a story that eventually took shape as The Grapes of Wrath.

In his iconic American novel, the path west was called “Mother Road.” Many who lived in the Dust Bowl used it to find greener pastures in California, making it a symbol of the American dream. Today, some people still use that term for Route 66.

Length

The exact length of Route 66 changed quite a few times during its time, but at its longest it stretched about 2,200 miles. The road started in Chicago, Illinois and ended in Santa Monica, California, traveling through eight different states.

One of the reasons why it was established was to divert some traffic from the bustling cities of Denver and Kansas City. Many rural communities were directly in the pathway or nearby, breathing some much-needed life into them.

Before the Road

Long before Route 66 was ever conceived, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Edward Beale set forth on a journey along the same pathway. It was 1857 when the expedition set out, with the aim of establishing a safe route to gold-rich California.

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Beale convinced the military to source camels from Tunis for the journey, believing them to be better equipped for the desert portions of the expedition than the horses and donkeys that were also being outfitted. The problem was that the camels were so large and aggressive they spooked all the other animals, which is partially why it was the last time US armed forces used them.

After Beale’s successful expedition, wagon trains and then cowboys herding cattle further established the trail that would be the blueprint for Route 66.

Pop Culture Icon

Route 66 has been huge in popular culture in the United States and even beyond. The “Main Street of America” has been the topic of quite a few songs, including one written by Bobby Troup that’s been performed by the likes of the Rolling Stones, Nat King Cole and Check Berry.

In recent times, the faded glory of Route 66 was central in the plotline for the Disney Pixar movie Cars. A number of jokes and references to the road’s history are sprinkled throughout the film, making it fun for enthusiasts to watch.

The TV series named Route 66 wasn’t even about the road, interestingly enough. Instead, it followed two guys as they traveled to different parts of the United States, mostly nowhere near the iconic road. The name was used to avoid a copyright battle with another production studio.

Finishing the Pathway

Until 1938, sections of Route 66 weren’t paved, but instead were plain dirt. Thanks to the Great Depression and large groups of young men who were unemployed, the government got the idea to finish paving the road, starting in 1933.

You could basically say that the worst economic times in the United States gave birth to the most iconic road, which later was used to celebrate the social mobility of the middle class and the cars they proudly owned.

Lucille Hamons

The famous “Mother of the Mother Road” didn’t become a part of Route 66 lore until 1941. She and her husband Carl bought a gas station and tourist cabins on a rural part of the road in Oklahoma. Because she was so rugged and self-sustaining, yet constantly lent assistance to motorists, she become legendary.

A Trade Route

People didn’t just use Route 66 to go on road trips – it was a vital way of life for many. Farmers who lived in rural communities nearby the highway were able to transport their crops, dairy products, etc. faster and to a wider area than before, helping them to increase profits.

Trucking companies both small and large found the road to be vital to transporting goods in much of the Midwest and Southwest United States. They had begun competing against the railways, which previously were the only practical means for moving large amounts of goods around the country.

Cyrus Avery

The big champion of Route 66 was Cyrus Avery. He was a businessman from Tulsa, Oklahoma and had a vision of improving the roads in his home state. Avery was also the chairman of the state highway commission and had a hand in creating the national highway system.

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In 1926, Avery proposed a plan to build a highway that would stretch from Chicago to California. Before that, he pioneered the successful Ozark Trail highway that extended from Missouri through Oklahoma and Texas.

Decertification

After 59 years of serving motorists in the United States, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials decertified Route 66. The vote included the removal of all highway signs along the pathway.

It was the interstate highway system, which was stated back in the 1950s, that spelled doom for Route 66. Drivers preferred the more direct routes, with more lanes and higher speed limits. Virtually all sections of Route 66 were completely cut out by the interstates.

Interestingly enough, no other national highway from the original 1926 grid has been decertified.

Tourist Attraction

In more recent years, Route 66 has become a serious tourist attraction. About 85 percent of the original road is still drivable, and quite a few people come from all over the world to travel on it. Many of the old stops along the way have been revitalized, providing the tourists with food, places to stay and plenty of memorabilia to commemorate the journey.

Shirts, signs, drink coasters, etc. are sold all over the world with the Route 66 road sign on them, making it an incredibly popular icon of American freedom and the automobile in the 20th Century.