After World War II, with thousands of Americans heading west, Route 66 truly became the “Mother Road.” Fast food was even born on this stretch of highway, with the first drive-thrus opening at Red’s Giant Hamburg in Springfield, MO, and Mc Donald’s in San Bernardino, CA, in the 1950s.
But even it featured huge patches of unpaved road that turned dusty in dry weather and hopelessly muddy in rain.
Case in point: in 1919, when Eisenhower traveled with the US Army’s Cross-Country Motor Transport Train parading a newfangled invention called the "tank" to the American public, it took 62 days to make it from the Atlantic to the Pacific -- and that was with a head start in Washington, DC!
Olympus in Washington could take three days if you got stuck behind a truck on the terrifyingly steep mountain passes.
By the 1950s, Highway 30 had absorbed much of the fabled Lincoln Highway along its 3,073-mile run from Atlantic City, NJ, to Astoria, OR.
From urban Los Angeles and San Francisco to untouched redwood groves and the rugged & desolate Lost Coast, there’s a reason why the 101 became within just a few short years synonymous with a freewheeling West Coast culture. Harper, the first man to drive through the Avenue of the Giants redwood forest, had to literally shovel out paths around the ancient trees so his Model T Ford could make it through a rutted, muddy hell.
And making it all the way to the 101’s northern terminus at imposing Mt.
But the experience was far different, too: seeing, feeling, and even smelling the differences in each town, sampling regional delicacies, stopping to chat with real locals, getting lost on back-road detours, and stumbling across attractions featured on no map.
Below are 10 routes that allowed that in the first half of the 20th century, so next time you’re doing 75 on the interstate, worried only about finding the most convenient Chick-fil-A and cleanest set of rest area bathrooms, appreciate the hard work our adventurous ancestors put in with a look at how some of our most iconic highways came to be.
There’s no argument that US 1’s western equivalent, Highway 101, wowed early drivers far more in the jaw-dropping view department.
From the Mexican border to Washington’s Olympia Peninsula, a drive along the historic highway, completed in 1926 and tracing the El Camino Real Spanish missionary trail of the 1700s, brought the majestic mountains of the West Coast right into drivers’ eyelines -- often in the form of hairpin curves and steep descents that finally provided access to California’s most iconic landscapes (but were hell for the car-sick inclined).
Pre-interstate, US 1 was the lifeblood of pivotal cities like Raleigh, NC, Richmond, VA, and Washington, DC -- in New Jersey and New York, it was by all accounts America’s first multi-lane freeway devoted to industry.