It’s the 11th day of the 11th Month, and for Americans that means Veterans’ Day. So, blessings and thanks to all Armed Forces Veterans on this day. The armistice of World War I would seem the most obvious choice for today’s entry, but I like to call attention to the not so obvious events for #HistoryMonday, so let’s roll on down the highway with today’s entry.
On November 11, 1926, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) approved the Numbered Highway System. Created more than a decade earlier to organize and assist the patchwork group of auto trails, the AASHO acknowledged shortcomings of the loose affiliation of the auto trails and hoped to correct them.
Most auto trails began as old wagon trails, cow paths, and corduroy roads. Adventurous and romanticized travelers attempted to navigate the country using these pathways and created names like the Lincoln Highway, Dixie Highway, Ocean to Ocean Trail, among others. Travelers found confusion when auto trail clubs built parallel roads with makeshift signage and no clear instruction on which route to take, something had to be done.
Wisconsin noticed the pitfalls and decided that an organized system using numbers rather than arbitrary names would be a better option. Other states followed suit and eventually the AASHO began meeting to organize the system nationwide that would be clear to all.
Not everyone appreciated the move though. Some of the auto trail designers felt that numbers were too sterile and cold and lost the sense of adventure and honor that the named trails offered. Arguing that numbers were an insult to the memory of Abraham Lincoln by numbering a highway rather than retaining the Lincoln Highway. Others joked that nobody could get their ‘kicks’ on 46, 55 or 33 or 21. Ironically, Route 66 would be popularized in song and travelers were encouraged to get their ‘kicks’ on the highway.
Spending roughly a year to plan the system, the AASHO approved the report from U.S. Agriculture officials serving with the Bureau of Public Roads and state highway officials. The Joint Board had tried to determine the best way to arrange the routes and satisfy local entities.
The U.S. Highway Numbering System uses numbers to convey direction of travel and length of the route. Odd numbers generally run north and south, with highways ending in ‘1’ and ‘5’ being major routes. East to West routes use even numbers and those ending in ‘0’ are major highways spanning from coast to coast. Spurs of the parent highway adopt a third digit prefix attached to the parent highway number.
As the U.S. Highway Numbering System became the standard for auto travel, other states followed the pattern for their own state routes. Eventually, the Interstate Highway System would use roughly the same numbering system during their creation. The Interstate Highway System also insisted on further standards for the roads that the U.S. Highway System don’t always require.
Even today, there are still memorialized and honorary naming conventions for highways still exists. Portions of state highways, U.S. Highways, and Interstate Highways bear the names of important people. The Interstate Highway System bears the official name Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways honoring Pres. Eisenhower who pushed for a standardized transcontinental system similar to the highway systems he had observed during World War II in Germany.
Even many of the old auto trails named for persons or geographic destinations are still associated with U.S. Highways. Nearby in Kentucky, U.S. 31 and its spurs are most often termed the Dixie Highway, and of course as I traveled on U.S. Highway 40 during Undergrad, the highway is popularly known as the National Road.
What’s your favorite U.S. Highway?