Skip to Main Content

Route 66

Audra Bellmore and the late Ann Massman

Route 66: The Mother Road, U.S.A.

History and Significance of Route 66


- Excerpts from the National Park Service, Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program


U.S. 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. [...]  [It was] popular among thousands of motorists who drove west in subsequent decades.

Like 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. [...]

The 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. [...] 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 region.

[...] 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 Route 66 Study Act of 1990 recognized that Route 66 "has become a symbol of the American people's heritage of travel and their legacy of seeking a better life." [...]