CONTEXT

September 10, 2010

That ribbon of highway

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 12:09 am
Tags: , ,

What’s interesting about the Lincoln Highway, which was conceived on this date in 1912 and delivered just about a year later, is that it wasn’t really a highway at all. It was a concept.

A stretch of the Lincoln Highway in Greene County, Iowa. Photo by John Vachon, 1940, LoC PPD

It was a lot of roads, connected with a name by one of the automobile’s greatest promoters.  You could, if you owned one of the few thousand automobiles that had been produced,  drive from New York to San Francisco by 1915, though it wasn’t easy.  We had at last become a nation linked by road coast to coast.

It was Carl Fisher’s idea to design the route and give it a name.  He got other car enthusiasts excited about it.  They formed the Lincoln Highway Association, raised about five million dollars, chose the route and got some ‘seedling’ miles built.  They never got Henry Ford to join them and that was a big disappointment.  Ford thought the government should build roads for his cars. Eventually, the government agreed with him.

But before that – if you had 20 or 30 days to spare – you followed the LHA map, kept an eye out for markers put up by the Boy Scouts and hoped to make it through the deserts and up and down mountains in your trusty Model T.

The LHA recommended keeping your gas tank topped up because there were so few stations, carrying a shovel, an axe, tire casings and inner tubes and – west of Omaha – full camping gear.  Best tip:  motorists “should wade through water to verify its depth before crossing in a car.”

And, if stranded in the west, start a fire with sagebrush and someone will find you.

Carl Fisher had the first car dealership in America – in Indianapolis – and he was always trying to think of ways to get people excited about cars.  He got the Indianapolis Speedway paved and urged the paving of public streets.  He helped develop a better headlight so people could drive at night, and after creating the Dixie Highway, he became a developer of Miami Beach.  Destinations were important.

Last section of Lincoln Highway to be finished, Elko, Nevada, as it appeared in 1998. Photo by F. Athearn, LoC PPD

The Lincoln Highway, which had always been US 30 for the most part, faded from memory with the coming of the numbering system and increasing construction of state and federal highways,  But you can still follow quite a bit of it. Today, there is a resuscitated  Lincoln Highway Association that provides a map, and there are even a handful of highway markers left to indicate where the Lincoln Highway went.

Oh, yes – one of the early Lincoln travelers was a young Dwight Eisenhower, who later in life said he had it and the German autobahn in mind when he decided to create the interstate highway system.

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1 Comment »

  1. Bully Lincoln highway. Fabulous story thank you Jean

    Comment by avery zia — September 11, 2010 @ 8:27 am | Reply


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