Route 66 was a historic highway in the United States extending from Chicago to Los Angeles. It crossed much of the American Midwest, Great Plains, and Southwest. US 66 was established on November 11, 1926, with road signs erected the following year. The highway, which became one of the most famous roads in the United States.
Route 66 is one of the essential icons of America, both for Americans and for people abroad. It represents a multitude of ideas: freedom, migration West, and the loneliness of the American heartland.
People doing business along the route became prosperous due to the growing popularity of the highway, and those same people later fought to keep the highway alive in the face of the growing threat of being bypassed by the new Interstate Highway System.
History of ROUTE 66
The highway was first opened in 1926, although much of the route was not paved for decades afterward. It soon captured America’s imagination. John Steinbeck, in his 1940 novel Grapes of Wrath, chronicled the migration along Route 66 of thousands of farmers leaving the Dust Bowl of Kansas and Oklahoma during the Great Depression, trying to reach a better land in California. Steinbeck posted the road as an almost hostile force, draining money, energy, and enthusiasm from the optimistic Okies.
Later representations of the road were a little more upbeat. Probably most famous is musician Bobby Troup’s eponymous tribute song, which enjoined listeners to “get their kicks on Route 66”. A TV show in the 1960s also called “Route 66”, featured two young men exploring America’s highways. Although Jack Kerouac only mentions 66 briefly in his book On the Road, it acquired something of the aura of Beatnik cross-country driving.
In the 1980s, the aging highway was decommissioned. Much of its stretch had been overlaid or routed around by broader, newer interstate highways. But the embedded idea of Route 66 refuses to die – as demonstrated by the 2006 Disney/Pixar movie Cars – and millions of kicks-seekers continue to follow the remnants of the road from Chicago to Los Angeles to this day.
Many Towns, such as Strafford have festivals (Route 66 Days) and Motor Cruises (Route 66 Cruise) each year which keep the history alive, along with providing excellent opportunities for enthusiasts to drive the existing road.
Interesting Facts about Route 66
1. John Steinbeck 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. The TV series named Route 66 wasn’t even on 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.