Everything About U.S. Route 66 (the Mother Road)
Have you ever heard someone talk about the Mother Road or refer to the Main Street of America? If so, their talking about the famous U.S. Route 66, one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System that traversed the western two-thirds of the country.
This iconic highway was established Nov. 11, 1926, and it originally ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before coming to an end in Santa Monica, California. At its longest, it ran 2,448 miles. The segment in Kansas was barely 13 miles long, but the longest segment, in New Mexico, was 392 miles. The highway was not fully paved until 1937, and today, 85% of the original road is still drivable.
Prosperity Along the Way
Route 66 served as a major path for those who migrated west, especially during the 1930s Dust Bowl era. Because it was so well-travelled, Route 66 also supported the economies of the communities in its path, allowing businesses to prosper as the highway gained popularity. These business owners later fought to keep the highway open, rather than bypassed by the new Interstate Highway System.
Unfortunately for Route 66 lovers, the Interstate system did eventually replace it in 1956 when the highway was only 30 years old. Route 66 was officially decertified as a U.S. highway in 1985, right before what would have been its 60th birthday.
Portions of the highway passing through Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico and Arizona have been designated as a National Scenic Byway with the name “Historic Route 66.” In the Texas panhandle, old Route 66 has been completely replaced by I-40, which now runs through “ghost towns” like McLean, Shamrock and Vega that had bigger populations in the 1940s but are now nearly-abandoned.
A Highway for Pop Culture
The song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” is a popular song composed in 1946 by Bobby Troup. Nat King Cole first recorded the song, and his version, along with recordings from Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, all made it on Billboard magazine’s R&B and pop charts.
Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, Asleep at the Wheel, Depeche Mode, John Mayer and many other artists have also recorded the song.
The moniker Mother Road comes from the John Steinbeck novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” written in 1939. And there was also a Route 66 television show in the 1960s. The show ran for 116 episodes and was filmed on locations all around the country, but rarely near the real Route 66.
In 1952, Route 66 was dedicated to Will Rogers, a movie star famous for playing cowboy roles in the 1920s and 30s, who died in an aviation accident in 1935. Now, I-44 in Oklahoma is called the Will Rogers Turnpike.
And the first McDonald’s restaurant, built in 1945, was off Route 66 in San Bernardino, California.