2013 marks the centennial of the nation's first paved transcontinental road. Passing through 13 states including Nebraska, the Lincoln Highway connected the country and changed American commerce, travel and culture. To celebrate the centennial, twin tours, one from each coast, drove the 1913 route and met in the middle, in Kearney, Neb., on June 30th. (See the route map in box below)
NET News spoke with Rosemary Rubin, Ohio Director of the Lincoln Highway Association, who organized the driving tour, about the history and importance of the highway.
A vintage postcard mapping the Lincoln Highway through Nebraska. Interstate 80 tracks most of the historic Lincoln Highway until Grand Island, where it goes north through Columbus and Fremont. Click here for more on the history of the Lincoln Highway in Nebraka. (Photo courtesy of vintagepostcards.org)
On the origins of the Lincoln highway:
ROSEMARY RUBIN: The Lincoln highway was the first paved transcontinental road across the United States. It was conceived in late 1912 by industrialists who thought a paved road would drive more commerce in the car industry. These men included:
· Henry Joy of the Packard Motor Car Company
· Carl Fisher, who founded the Indianapolis 500 Motor Speedway
· Frank Seiberling of Goodyear Tire and Rubber
On its historical significance:
RUBIN: In the 1910s, roads were not paved. Towns had pavement, but when you got out of town, it was axel-deep mud. The idea was to have the most direct route from New York to San Francisco. So they connected little towns and cities that already had paving.
And it wasn't always straight. In fact, Nebraska has a section that's not straight at all, called the Gothenburg Steps, where it meanders through the county in many twists and turns. But it is still the Old Lincoln [Highway].
On how the Lincoln Highway changed American travel, culture and commerce:
RUBIN: People could travel to see their relatives, visit big cities, and move their product if they were farmers or industrialists. Mom and Pop restaurants grew up, as did "one stops" where there would be gas, food and lodging, and tourist cabins. People prospered in the towns. Americans love to travel and we’ve traveled this road since its inception 100 years ago.
The Lincoln Highway Association has created an interactive map of the historic highway. It includes different evolutions of the highway route, and points of interest along the way. (Photo courtesy of the Lincoln Highway Association)
On its evolution over time:
RUBIN: Interstates and bypasses of the old road have really supplanted what people knew as the Lincoln Highway. From 1913 to 1926 there were no numbers on roads, all roads had names (the Dixie Highway, the Yellowstone Trail). So when the modern highways took over, especially I-80, some of the small towns didn’t have transportation coming through, which hurt the little towns that had originally prospered, but that’s part of the growth of our country.
On the modern-day highway:
RUBIN: It’s changed. Some of it is gravel like it would have been 100 years ago. And of course there are modern hotels and chain restaurants and Walmart. But there are also still the Lincoln cafe and the Lincoln garage and places that you can stop and see the history. We stopped at the Livermore garage, which used to be a stop on the Lincoln Highway, and still is.
Further reading: Rubin recommends the book American Road, which chronicles an important early trip on the highway, which included the future President Dwight Eisenhower.
"He's credited with the Interstate highway system," Rubin said. "So we connect with the Lincoln Highway up to the modern times.”
The book description, excerpted from Amazon.com: "On July 7, 1919, a cavalcade of sixty-nine military motor vehicles set off from the White House on an epic journey. Their goal was California, and ahead of them lay 3,250 miles of mud and rock. Sixty-two days later they arrived in San Francisco, having averaged just five miles an hour. American Road is the story of this incredible trip that was proposed by the government to crystallize the need for good roads."