America's Highways 1776–1976: A History of the Federal-Aid Program

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america's highways 1776–1976


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Federal Highway Administration


For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
Washington. D.C. 20402

Stock No. 050-001-00123-3


Where sources known to be covered by registered copyright have been quoted in this book, the name of the copyright owner is included in the reference. Any omissions are unintentional and do not affect the validity of the copyright.

The identification (in writing, in photographs, or in drawings) of items of equipment by trademarks or by manufacturer's name is for historical accuracy only and does not constitute an endorsement by the U.S. Government of the equipment or the manufacturer.


This book has been written for a widely diversified audience—those interested in the general history of our Nation's highways and those whose interest might be more narrowly confined to matters relating to the technical aspects of highway transportation. It has been prepared in two parts—Part I deals with the broad subject of highway history from colonial days forward to the historic highway legislation of 1956; Part II deals separately and in some detail with the several areas of responsibility for administration, planning and research, design, construction and maintenance of highways and bridges, both foreign and domestic as authorized under the Federal highway legislation.

The reader will note the changing reference to the name of the Federal unit assigned responsibility for the administration of the Federal-aid highway program—the original Office of Road Inquiry, the Bureau of Public Roads, the Public Roads Administration, again the Bureau of Public Roads, and finally the Federal Highway Administration. These changes in organization title are chronicled in Chapter I, Part II which covers the program administration through the years.

Biographical information on a few key individuals has been included at the end of Part I and in selected chapters of Part II where each man's contribution is directly related. The numbers are purposely limited, and many hundreds of dedicated and competent individuals go unrecognized.

Many former and current employees have contributed text for or reviewed this book. The manuscripts, in most instances, have been edited to make this book a reasonable length, but the original manuscripts are available in the U.S. Department of Transportation Library for future scholars to review. In addition to those listed below, many others assisted in the preparation of this book, in particular Mary Jo Burke and Verla R. Cook of the Department of Transportation Library, to assure a history as complete as possible.

Chauncey Aldrich
James A. Bloom
Frank L. Calhoun
Carl A. Carpenter
William O. Cornelia
Howard D. Correll
F. William Cron
Charles D. Curtiss
Phillip Darling
Michael De Stephanis
Martin Deuterman
Thomas O. Edick
H. Dean Fravel
Robert B. Gair
A. F. Ghiglione
Willis Grafe
E. II. Holmes
John B. Kemp
Ross W. Kruser
C. V. Kurylo
Lester P. Lamm
D. W. Loutzenheiser
Henry H. Mahier
Martin F. Maloney
E. J. Martin, Jr.
Kennon Nakamura
Barbara M. Neilson
John D. O'Fallon
S. Z. Phillips
Charles W. Prisk
Joyce N. Ritter
Elizabeth Samson
Gordon B. Sharpe
C. L. Shufflebarger
C. A. Steele
Josephine C. Sweeney
E. A. Swick
A. Taragin
A. Clayson Taylor
William P. Walker
York Welborn
M. Susan Wiley
George M. Williams
B. Dianne Williford


The economic growth of the United States in the 200 years of its existence and the record of individual prosperity achieved by its people in that brief period of time are attributable to the success of the transportation system developed during that period—a system almost totally dependent on the Nation's highways.

This book has been written to record for posterity the story of highway development in the United States, beginning in the early years of the new Nation and expanding with the growing country as it moved into the undeveloped areas west of the original colonial States, and ultimately evolving into the Federal-aid highway program in which the State and Federal Governments have worked cooperatively and successfully for the past 60 years. It is a proud story and one that should be recorded.

The book will make available for future highway transportation officials a documentation of earlier decisions and experiences which, up to this time, have been available only in scattered writings or in the individual knowledge and recollections of many of those involved directly in the Federal-aid highway program during this period of development and whose experiences have not previously been recorded.

Our Nation will continue to grow and to progress, and our transportation system will contribute materially toward that objective.


Norbert T. Tiemann
Federal Highway Administrator


Part One 1 The Colonial Legacy 2
2 Early Turnpike Era 8
3 Early Federal Aid for Roads and Canals 16
4 The Age of Steam 28
5 The Good Roads Movement 36
6 Dawn of the Motor Age 54
7 The Beginning of Scientific Roadbuilding 64
8 The Drive for Federal Aid 80
9 Planning a Highway System 90
10 The Highway Boom 112
11 A Roads for National Defense 142
12 Events Leading to Enactment of the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act 154
Part Two 1 Administration of the Federal-Aid Program 198
2 Finance and Economics 238
3 Planning 264
4 Research 320
5 Right-of-Way and Environment 354
6 Design 380
7 Bridges 418
8 Construction and Maintenance 444
9 Development of the Interstate Program 466
10 Construction in the Federal Domain 486
11 International Operations 518
  Epilogue—The Success Story 542
  Highway Related Legislation 546
  Picture Credits 548
  Index 551

part one

1 The Colonial Legacy

The Indian canoe.

America's Highways 1776–1976.djvu

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The Wilderness Road.

The young Nation that emerged from the War of Independence had a weak government and a primitive transportation system. The rivers and the sheltered coastal waters, such as Long Island Sound, Chesapeake Bay and Albemarle Sound, were the principal highways for travel and commerce. Extending back from these arteries were roads in various stages of development. A very few of these, near the largest cities, were "artificial roads," ditched and sometimes hard-surfaced with gravel or with "pounded stone." The rest were improved only to the extent of removing stumps and boulders and leveling the worst irregularities of the ground. Many of these roads were impassable for wheeled vehicles in winter or during the spring thaw. Travelers crossed small streams by fording and the larger ones by ferries. Bridges were few and far between.

On the fringes of settlement, the "roads" were really only horsepaths, unsuitable for wheeled vehicles. The Wilderness Road through Cumberland Gap, located by Daniel Boone in 1775, was such a pack trail.[N 1]

General Braddock's military road, constructed in 1755, was chopped out to a width of 12 feet-wide enough to pass the train of 150 Conestoga wagons in a single file — but by 1758 it had reverted to a trace through the forest. The other main transmountain road, the Pennsylvania Road, had been widened in 1758 during the French and Indian War to pass General John Forbes' wagon trains, but was otherwise unimproved.

  1. However, a Kentucky historian has called the Wilderness Road "... a monument to the skill of Boone as a practical engineer and surveyor. It required a mind of far more than ordinary caliber to locate through more than two hundred miles of mountain wilderness a way of travel which, for a hundred years, has remained practically unchanged...."[1]

Cable ferry over the Colorado River. In the early days, this method was frequently used to cross rivers.

One of the first road signs in America—hieroglyphics on Basset rock, near Washington, Utah.

Winter travel over primitive trail.

The Pennsylvania Road.

Colonial post rider.

Early Postal and Stagecoach Service
Despite the primitive condition of the roads, a land postal service was operated by the colonial authorities between the principal cities of the eastern seaboard. In 1729, 4 weeks were required to send a letter from Boston to Williamsburg, Virginia. For the most part, the mail was carried on foot or by post riders on horseback who averaged about 4 miles per hour, with no night travel.

The mails were speeded up considerably during Benjamin Franklin's long tenure as Deputy and Associate Postmaster General, from 1737 to 1757, and 1762 to 1773. Within a year after his appointment, Franklin had so improved the service that a letter could be sent from Philadelphia to Boston and a reply returned in 3 weeks. After 1764, Franklin made the mails move day and night between Philadelphia and New York, and this fast service was later extended to Boston.[2]

As early as 1750, there was a regular stage-wagon[N 1] service from Philadelphia to New York via Trenton and Brunswick. Just before the Bevolution, passengers could travel by stage from Philadelphia to the Paulus Hook (now Jersey City) ferry in 2 days in good weather, and public passenger stages were available for the journey from New York to Boston.[3]

Local Authorities Responsible for Roads
Under colonial laws patterned after those of the mother country, roadmaking and mending were responsibilities of the local governments—the towns in New England and the counties in other colonies. In the former, the elected town officers, among them a surveyor of highways, were charged with the upkeep of highways, private ways, causeways and bridges; and were authorized to remove obstructions from the high- ways, to dig for stone, gravel, clay or marl in any land not planted or enclosed, and to command the labor, on appointed days after public notice, of all persons over 16 years of age for work on the roads.[4]

In Virginia, the County Court, composed of eight or more gentleman inhabitants elected by the freeholders and approved by the Governor, was responsible for the condition of the roads and bridges. The court could contract for necessary road work or direct that it be performed gratis by the "tithable males" under the direction of the precinct surveyors, or foremen. Tithable persons were local residents over 16 years of age, whether free, slave, or indentured. Owners of two or more tithables could send them as substitutes in lieu of working in person.[5]

  1. A covered springless vehicle fitted with rigid wooden benches for carrying passengers.

The Flying Machine.

Rolling tobacco to market.

Model of Nantucket, Mass. fish cart. The barrel takes place of wheel and makes traction easier on sandy roads.

The other colonies had similar provisions for keeping their roads in repair, and all of them authorized the local authorities to require compulsory road service or its equivalent in cash. This "statute labor" was for years the principal resource available to local governments for road work in the colonies and later in the States, but other resources, such as private subscriptions, donations by public spirited citizens, assessments on adjacent property, or the proceeds of public lotteries, were occasionally available.[6]

There were hundreds of private ferries on the rivers. These ranged from canoes and small rowboats to flat-bottomed barges capable of carrying a wagon or several cattle. The right to operate a ferry was obtained from the colonial legislature or the county by a grant or contract, under which the ferry owner was allowed to collect fixed fees in compensation for his services and the use of his property. Ferry proprietors were considered to be public carriers, responsible for the life and property of their passengers.[7]

The English practice, begun in 1663, of permitting the local authorities or private persons to raise money for roadbuilding and maintenance by charging user tolls did not spread to the colonies. Except for payment of ferry fees, a traveler could freely use the roads, such as they were, from Maine to Georgia.


  1. Address by T. H. MacDonald, Chief, Bureau of Public Roads, in Washington, D.C., October 6, 1926.
  2. A. Rose, Historic American Highways—Public Roads of the Past (American Association of State Highway Officials, Washington, D.C., 1953) p. 32.
  3. Id., p. 34.
  4. Id., p. 62.
  5. Id., p. 64.
  6. Id., p. 23.
  7. Id., p. 45.
2 Early Turnpike Era

In all of the States, a long and severe depression followed independence. Recovery was hampered by the wretched condition of the roads, which had become practically impassable in many places from lack of maintenance during the war.

Postwar Recovery Generates Increased Road Traffic
Business began to pick up about 1787, and with the increase in trade came a rapid increase in road traffic, especially near the larger cities. The feeble efforts of the local authorities were not equal to keeping the roads in repair under this traffic, so there was widespread agitation for State assistance to help maintain the principal roads. The debt-burdened State governments met this challenge by appealing to private capital for the funds to build better highways. They chartered private turnpike[N 1] companies, conferring on them authority to build roads and charge tolls to the public for their use. The first of these companies, chartered by Virginia in 1785, built a turnpike road from Alexandria, on the Potomac Eiver, westward to the mountains near Berryville. However, the first to be completed for any considerable distance, and one of the most successful financially, was in Pennsylvania, between Philadelphia and Lancaster.[2]

Transportation Plan Proposed for Pennsylvania
In February 1791, The Society for Promoting the Improvement of Roads and Inland Navigation submitted to the Pennsylvania Legislature what may be the earliest statewide transportation plan in U.S. history. This plan proposed that the Legislature appoint a Board of Commissioners with power to decide the locations of the principal roads in the State and determine which should be improved by turnpike companies and which ought to be made or repaired at public cost. The board would then have the authority to advertise and award contracts to build and operate the turnpikes, and also to employ persons to repair those roads deemed unsuitable for turnpikes. Similarly, the board would have authority to contract for the construction and operation of toll canals or to make other navigation improvements at public expense.[3]

An important feature of the transportation plan was the voluntary relinquishment by the State for a stated number of years of its right to charter parallel competing facilities that would destroy or diminish the income or revenue of turnpikes or toll navigations already established.

  1. Originally, a "turnpike" was a long pole or pike which barred the traveler's way at each tollgate. After he paid the required toll, the pike was turned or swung out of the traveler's path.[1] "Turnpike" eventually became a synonym for any high-class, stone-surfaced road.

Wayside inn on Lancaster Road.

The Legislature was not ready, at that time, to confer such vast powers on an administrative body. However, it did announce its readiness to subsidize road and canal building in sparsely settled parts of the State with liberal appropriations of public money and to incorporate companies "for the gradual and progressive improvement of roads and waters where the tolls would be sufficient to recompense the subscribers or stockholders, and the charge would fall, according to justice, upon those who were to be benefitted, in proportion to the use they might make of such roads and waters."[4]

Under this policy, the Legislature, in April 1791, appropriated 36,160 Pennsylvania pounds to be expended under the direction of the Governor and Council for some 68 road and navigation improvements scattered all over the state.[5] Later, in April 1793, the Legislature authorized the Governor to incorporate the Conewago Canal Company to construct a lock canal around the Conewago Falls of the Susquehanna Eiver at public expense, to be "opened as a public highway and for public use, forever ... free of toll, and any and every other charge whatsoever...."[6]

In September 1791, the Legislature authorized the incorporation of the Schuylkill and Susquehanna Company to build a toll canal between those rivers. Two other acts in April 1792 established the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Road Company and the Delaware and Schuylkill Canal Navigation Company. Other turnpike and canal acts followed in later years, all modeled on the earlier ones.

The charters granted to the turnpike and canal companies under these acts were practically identical—in fact, both canals and turnpikes were considered to be "highways." Both were regulated transportation monopolies granted by specific acts of the State Legislature. These acts specified the termini and general route of the road or canal, set minimum engineering standards and conferred the right of eminent domain for taking necessary right-of-way and road materials. The companies were authorized to collect tolls at ratesspecified in the acts, but these rates were subject to renegotiation at intervals. The companies were required to keep their facilities in good order at all times. Turnpike acts set load limits and minimum tire widths for vehicles using the roads to protect the companies from destructive overloading by their patrons, especially during the spring thaw.

Inn near Brandywine, Pa., on Lancaster Road.

The Lancaster Road—Prototype Turnpike
The charter for the Philadelphia to Lancaster Road required that it be laid out 50 feet wide between fences, of which at least 21 feet "shall be made an artificial road, which shall be bedded with wood, stone, gravel, or any other hard substance, well compacted together, a sufficient depth to secure a solid foundation to the same; and the said road shall be faced with gravel, or stone pounded, or other small hard substance, in such manner as to secure a firm, and, as near as the materials will admit, an even surface ..."[7] The gradient was limited to an angle of 4 degrees with the horizon. (This is the equivalent of a grade of 7 percent.) The Company had no trouble selling its stock to eager investors at $300 per share. "I have never seen men," an eyewitness wrote, "so wet with sweat in the harvest field as some were in the crowd today who subscribed to the turnpike road."[8] Construction began in February 1793, and was completed for the full length of 62 miles in a little under 3 years—a remarkable engineering achievement for the period. The cost was $465,000, or an average of $7,500 per mile.[9]

The Company collected tolls at 13 points along the road at rates varying from 2½ cents per vehicle-mile for stages and coaches drawn by 2 horses to 5 cents per mile for 4-horse freight wagons with 4-inch tires. Vehicles with wider tires could travel for lower rates, and a horse and rider could travel 10 miles for 6 cents.

The Lancaster Pike did not return more than 2 percent of the invested capital for the first 5 years after it was opened, but, as the western part of the State developed, the profits rose until in some years they reached 15 percent, the maximum permitted by the charter.

Conestoga wagon "Philadelphia to Pittsburg 20 days."

Rapid Spread of Toll Roads and Canals
After 1800, most of the States adopted toll financing for main roads and canals, while retaining the old statute labor system for local improvements. By 1808, Connecticut had chartered 50 turnpike companies, which had completed 770 miles of roads. In New York, 67 companies, capitalized at over $5 million, were chartered before 1807 to build 3,071 miles of turnpike roads, and 21 companies were chartered to build toll bridges. [10] By 1828, Pennsylvania had 3,110 miles of turnpike roads, costing $8 million.[11]

The turnpike companies at first concentrated their efforts on the main roads between cities where traffic was heaviest, and since most of these cities were along the Atlantic coast, the coastal highway (now U.S. Route 1) was the first to be improved over any considerable distance. The Delaware River Bridge Company built a substantial bridge at Trenton, N. J., in 1806, and by 1812 the New York-Philadelphia road was stone-surfaced the full distance between those cities. These, and improvements to the coastal highway in other States, came just in time to save the country from a severe transportation crisis during the War of 1812, when coastal shipping was blockaded by the British Fleet. During the war, from 10 to 20 freight wagons arrived daily at Charleston, South Carolina, from cities as far away as Boston.[12]

The Transmountain Roads
The larger seaboard States from New York to North Carolina had extensive areas of western lands which they were anxious to settle and develop. Also, the seaport cities were eager for the trade such development would produce. There was, therefore, a strong sentiment to push good roads westward over the Allegheny Mountain barrier. Four main transmountain roads resulted.

After completion of the Lancaster Pike to Lancaster, the Pennsylvania Legislature granted charters for extending it westward to Pittsburgh. The State subsidized this "Pennsylvania Road" by subscribing to the stock of some of the companies.

Primitive method of breaking stone on toll road.

In New York the turnpikes developed without State subsidies, and many of the turnpike roads were controlled by large landowners who sometimes were more interested in selling land than in providing transportation. However, by 1812 New York had a well-developed turnpike system extending from the Massachusetts boundary to Lake Erie.

Maryland chartered several turnpike companies in the 1820's to connect Baltimore with the Cumberland Road (the National Road), then being built by the Federal Government with congressional

The Erie Canal.

appropriations; and was thus prepared to cash in on the Federal investment when the Cumberland Koad reached the Ohio River.

Virginia incorporated the Northwestern Turnpike in 1831 as a State-owned enterprise, with the Governor as president of the board of directors, to build a turnpike road from Winchester to "some point on the Ohio Eiver to be situated by the principal engineer." The principal engineer was Captain Claudius Crozet, formerly professor of engineering at West Point, and perhaps the ablest road engineer in America at this time. This road was completed to Parkersburg on the Ohio River in 1838, at a cost of $400,000.[13]

The standards and costs of the many turnpikes varied widely. Some were graded and ditched, but unsurfaced. Most were surfaced with gravel or pounded stone. The pounded stone surface was very expensive because all stone had to be quarried and broken by hand labor.[N 1] After 1846 some roads were surfaced with wooden planks laid on heavy sills. Average construction costs for turnpikes varied between $550 per mile to as high as $14,000 per mile.[14]

The turnpike movement eventually spread into all the States, and by 1850 there were hundreds of companies operating thousands of miles of roads and canals. These contributed tremendously to the States' internal development by opening new lands to settlement, by reducing the cost of haulage from the farms to the markets, and by stimulating the development of industries. Indeed, the construction of these privately financed public works was, itself, a major industry in the early 1800's.

At first, only citizens of the United States were allowed to own road and canal stock, but this restriction was later waived to attract European investment capital. Some States subsidized turnpike and canal companies by tax exemptions and by purchasing shares in the ventures. The charter granted by Kentucky to the Ohio Canal Company, for example, not only authorized the Governor to subscribe for 1,000 shares on behalf of the State, but also extended the privilege to the United States Government and to five other States bordering on the Ohio River.

With certain notable exceptions, such as the Erie Canal, the profits on toll road and canal investments were modest at best. Most of the charters contained provisions for reducing tolls when profits reached a certain level, usually 12 or 15 percent per year. The Schuylkill and Susquehanna Navigation Company's charter required that when profits exceeded 15 percent per annum 1 percent of the same shall be reserved "for the establishment of schools, and the encouragement of the arts and sciences...."[15]

  1. The first practical mechanical stone crusher was patented by Eli Whitney Blake, in 1858.
Roads and Canals Coexisted

Generally, toll roads and toll canals were not in direct competition with each other over the same or nearby routes, and could coexist as elements of an expanding transportation system. Because of their more restrictive grade lines, canals followed more in-direct routes and were longer than turnpikes. Passing the boats through the locks was a slow and tedious business. Consequently, average canal speeds seldom exceeded 2 or 3 miles per hour, as compared to 4 to 6 miles per hour on stagecoaches. The coach lines, therefore, got most of the passengers and U.S. mail contracts, and the turnpike freighters retained the short-haul and the fast- freight business. On the other hand, one horse pulling a canal boat could move as much freight as eight 4-horse wagon teams on a road.[N 1] This made for a very low toll rate, so the canals got the heavy freight if the shipper had a choice of carriers.

Only where a very large proportion of the total movement was through freight and the turnpikes and canals had common terminals did they come into direct and damaging competition. This happened when the Erie Canal was opened between Albany and Buffalo in 1825 and the Pennsylvania river-canal navigation system was opened between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in 1834. In both cases, the heavy freight to and from the Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley switched to the canals and most of the wagon freighters went out of business, but the stagecoach lines continued to prosper. The toll roads consequently suffered a drastic decrease in their total income.

Improved Engineering and Administrative Methods
The toll roads were built by contractors, or by hired laborers supervised by trained roadbuilders. Their construction was thus a notable departure from the long-established feudal custom of building roads with inefficient statute labor directed by amateur super- visors. To meet the standards in their charters, the turnpike companies had to hire people with some understanding of civil engineering to lay the roads out; and, on the whole, the turnpike roads were well located, and well built.

The earlier turnpikes were paved according to the recommendations of J. P. M. Trésaguet, Director General of the French roads from 1775 to 1785, with whose work educated Americans, such as Benjamin Franklin, were well acquainted. Trésaguet insisted on an adequate right-of-way for his roads and provided generous side ditches to carry away surface water that might otherwise stand on the road and soften it. On a crowned and rolled subgrade, his roadbuilders placed a layer of heavy foundation stones, laid on edge, with the interstices packed solidly with smaller stones rammed in place by hammering. Above this course, by hand, they placed successive layers of broken stone, course by course, compacted and filled so that the stones interlocked with each other. The top 3 inches were of hard, specially selected stone, broken with hammers to walnut-size at the quarry and hauled to the road to form the wearing course.[17]

The carriageways of Trésaguet's roads were 18 feet wide and about 10 inches thick. Most of the early American turnpikes were at least this wide, a common width being 20 feet. The Lancaster Pike was at least 24 feet throughout and in places even wider.

Trésaguet's greatest contribution to highway administration was his insistence on prompt and incessant maintenance of every mile of road by trained and adequately paid workmen. The system of maintenance he established made France's roads the best in the world for two generations.

After about 1820, the ideas of the Scotsman, John L. McAdam, who was responsible for the good roads around Bristol, England, dominated American road building. McAdam didn't believe in massive foundation courses—he asserted that the native soil, alone,

Laying stone foundation in Massachusetts. Although macadam roads were in use, as late as 1898 the Tresaguet roadbuilding method could be found.

  1. In 1807 Robert Fulton wrote, "... on a road of the best kind, four horses, and sometimes five, are necessary to transport only three tons. On a canal one horse will draw twenty-five tons, and thus perform the work of forty horses."[16]

Rolling stone with steam roller near Westfleld, Mass. in 1898.

was what supported the road and the traffic upon it and that the function of the road crust was only to protect the basement soil from wetting and abrasion. His roads, 6 to 10 inches thick, were made of angular broken stones, all passing a 2-inch ring and packed by traffic until they interlocked into a dense mass. The first American road built according to McAdam's principles was the Boonsborough to Hagerstown Turnpike in Maryland, completed in 1822.[18]

McAdam was primarily an administrator, rather than an engineer. Like Trésaguet, he insisted on thorough and continuous maintenance. He also advocated payment of adequate salaries to attract good men who would make roadbuilding a career.

As might be expected, the administration of turnpikes varied widely from company to company, depending on the quality of the management, the amount of toll-paying traffic, and how well the roads were originally laid out and constructed. Many were underfinanced, and failures and reorganizations were frequent. The standard of maintenance was not always as high as it should have been, especially for those roads that were not making much money. But on the whole, the turnpikes were a vast improvement over both the miserable roads and tracks that preceded them and the equally bad local roads still under township control.

Early Railroads Were Regarded as Public Highways
In 1808 Benjamin Latrobe, the distinguished architect and civil engineer, and one of the designers of the U.S. Capitol, summarized the prospects of railroads as a national mode of transportation in these words:

... railroads are out of the question as to the carriage of common articles. Railroads leading from the coal mines to the margin of the James River, might answer their expense, or others from the marble quarries near Philadelphia to the Schuylkill. But these are the only instances, within my knowledge, in which they at present might be employed.

There is, however, a use for railroads as a temporary means to overcome the most difficult parts of artificial navigation ; and for this they are invaluable...[19]

Latrobe's objection to railroads concerned the specialized iron-wheeled carriages required to travel on them; these were too expensive for the average farmer or shipper to own, and also unsuitable for operation on the common roads. Because of this restriction, only specialized roads hauling large quantities of bulk freight, such as coal, from a single source would be able to collect sufficient tolls from traffic to pay out their construction cost. At this time, there were no railroads in the United States and only a few in Europe. The carriages or wagons were pulled by horses. On a good railroad, one horse could pull four wagons of 2 tons each.[20]

England's first commercial railroad, opened in 1820, was originally intended to be operated with horses. Even later when the Liverpool and Manchester Railroad was chartered in 1828, it too was intended primarily to haul freight by horse power and included a provision in its charter that the owners could exact toll of all persons who might put vehicles on the road for transporting goods. However, this provision was required of few shippers because this railroad adopted steam propulsion a year later.

About the same time in Pennsylvania, the State built a railroad from Philadelphia to Columbia and licensed 20 different companies to run their horse-drawn cars over it.[21] In Indiana, the chief engineer of the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad recommended in 1837 that the State furnish steam motive power for its railroads, "leaving the care for the conveyance of freight and passengers to be furnished by individuals or companies, from whom the state will exact the proper toll for the use of the road, and for the motive power."[22]

In their early days, railroads were regarded in the same light as turnpikes and canals, to be used by and for the benefit of the public. The theory that a railroad was private property to be used exclusively by the owners and with which they could do as they pleased, prevailed for only a very short time.

Rapid Extension of Railroads in the United States
In the United States, the first charters for commercial railroads were granted in 1827 to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to operate in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, and to the Charleston and Hamburg Railroad for operation in South Carolina. Other States followed soon afterward, issuing charters for short railroads, few exceeding 100 miles in length. Up to the end of 1830, only 41 miles of railroad were constructed. This increased to 918 miles by the end of 1835 and to 2,797 by 1840. In 1856, 18,400 miles were in operation, and by 1860 railroads were being built at the rate of 5,000 miles per year, with 31,000 miles in operation.[23]

Steadily, this multitude of short lines was consolidated into more efficient systems by financial mergers and by standardization of gauges, so that long shipments were possible without changing railroads or cars.

Only a very few of the earliest railroads were planned for operation by animal power. After about 1835 practically all of the American railroads were made heavy enough to support steam engines, and, to accommodate the higher speeds possible with steam propulsion, were laid out with much less curvature and easier gradients than was customary for turnpike roads. At first, operating speeds were only about 8 to 10 miles per hour but these doubled by 1840.

These higher speeds, plus the ability to haul large tonnages at low cost, gave the railroads a tremendous competitive edge over both the turnpikes and the canals. For topographic reasons, the railroads located their lines parallel or close to the previously established turnpikes and canals, thus, coming into direct competition with them for most of their length. This competition was ruinous to the freight wagon and stagecoach companies which eventually lost not only their passengers and freight, but also their mail contracts to the rails.

Decline of the Turnpikes
The National Pike, or Cumberland Road, had entered upon an era of great prosperity when the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad reached Cumberland, Maryland, in 1842. Eleven years later, when the railroad reached the Ohio River at Wheeling, the horse transportation companies went into bankruptcy. The same blight spread to the great Pennsylvania wagon road to the west when the Pennsylvania Railroad was completed to Pittsburgh in 1854. Roadside businesses, which depended on the road traffic, such as inns and stables, shriveled and dried up. With no revenue coming in, the turnpike companies stopped maintenance and the proud turnpikes became so rough that travelers refused to pay toll.[24]

Milepost 10 miles west of Philadelphia on the old Lancaster Turnpike.

At the eastern end of the Pennsylvania Road, the Lancaster Turnpike, once the finest road in America, fell steadily into decay. In 1880 the company served notice on the township supervisors of its intent to abandon 17 miles of road. These sections were then "disturnpiked" and returned to public control. A little later, the company sold 35 miles of road to other companies for $40,000, to be used, partly at least, for a railroad bed, and in 1899 the company sold all of its remaining interest in the turnpike for $10 a share—one-thirtieth of what it sold for 100 years before. The Lancaster Turnpike Road Company was dissolved in February 1902.[25]

With variation in detail, hundreds of other turnpikes met the same fate as the Lancaster Pike, most of them eventually reverting to the local authorities for maintenance.

Paradoxically, as the older through turnpikes collapsed, new charters were being issued for feeder roads to the railroads. Thus, the number of new charters did not diminish greatly until about 1875.[26] Many of the newly chartered feeders enjoyed a measure of prosperity and maintained themselves until condemned or bought out by the States or local governments in the early 20th century.


  1. C. Boeth, Mankind on the Move (Automotive Safety Foundation, Washington, D.C., 1969) p. 8.
  2. A. Rose, Historic American Highways—Public Roads of the Past (American Association of State Highway Officials, Washington, D.C., 1953) p. 37.
  3. A. Gallatin, Report op the Secretary of the Treasury on Roads and Canals, S. Doc. No. 250, 10th Cong., 1st Sess., p. 842 (1808).
  4. Id., p. 843.
  5. Id., pp. 863, 864.
  6. Id., p. 851.
  7. Id., p. 895.
  8. J. W. Brooks, A History of American Highways, Sect. 2, p. 5 (unpublished work in Department of Transportation Library).
  9. A. Gallatin, supra, note 3, p. 738.
  10. Id., p. 737.
  11. G. R. Chatburn, Highways and Highway Transportation (Thos. Y. Crowell, New York, 1923) p. 62.
  12. A. Rose, supra, note 2, pp. 46, 47.
  13. Id., pp. 56, 57.
  14. A. Gallatin, supra, note 3, p. 737.
  15. Id., p. 851.
  16. Id., p. 918.
  17. A. Rose, supra, note 2, p. 40.
  18. Id., p. 53.
  19. A. Gallatin, supra, note 3, p. 917.
  20. Id.
  21. G. R. Chatburn, supra, note 11, pp. 101, 102.
  22. Id., pp. 106, 107.
  23. Id., p. 108.
  24. A. Rose, supra, note 2, p. 66.
  25. A. B. Hulbert, Historic Highways of America, Vol. 11 (Arthur H. Clark Co., Cleveland, 1904) pp. 91-96.
  26. A. Rose, supra, note 2, p. 72.
3 Early Federal Rid for Roads and Canals

Zone's Trace—First Federally Aided Road
In March 1796, Colonel Ebenezer Zane, the founder of Wheeling, Virginia, petitioned Congress for permission to build a post road overland through the territory northwest of the Ohio River to the important river port of Limestone, Kentucky (now Maysville). Such a route, Zane said, would be 100 miles shorter than the windings of the Ohio River, on which 15 men with their boats were then engaged in transporting the mails, and would also be immune to interruption by floods, floating ice or low water. The road would afford far faster mail service while saving at least three-quarters of the $4,000 annual cost of operating the mail route. Furthermore, the proposed road would provide a shorter and safer route for travelers both to and from the West.

As his only compensation for building the road, Zane asked that he be allowed to locate United States military bounty land warrants totaling three square miles where his road crossed the Muskingum, Hockhocking, and Scioto Rivers.

Colonel Zane's request was approved by Congress in the act of May 17, 1796, with the stipulation that Zane establish ferries upon the three rivers and operate them at rates of ferriage to be established by any two judges of the Northwest Territory.[1]

Zane's first road was no more than a pack trail, but as soon as it was finished, the Government established a mail route over it from Wheeling to Maysville and beyond to Lexington, Kentucky, and eventually Nashville, Tennessee. Zane's Trace played an important part in opening southeastern Ohio to settlement. It was also used by hundreds of flatboatmen returning on foot or horseback to Pittsburgh and upriver towns from downriver ports as far away as New Orleans.

By 1803, the road was chopped out wide enough for wagons to pass. The portion between Wheeling and Zanesville became a part of the National Road after 1825, and the rest became an important turnpike in the 1830's.

The grant to Zane appears to be the first instance of local road subsidy by the Federal Government, but it did not have much influence on Federal policy afterward. Furthermore, the aid extended was not particularly generous, since, in any event, Zane had the legal right as a Revolutionary War veteran to exchange his warrants (and any he might buy from other veterans) for public land. In reality, the act gave Zane only the right to locate his lands in advance of the general public and at strategic locations where he could later profit from their resale to settlers.

Financing Roads in New States
The lack of roads, and the resources to build them, was a serious impediment to the development of the lands north and west of the Ohio River. The United States Government owned practically all of the undeveloped land, the sale of which was its main source of revenue. What could be more logical than to set aside a portion of the revenues from the sale of public lands for building roads and canals, thus, promoting not only the development of the new territories, but land sales as well?

The Gallatin Report.

In 1801 Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin, in a letter to Representative William B. Giles of Virginia, suggested that one-tenth of the net proceeds of public land sales be applied to the building of roads, but only with the consent of the States through which such roads might pass.[2] This idea was incorporated in the Ohio Statehood Enabling Act of 1802, except that only 5 percent of the proceeds of land sales was to be set aside for roads. Ohio's constitutional convention modified the 5-percent plan by insisting that three-fifths of the road money be spent on roads "within" the State and under the control of the Legislature. This change was accepted by Congress in 1803 by an act which established a "2 percent fund" derived from the sale of public lands to be used under the direction of Congress for constructing roads "to and through" Ohio.[3]

Following the Ohio precedent, Louisiana, Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, and Missouri, on their admission to statehood, were given 3 percent grants for roads, canals, levees, river improvements, and schools. Congress later granted an additional 2 percent to these States, except Indiana and Illinois, which, with Ohio, had already received the equivalent in expenditures on the National Road. The additional 2 percent funds were used by these States for railroads.

The remaining 24 States admitted between 1820 and 1910 received 5 percent grants, except Texas and West Virginia, in which the Federal Government had no lands. Of the 22 States that received grants, 9 were authorized to use them for public roads, canals, and internal improvements and 13 for schools.[4]

The First National Transportation Plan
Secretary Gallatin, at the request of the U.S. Senate, made the first national inventory of transportation resources in 1807. Out of this study came his report on roads and canals in 1808, a remarkably comprehensive and forward-looking document which, unfortunately, had little immediate effect on U.S. transportation policy. Gallatin clearly understood the vital role of transportation for increasing the wealth of nations. As he stated in his report:

It is sufficiently evident that, whenever the annual expense of transportation on a certain route, in its natural state, exceeds the interest on the capital employed in improving the communication, and the annual expense of transportation (exclusively of tolls), by the improved route, the difference is an annual additional income to the nation. Nor does in that case the general result vary, although the tolls may not have been fixed at a ratesufficient to pay to the undertakers the interest on the capital laid out. They, indeed, when that happens, lose; but the community is nevertheless benefited by the undertaking. The general gain is not confined to the difference between the expense of the transportation of those articles which had been formerly conveyed by that route, but many which were brought to market by other channels will then find a new and more advantageous direction; and those which on account of their distance or weight could not be transported in any manner whatever, will acquire a value, and become a clear addition to the national wealth.[5]

Gallatin then went on to show that in developed countries, such as France and England, there is sufficient concentration of wealth and population that private capital will flow into undertakings, such as canals and turnpikes, offering only remote and moderate profit. By contrast, in underdeveloped countries, such as the United States, commerce will not support expensive roads and canals, except near a few seaport cities. Even these facilities will not be fully productive until they become integrated into larger networks which only the general government can finance and carry through.

Gallatin, therefore, proposed that Congress launch a great national program of roads, canals and inland navigations to be completed in 10 years and which he estimated would cost about $20 million. To finance this program, he recommended annual appropriations of $2 million, amounting to less than one-seventh of the Government's annual income and less than half of the fiscal surplus at that time. This modest investment would, he said, not only stimulate internal development, but would also enhance the value of the yet unsold Federal lands by far more than the cost of the program, while contributing to the national defense. Lastly and most importantly, "Good roads and canals will shorten distances, facilitate commercial and personal intercourse, and unite, by a still more intimate community of interests, the most remote quarters of the United States. No other single operation, within the power of the Government, can more effectually tend to strengthen and perpetuate that Union which secures external independence, domestic peace, and internal liberty."[6]

The works proposed by Gallatin were, first, a series of great canals along the Atlantic coast connecting the natural bays and estuaries into one continuous waterway for the carriage of heavy freight. Supplementing this waterway, there would be a light-duty turnpike from Maine to Georgia for passengers, mail and light goods hauling. The second part of the plan was to form communications between the four great Atlantic rivers and the Western rivers by river improvements, short canals and four heavy-duty freight turnpikes across the mountains. These would be supplemented by internal roads to Detroit, St. Louis and New Orleans. The third part was to open inland navigation between the Hudson Eiver and the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, plus a canal around the Niagara rapids to open the Great Lakes to sloop navigation as far as the extremities of Lake Michigan.

The First National Plan For Financing Internal Improvements
Gallatin's bold scheme was years ahead of its time and, further, it was proposed at a time when Congress was already divided by the Cumberland Road debate. It was shelved during the War of 1812. However, the plan had many friends in and out of Congress, chief of whom was John C. Calhoun, South Carolina.

This scene at the Fairview Inn, near Baltimore, is typical of the heavy travel on the Cumberland Road. Heavily loaded freight wagons, herds of stock, stagecoaches, and buggies depended on the inns along the way for food and rest after long weary hours on the road.

Bridge over the Monocacy River near Frederick, Maryland, built about 1810 by Baltimore bankers on the road connecting Baltimore with the old Cumberland Road.

In 1816 the question of chartering a second National Bank was before Congress. Calhoun introduced a bill providing that the bonus of $1.5 million to be paid by the Bank for the new charter, plus the dividends on the Government's stock in the Bank for the next 20 years, be set apart as a permanent fund for internal improvements. This fund was to be apportioned among the States in proportion to their representation in the lower House of Congress, and the improvements were to be built by the Federal Government with the assent of the States in which they might be located. Since the annual dividends on the Government's $7 million of stock were $560,000, the bill would provide a 20-year program of nearly $13 million.

Urging adoption of this bill, Calhoun pointed to the need for roads for defense, but primarily to encourage commerce and cement political union:

If we look into the nature of wealth, we find that nothing can be more favorable to its growth than good roads and canals ... Many of the improvements contemplated are on too great a scale for the resources of the States or individuals ; and many of such nature that the rival jealousy of the States, if left alone, might prevent.

Let us then bind the Republic together with a perfect system of roads and canals. Let us conquer space. It is thus the most distant parts of the Republic will be brought within a few days travel of the centre; it is thus a citizen of the West will read the news of Boston still most from the press. The mail and the press are the nerves of the body politic.[7]

Calhoun's bill was bitterly opposed in both the House and Senate, not only by the strict constitutionalists, but also by those who thought the money should be applied to tax relief and retirement of the war debt. Others said the States might refuse assent to the improvements or try to dictate their location for political expediency and, thus, defeat the purpose of the plan. Still others branded the bill as a scheme to mulct the wealthy States in which adequate roads and canals had already been built at great expense, for the benefit of the poor and improvident States.

In the end, however, the bill passed both the House and Senate by narrow margins, to be vetoed on March 3, 1817, by President Madison, who declared it to be an improper interpretation of the constitutional power of the General Government to regulate commerce and provide for the national defense.[8] The motion to override the veto failed in the House, ending the first attempt to set up a continuing national plan for internal improvements.[9]

The Cumberland Road
On March 29, 1806, President Jefferson approved an act which directed that the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, appoint three commissioners to lay out and build a road from the head of navigation on the Potomac River at Cumberland, Maryland, to a point on the Ohio River.[10] The act set certain minimum standards for the proposed road and appropriated $30,000 from the proceeds of Ohio land sales to finance the location of the road and to start construction. The debates attending the passage of this act exposed the bitter rivalries and jealousies between the eastern seaboard States over the development of the lands beyond the Ohio River.

The seaport cities in particular feared the advantage that a Government-financed road might give in competition for the western trade. Strict constructionists of the U.S. Constitution denied that the Federal Government had the authority to build roads at all, except possibly in the territories. Proponents of Federal roadbuilding on the other hand, asserted that authority to build roads was implied under the "general welfare" clause of the Constitution.

In the end, the issue was decided by those of both parties who felt strongly that the bonds between the East and the West should be strengthened in the interest of national unity, and the act passed the House by a narrow margin. At least one representative from every State voted in favor of the road.

President Jefferson lost no time in selecting the three commissioners and in applying to the legislatures of Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania for permission to build the road within their boundaries. The first two States gave their assent without restriction, but Pennsylvania held back and conditioned its approval on the road's passing through the towns of Uniontown and Washington.[11]

It took the commissioners 4 years to select the route, and another 8 years to push the construction through from Cumberland to Wheeling, Virginia, the head of low-water navigation on the Ohio River. This road was 30 feet wide, with the central 20 feet paved by the Tresaguet method, that is, with several layers of small broken stone placed over a foundation of 7-inch stones. It was cleared 66 feet wide, ditched, and provided with drains and bridges. The cost, paid out of the Ohio 2 percent land fund, was about $1.75 million, or an average of $14,000 per mile.[N 1][12]

From the time the first section was opened in 1813, the Cumberland Road came under heavy traffic, so heavy in fact, that the stone surface was worn away almost as fast as it was built. The commissioners were unable, with the funds available, to provide the systematic and continual maintenance required by broken stone roads; and they were without power to protect the road from the depredations of travelers and local residents.[N 2] Consequently, the condition of the road steadily deteriorated, despite efforts to repair the worst damage.

To provide a regular source of funds for maintenance, Congress in 1822 passed an act authorizing the collection of tolls from users of the road. President

  1. This cost included maintenance during the 8-year construction period.
  2. Freighters ripped up the shoulders by descending the steep hills with locked wheels. Local inhabitants fenced in parts of the right-of-way, dug into the banks, dragged logs over the road, and even stole broken stone from the road bed.[13]

Old Cumberland Road at Wills Creek just west of Cumberland, Md.

Old Cumberland Road approaching Chestnut Ridge Mountains in Pennsylvania about 1899.

Monroe vetoed this act on the ground that it was an unwarranted extension of the power vested in Congress to make appropriations, "under which power, with the consent of the States through which the road passes, the work was originally commenced, and has so far been executed."[14] Collection of tolls, the President said, implied a power of jurisdiction or sovereignty which was not granted to the Federal Government by the Constitution and could not be unilaterally conveyed by any State without a constitutional amendment. It was one thing to make appropriations for public improvements, but an entirely different thing to assume jurisdiction and sovereignty over the land whereon those improvements were made.[15] This has been the Federal position on highway grants to the States down to the present day.

Transfer to State Control
In the 10 years following President Monroe's veto, Congress made occasional and niggardly appropriations for maintaining the Cumberland Road, but these were inadequate to preserve it under ever-increasing traffic[N 1] The supporters of the road finally realized that there was little chance that a Congress bitterly divided over the issue of federally-financed internal improvements would ever make adequate provisions for keeping it in repair. State operation as a toll road seemed to be the only solution to the dilemma, and between 1831 and 1833, the Legislatures of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia agreed to accept and maintain their sections of the National Road. Maryland and Pennsylvania, which had the oldest and worst-worn sections conditioned their acceptance upon the Government's first putting the road into a good state of repair and erecting toll gates.[19]

The Government spent nearly $800,000 in 1833, 1834, and 1835 for repairing the road east of the Ohio River, the work being done under the supervision of the Army Corps of Engineers. This work was principally rebuilding the pavement according to McAdams' method, adding broken stone to replenish the wear of traffic. As soon as each section was reconstructed, the States assumed jurisdiction and maintenance. By the end of 1835 the National Road, from Cumberland to the Ohio-Indiana line, was national no longer.

Westward Extension of the National Road
As soon as the Cumberland Road reached the Ohio River, there was agitation to extend it westward through Ohio and the newly-admitted States of Indiana and Illinois. These States, like Ohio, had provisions in their acts of admission for setting aside 2 percent of the income from sales of public lands for road improvements.

In 1820 Congress appropriated $10,000 for laying out a road between Wheeling and the left bank of the Mississippi River. However, the road did not officially get under way until 1825, when Congress made another appropriation to start construction and to extend the surveys to the permanent seat of government in Missouri, passing through the seats of government of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.[20] Thereafter, the Government spent slightly over $4 million to push the road as far west as Vandalia, then the capital of Illinois.

From Wheeling to Vandalia the road was laid out with Roman straightness in an 80-foot right-of-way, but except in eastern Ohio, it did not approach the high construction standard of the Cumberland Road east of the Ohio River. This was partly because of

  1. For the years 1823 to 1827, a total of $55,000 was appropriated for repairs, an average of only $88 per mile per year—hardly enough to keep the ditches open.[16] An idea of the traffic can be had from the fact that in 1822 one of the five commission houses at Wheeling unloaded 1,081 wagons, averaging 3,500 pounds of freight each, and the annual total freight bill from Baltimore to Wheeling was estimated at $390,000.[17] In addition, hundreds of stagecoaches and private vehicles used the road daily. Nineteen thousand pigs were driven over the road in 1831, some in droves of 600 animals.[18]

Old tollhouse on Cumberland Road near Frostburg, Md.

the scarcity of good roadbuilding stone, which had to be hauled long distances. In Indiana and Illinois the road was only a cleared and graded dirt track.

The annual appropriation bills continued to be bitterly opposed in Congress and passed by increasingly narrower margins. After 1832 there was sentiment in Congress to use the money appropriated for the National Road to build a railroad west from Columbus, Ohio, and an unsuccessful amendment to the appropriation bill for 1836 proposed to do just that. The last regular appropriation for the Road was in 1838, but construction continued until 1840 when the funds ran out.[21]

By its act of 1831, Ohio accepted the road as fast as it was completed by the Federal engineers and put it under toll. The road was never finished in Indiana and Illinois, and in 1848 Congress ceded to the former "all the rights and privileges of every kind belonging to the United States as connected with said road...." A similar act for Illinois was passed in 1856. In 1879 Congress granted Ohio the right to make the road free, "Provided, That this consent shall have no effect in respect to creating or recognizing any duty or liability whatever on the part of the United States."[22]

The National Road never reached the Mississippi, but petered out in the Illinois prairies. Its ultimate demise could have been forecast in 1831 when Congress agreed to turn the eastern sections over to the States for operation and maintenance. The end was due not so much to the constitutional and sectional objections that had plagued the road from the beginning, as to the growing feeling in the country and in Congress that roads and canals were already obsolete for long-distance transportation. The day of the railroad was at hand.

The Maysville Turnpike Veto
The course of highway policy in the United States was profoundly influenced by two presidential vetoes. President Monroe's veto of Federal toll collections on the Cumberland Road has already been mentioned. President Jackson's veto on May 27, 1830, of turnpike stock subscriptions established national policy with respect to internal improvements of purely local character.

In January 1827, the Kentucky Legislature petitioned Congress to provide Federal aid for an artificial road from Maysville to Lexington, Kentucky. This would be an extension of the mail route leaving the National Road at Zanesville, Ohio, and following Zane's Trace to the Ohio River. In 1828 an appropriation bill in the U.S. Congress authorizing this road failed by only one vote in the Senate.[23]

The Legislature then incorporated the Maysville, Washington, Paris, and Lexington Turnpike Road Company to build the road, with the provision that 1,500 shares of stock be reserved for subscription by the U.S. Government. In a parallel action, Congress passed a bill authorizing the Secretary of the Treasury to subscribe to 1,500 shares in the Company in the name and for the use of the United States.[24]

1830—The Maysville Turnpike.

The President vetoed this bill on the ground that the proposed improvement was of purely local, and not national, importance.

It has no connection with any established system of improvements; it is exclusively within the limits of a State, starting at a point on the Ohio River and running out 60 miles to an interior town, and even as far as the State is interested conferring partial instead of general advantages.

However, he went on,

What is properly national in its character or otherwise is an inquiry which is often extremely difficult of solution ...

If it be the wish of the people that the construction of roads and canals should be conducted by the Federal Government, it is not only highly expedient, but indispensably necessary, that a previous amendment to the Constitution, delegating the necessary power and defining and restricting its exercise with reference to the sovereignty of the States, should be made....[25]

Jackson was not personally hostile to internal improvements; in fact, less than a year before in his first annual message to Congress he had recommended distributing the embarrassing annual surplus Federal revenue among the States to be used by them for internal improvements.

The Maysville Turnpike veto not only put an end to all thought of national aid to local road improvements, but it also forestalled any efforts that might be made to provide Federal aid to such genuinely national promotions as the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Over 20 years would pass before Congress would provide any significant subsidy for railroads.

The Maysville Turnpike was eventually completed with State and private funds. The road had long been a mail route, so the Government insisted it could run the mails over it without paying tolls. This question was settled by the courts in favor of the Turnpike Company in 1838; thereafter mail contractors paid the same fees as the general public.[26]

The Michigan Road
The first settlements in Indiana were along the Ohio River and the Wabash and White Rivers. By 1826 settlement had reached the southern limits of the Potowatomi Indian lands, which extended from the Wabash River to Lake Michigan. At this time the only overland communication with central Indiana was along a poor dirt wagon road from Indianapolis, the capital, to Madison on the Ohio River.

In October 1826, the U.S. Government concluded a treaty with the Potowatomi under which the Indians ceded a large area of northern Indiana and southern Michigan to the United States. Among other things this treaty provided that the State of Indiana should be given a strip of land 100 feet wide for a road commencing at Lake Michigan and extending to the Wabash River, plus a section (640 acres) of good land contiguous to every mile of the road, and in addition, a section of land for every mile the road was extended southward from the Wabash River. Congress, in March 1827, authorized Indiana to locate and build this "Michigan Road" in accordance with the treaty, from Lake Michigan to Indianapolis and southward to Madison, using funds from the sale of the designated Indian lands.[27] From 1830, when the Legislature authorized construction to begin, until 1840, the sale of the Indian lands yielded $241,332, with several hundred acres remaining to be sold. As noted earlier, Indiana also received grants from Congress under its Statehood Act from the proceeds of public land sales within the State. For a decade, these were the two principal sources of funds for wagon roads. When they were exhausted, Indiana, like its neighbors, turned to private financing and chartered plank road and turnpike companies to finish the job.

Land Grants to the States for Wagon Roads
The grant of Potowatomi lands to Indiana was not the first Federal land grant to a State for roads, or the last. The first significant Federal land grant was in February 1823 when Congress granted Ohio a 120-foot right-of-way for a public road from the lower rapids of the Miami River of Lake Erie to the western boundary of the Western Reserve. To finance the road, Congress gave the State all the public lands for 1 mile on each side of the road, with the proviso that they could not be sold for less than $1.25 per acre.[28]

Congress subsidized a toll turnpike from Columbus to Sandusky by another grant to Ohio in 1827. This grant gave the State every alternate section of land abutting the west side of the road.[29]

The Maysville Turnpike veto put an end to further wagon road subsidies, other than the National Road, until the Civil War. Between 1863 and 1869, however, Congress made 10 separate grants of land to Michigan, Wisconsin, and Oregon for certain "military" wagon roads. These, with the previous grants to Indiana and Ohio, totaled 3,560,000 acres,[30] or about 5,500 square miles—an area somewhat larger than Connecticut.

Federal Land Subsidies for Canals
Prior to President Jackson's administration (1829–1837), Federal largesse extended not only to roads, but canal and river improvements as well. In March 1822, Congress granted Illinois a 180-foot right-of-way for a canal to connect the Illinois River and Lake Michigan. This act authorized the State to take construction materials from adjacent public lands and, in addition, granted Illinois one-half of the public lands in a strip 10 miles wide centered on the canal. In return, the State agreed that the canal would be "a public highway for the use of the Government of the United States, free from any toll or charge whatever, for any property of the United States, or any persons in their service."[31]

This Illinois River-Lake Michigan Canal grant was the first land subsidy voted by Congress for internal improvements, and became a precedent for the subsequent granting of immense tracts of the public domain.

An act of May 24, 1828, which, as a subsidy to canals, granted Ohio 500,000 acres to be selected from any available public lands within the State, became the precedent for the general act of September 4, 1841, granting 500,000 acres each to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Alabama, Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Michigan and to each public land State admitted thereafter.[N 1] These grants were to be used for specified internal improvements, such as roads, railways, bridges, canals, river improvements, and draining of swamps.[32]

'Military Roads—The Natchez Trace
Until the construction of the Cumberland Road and the Pennsylvania Road, the only outlets for the produce of the Ohio River Valley were by packhorse trains across the mountains or downriver in flatboats and rafts. At New Orleans the crews sold the vessels and their cargoes and either embarked by sea for eastern ports or returned overland by foot or horseback through the lands of the friendly Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians, to the Mero Settlements, now Nashville, Tennessee. From here, they could find their way to the upper valley by trails through central Kentucky to Zane's Trace and beyond.

In 1801 the Government negotiated agreements with the Choctaws and Chickasaws " 'to lay out, open, and make, a convenient wagon road through their land, between the settlements of Mero District (Nashville), in the State of Tennessee, and those of Natchez, in the Mississippi Territory.' "[33] Upon conclusion of these agreements, the Army began widening the old Indian trails, eight companies of infantry working south from Mero District and six companies northward from Natchez. This military road, later called the Natchez Trace, was completed in 1803.[34] Although it served a peaceful purpose to thousands of returning flatboat-men, this road was initially conceived with strategic military ends in view, in the event the United States should become embroiled with Spain over the port of New Orleans.

The Jackson Military Road
Following the War of 1812, Congress authorized a more direct military road from Nashville to New Orleans, which would shorten the distance between those cities by 220 miles.

The First and Eighth Infantry Regiments began work on this road in June 1817, completing it in May 1820. Two congressional appropriations totaling $15,000 were only a small part of the cost of this road. Over 75,800 man-days of labor were expended on it by the troops, and the total disbursement from military funds was well over $300,000. For this, the Army cleared a right-of-way 40 feet wide through dense forest, graded an earth road 35 feet wide, built 20,000 feet of corduroy causeways, and over 35 substantial bridges from 60 to 200 feet long. By 1824 most of this road south of Columbus, Mississippi, was grown over and abandoned.[35]

Military Roads on the Frontiers
The Army built more than 100 other military wagon roads in the period from 1807 to 1880, most of them in the territories. Their total length was well over 21,000 miles, and they cost at least $4 million, not counting the labor of the troops.[36] Some were built by the troops and some by hired labor.

  1. States admitted after 1889 received cash grants for educational and penal institutions instead of acreage.

1809—The Natchez Trace.

1820—General Jackson's Military Road.

1862—The Mullan Road.

These roads were crude—mere wagon tracks across the prairies or traces chopped through the heavy timber of Florida or Wisconsin—but in the early years of settlement, they were often the only roads the settlers had. Among them were the famous Santa Fe Trail from Kansas City to Santa Fe, New Mexico, marked by the Army, following a route originally beaten by traders and trappers, and Colonel Cooke's Road from Santa Fe to San Diego, pioneered by the Army in 1846. The Army reopened the 400-mile Old Spanish Trail from Pensacola to St. Augustine, Florida, in 1824-1830. Military roads radiated like the spokes of a wheel from strategic Detroit toward Chicago, Grand Rapids, Saginaw and Cleveland, and in 1838 a 512-mile wagon road was made from Ft. Snelling, Minnesota Territory, to Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas Territory.

One of the most remarkable of the military wagon roads was located and built by Lieutenant John Mullan in 1858 to 1862 from Fort Benton in Dakota Territory, the head of steamboat navigation on the Missouri River, across the Rocky Mountains to Old Fort Walla Walla on the Columbia River. For 20 years afterward, this road was the only way open to emigrants into western Montana and northern Idaho.[37]

In the single year 1866 there passed over the Mullan Road 20,000 persons travelling back and forth, including 2,000 miners stampeding into Montana, 1,500 head of horses, 5,000 head of cattle, 6,000 mules loaded with freight, 83 wagons and $1 million in money.[38]

During the overland migrations of the 1850's and 1860's, the Army improved and marked most of the pioneer wagon trails and used them to supply its garrisons. Between 1850 and 1869 some of these trails were transcontinental mail routes used by the Butterfield Overland Mail, the Pony Express, and other mail contractors.

After the Government divested itself of the National Road, military roads were practically the only Federal subsidies to local transportation. These were meager indeed, compared to the largesse that was distributed by Congress to the railroads.


  1. A. B. Hulbert, Historic Highways of America, Vol. 11 (Arthur H. Clark, Co., Cleveland, 1904) pp. 157, 158.
  2. P. D. Jordon, The National Road (Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis, 1948) pp. 71, 72.
  3. A. Rose, Historic American Highways—Public Roads of the Past (American Association of State Highway Officials, Washington, D.C., 1953) p. 66.
  4. Office of Federal Coordinator of U.S. Transportation, Public Aids to Transportation, Aids to Railroads and Related Subjects, Vol. II (GPO Washington, D.C., 1938) p. 7.
  5. A. Gallatin, Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on Roads and Canals, S. Doc. No. 250, 10th Cong, 1st Sess., p. 724 (1808).
  6. Id., p. 725.
  7. Annals of Congress, 14th Cong., 2d Sess. (Gales and Seaton, Washington, D.C., 1854) pp. 851-854.
  8. Id., pp. 1061, 1062.
  9. Id.
  10. A. Rose, supra, note 3, p. 66.
  11. A. B. Hulbert, Historic Highways of America, Vol. 10 (Arthur H. Clark, Co., Cleveland, 1904) p. 26.
  12. Id., p. 54.
  13. P. D. Jordan, supra, note 2, p. 88.
  14. A. B. Hulbert, supra, note 11, pp. 58, 59.
  15. Id., p. 59.
  16. Id., pp. 194-197.
  17. P. D. Jordan, supra, note 2, p. 217.
  18. Id., p. 238.
  19. Id., p. 170.
  20. A. B. Hulbert, supra, note 11, p. 73.
  21. Id., p. 90.
  22. P. D. Jordan, supra, note 2, p. 175.
  23. A. Rose, supra, note 3, p. 57.
  24. Id., p. 58.
  25. A. B. Hulbert, supra, note 1, pp. 171, 172.
  26. A. Rose, supra., note 3, p. 58.
  27. A. C. Rose, The Michigan Road, Road Builders News, Vol. 38, No. 7, Aug. 1938, pp. 12-17.
  28. Off. of Fed. Coordinator, supra, note 4, p. 7.
  29. Id.
  30. Id., p. 8.
  31. Id.
  32. Id., p. 9.
  33. A. Rose, supra, note 3, pp. 44, 45.
  34. Id., p. 44.
  35. Id., p. 51.
  36. Military Roads. A Brief History of the Construction of Highways by the Military Establishment and a Gazetteer of the Military Roads in Continental United States (National Highway Users Conference, Washington, D.C., 1935) pp. 1-14.
  37. A. Rose, supra, note 3, pp. 80, 81.
  38. R. E. Huxt, Steamboats in the Timber (Binfords and Mart, Portland, 1952) App., p. 205.
4 The Age of Steam

1807—Robert Fulton's CLERMONT

The Beginning of Steam Navigation

The revolution of mechanical propulsion affected marine transport about a generation before it became apparent on land. In 1787, John Fitch established the first regular steamboat service in the United States on the Delaware River, between Philadelphia and Bordentown, 28 miles away. His ship, a stern wheeler, could make 8 miles per hour, but the machinery occupied so much space that little was left for cargoes and the ship was commercially unsuccessful. After running some 2,000 miles, she was laid up in 1790 and never used again.[1]

In 1807 Robert Fulton, with the backing of Robert R. Livingston, designed a steamboat with an economic ratio of power to capacity. This vessel was 133 feet long, with a beam of 13 feet, and weighed 100 tons. She was a sidewheeler, powered by an English Boulton and Watt engine of about 20 horsepower, and could make the 150-mile trip from New York to Albany in about 30 hours. From her maiden voyage in August 1807, the Clermont was a commercial success.[2]

Henry Shreve had his own ideas about steamboat construction for river navigation. He knew that the western rivers were treacherous, filled with snags and shifting sandbars, and subject to tremendous fluctuations in water level. To successfully combat these hazards, a ship should have a very shallow draft and a very powerful engine. To implement these ideas, Shreve built his own steamboat, laying the keel in September 1815 at Wheeling, Virginia. Essentially, the Washington was a flatboat powered by steam, with the engine on the main deck and the boilers on another deck above. To get the extra power he needed, he operated the boilers well above atmospheric pressure. The two-cylinder engine could develop over 100 horsepower driving the ship's stern paddlewheel.[3]

The Washington broke all previous records for speed on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, and she was in fact the prototype for the great fleet that plied these rivers for the next 50 years. In the spring of 1817, Shreve took her from Louisville to New Orleans in 17 days, returning the 1,352 miles upstream against the current in 24 days. By 1860, river steamers that could make the upstream voyage in less than 5 days were in regular service.[4]

Steam Navigation Thrives
After Fulton's successful demonstration that steam propulsion was practical, the steamboat industry prospered. Between 1807 and 1817, 131 vessels were built in the United States, and by 1832 there were 474 in operation. Some of these were ferries for transporting passengers, carriages and wagons across large rivers. In 1837, 158 steamboats were launched, and by 1846, steamers were being built at a rate of 225 per year.[5] By 1859, there were more than 2,000 steamboats on the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

Steamboats were a major factor in opening the west for settlement. River villages became busy ports and then thriving cities, such as Memphis, St, Louis, Louisville and Cincinnati. Above all, New Orleans prospered on the river traffic, becoming the third busiest port in the United States, and in 1860 the value of products passing through her port exceeded $200 million.[6] Every overland trail to the Far West began at the head of steamboat navigation on some western river.

Federal Assistance to Navigation
The first Federal act for navigation improvement was passed in 1809. Thereafter, up to 1830, Congress appropriated $2,867,000 for subscriptions to canal stock and for such improvements as ports and piers and removal of river obstructions—slightly more than had been appropriated for the National Road.[7] A large part of these appropriations was spent to remove hazards from the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

From 1830 onward, Congress appropriated generously for river and harbor improvements, many of them as completely within a single State as the Maysville Turnpike. In addition to improving the major rivers, the Great Lakes and the coastal ports, many creeks and inlets were made navigable, encouraging not only the flow of commerce but also the flow of Federal dollars into every congressional district.

Railroad Expansion
By 1850 the railroad had proved to the American people, and particularly to those who had money to invest, that it was far faster, cheaper and more adaptable to the country's transportation needs than either turnpikes or canals. As investment flowed in ever-increasing amounts into railroads, the funds available for extending or even maintaining the old horsedrawn facilities became less and less and finally dried up altogether.

In the 1850's railroad building escalated into a national frenzy. "The people were crazed with the idea of improvement; every town wanted to grow bigger and a railroad was an absolute necessity; scores of companies were formed with the intention of beginning construction, then deeding the improvement to some established line to operate. Many communities subscribed stock, others voted bonds, others paid for right-of-way by private subscription in order to secure a railroad. The result was often overbuilding, parallel lines, too many roads attempting to occupy the same territory, with the result that branch lines often never paid interest on the cost of construction."[8]The fever even spread to Congress, which granted immense tracts of public land to subsidize railways.

With the possible exception of the Baltimore and Ohio, the Pennsylvania and a few others, the early railroads were local ventures, sometimes less than 20 miles long, each connecting a town to its neighbor or to the nearest river, lake, or seaport. In the West and South, many of the railroads were mere extensions of the river navigation systems. However, by 1860 most of the short lines were linked up into systems, a trend that was accelerated in the North and West with the general adoption of the 56½-inch "standard gauge."

The First Railroad War
When the Civil War began, about two-thirds of the railroad mileage was in the North. The railroad networks enabled both the Union and Confederate forces to shift men and supplies with a speed previously unknown in warfare. The North had an additional advantage in that it controlled the sea approaches to the Confederacy and much of the inland navigation system, including Chesapeake Bay and its estuaries and the Mississippi-Ohio Eiver systems. Superiority in both land and water transportation was an important factor in the ultimate victory of the Union armies, and this advantage increased as the war went on. The North was able not only to maintain its railroads to carry increased war traffic, but to extend them as well; while the South was barely able to keep its railroads operating.

Mississippi River Steamboats

Important as the railroads were to the strategic conduct of the war by both armies, the day-to-day military operations for the most part followed the wagon roads, and, as in earlier wars, the condition of the roads influenced the outcome of military operations. The most famous example of this was Burnside's disastrous "mud march" of 1863, described by a participant:

... thousands of the boys in blue, after horses and mules could do no more in pulling the pontoon wagons that must be gotten through to the Rappahannock, to build the bridge on which the army was to cross, were put on the ropes to tug and pull, and pull and tug, hour after hour, and way into the night; but they were Virginia roads, and it was no use; so after days and days of mud and rain the campaign was abandoned, and, worn and weary, we marched back to our old camps at Falmouth and beyond, and in passing saw the greetings of the 'Johnnies' over the river in Fredericksburg, on a banner bearing the cheerful legend 'Burnside stuck in the mud.' ...

Yes, we have helped to build corduroy roads in war times, when it had grown cold enough to freeze the mud so as to bear a soldier's weight, and more than once we have built right over the body of a horse or mule, that had gone down to rise no more.[9]

In the theater of operations, the common roads suffered severely from heavy military traffic and scanty maintenance. Collection of tolls was virtually impossible on the Southern turnpikes; while surface wear, erosion, and damage to bridges and toll houses hastened their bankruptcy.

Postwar Railroad—Steamboat Competition

During the war, a large number of steamboats were built at inflated prices to carry troops and military supplies on the Mississippi Eiver and its tributaries. When normal commerce was resumed after the war, less than half of these vessels were able to find profitable employment.

The Meeting of the Rails

Fierce and ruinous competition ensued among the shipowners, whose plight was compounded by the railroads because they began actively extending their lines as soon as hostilities were over. Short lines leading to river ports were extended inland linking up with others, and eventually connecting with each other to form parallel transportation systems which were able to capture the passengers of the steam packets and most of their profitable freight. The unregulated railroads cut freight rates below the cost of haulage on sections where they were in direct competition with water transportation, recouping these losses by charging higher rates on other parts of their systems. Another weapon of the railroads was their refusal to establish joint rail-water rates with the steamboat companies.[10]

Fighting back, the shipowners formed freight pools and organized common carrier packet lines controlling a number of boats. They instituted dependable scheduled service between the principal river ports. These measures slowed the drift to disaster but were unable to check it entirely. Water transportation on the Mississippi system reached its peak in 1889, when over 28 million tons were carried. Thereafter, traffic declined, in spite of tremendous increases in the Nation's population and wealth, to about 19.5 million tons in 1906, and 16 million tons in 1916. Practically all of this was heavy bulk freight, such as coal, stone and gravel, carried in long barge tows. The romantic river packets were becoming things of the past.[11]

Federal Subsidies to Railroads
Early Federal subsidies to railroads had been in the form of surveys made at Government expense by civil engineers and officers of the U.S. Army and the remission of import duties on railroad iron. The numerous turnpike and canal projects of the early 1880's created a brisk demand for civil engineers and surveyors, yet the supply of such individuals in the United States was quite limited. The largest group was employed by the U.S. Army in its Corps of Engineers.[N 1]

In April 1824, Congress passed the General Survey Bill (4 Stat. 22), appropriating $30,000 annually and authorizing the President to use a limited number of civil engineers and officers of the Corps of Engineers to prepare the necessary surveys, plans and estimates for "'such roads and canals as he may deem of national importance, in a commercial or military point of view, or necessary for the transportation of the public mail.'" The employment of Government engineers was not limited to surveys ordered by law or by resolutions of Congress, but was interpreted by the President to apply also to " 'Surveys of a national or highly interesting commercial character, applied for by states or incorporated companies,'" and when engineers could be conveniently spared from other work.[12]

  1. The first engineering school in this country was the United States Military Academy, founded in 1802.
Although railways were not specifically mentioned in the Act, all of the 61 surveys made or proposed were for railways, and the amount spent on them was about $75,000.[13]

Another early and very substantial Federal aid to railroads was the remission of import duties on railroad iron during the years 1830 to 1841. The total duties remitted in this period—almost $6 million—gave the infant railroad industry a much-needed boost at a critical time in its history at the expense of the infant iron industry.[N 1][14]

By an act approved on July 7, 1838, Congress made all railroads "post routes" and, thus, eligible to carry the mails. Strictly speaking, this was not a subsidy, but it opened to the railroads a valuable source of income.

These early aids to railroads were a mere foretaste of what was to come in later years.

The Railroad Land Grants
In the early 19th century, it was almost an article of faith with the American people that national prosperity depended on the settlement of the western lands, practically all of which belonged to the Government. The Federal policy was to encourage settlement by removal of the Indians, favorable laws and cheap land prices. A logical extension of this policy was to encourage access to the lands by building first the National Road, and later, by subsidizing canals and railroads.

  1. The remitted duty amounted to about $2,000 per mile of track, or almost one-sixth of the total cost per mile.
The railway station was the meeting place for all—greeting arrivals, farewells to those departing, and a good place to pick up the latest gossip by those who just came to watch.

The first Federal land grants for railroads were made to Illinois, Mississippi, and Alabama in 1850 and totaled 3,736,000 acres of land which the States transferred to the Illinois Central Kailroad and the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. With these grants as a precedent, Congress in the period 1850 to 1871 aided some 50 other railroads by similar grants of public land to nine other southern and western States[N 1] for

  1. The Government eventually received a handsome return on its grants to the railroads. One of the conditions of these grants was that the aided railroads transport Government troops, mail, and freight at reduced rates. In later years, other railroads, although not aided by land grants, voluntarily reduced their rates to compete for the Government business. As a result, the total savings in transporting the mails, troops and Government property up to 1934 amounted to $168.2 million and by the end of World War II were far above that amount.[15] Congress renounced all rate concessions in 1945.

Monument commerating the last spike on the joining of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads into the first transcontinental railway in this country.

a total of about 36,466,000 acres. Even larger grants were to come in connection with the Pacific railroads. Eventually, Federal land grants to subsidize railroads amounted to 130.3 million acres, to which should be added 48.9 million acres of State land grants.[16]

Railroads Dominate U.S. Transportation
The northern States had such tremendous productive capacity that they were able to fight the Civil "War and at the same time push a railroad across the western plains and mountains. This railroad, liberally aided by grants of public land and Government loans, was completed in 1869. Within the next 20 years, four other transcontinental railroads were completed, along with a north-south railroad through California, Oregon, and Washington Territory, and innumerable connectors, branches, and feeder lines all over the country. In 1887 alone, 12,878 miles of track were laid, and by 1900 there were 260,000 miles of railroad in the United States.[17]

These railroads opened up the country to settlement and development as it had never been opened before. They created the mass market that made the phenomenal industrial expansion of the 1880's, 1890's, and early 1900's possible, and which in turn, started the trend toward urbanization that continues to this day.


  1. R. Kirby, S. Withington, A. Dabling & F. Kilgour, Engineering in History (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1956) p. 250.
  2. Id., pp. 252, 253.
  3. Id., p. 255.
  4. Id., p. 256.
  5. G. Chatburn, Highways and Highway Transportation (Thos. Y. Crowell, New York, 1923) p. 91.
  6. Id., p. 90.
  7. Id., p. 96.
  8. Id., p. 109.
  9. M. Whitehead, A Word From The National Grange, Good Roads, Vol. 1, No. 1, Jan. 1892, pp. 82, 83.
  10. Office of Federal Coordinator of U.S. Transportation, Public Aids to Transportation, Public Aids to Transportation by Water, Vol. III (GPO, Washington, D.C., 1939) pp. 16-18.
  11. Id., p. 17.
  12. L. Haney, A Congressional History of Railways in the United States (Reprint, Augustas M. Kelly, New York, 1968) p. 276.
  13. Office of Federal Coordinator of U.S. Transportation, Public Aids to Transportation, Aids to Railroads and Related Subjects, Vol. II (GPO, Washington, D.C., 1938) pp. 4, 5.
  14. Id., p. 5.
  15. Id., p. 46.
  16. Id., pp. 11, 12, 32.
  17. B. Weisberger, The Life History of the United States, The Age of Steel and Steam, Vol. 7 (Time, Inc., New York, 1964) p. 31.
5 The Good Roads Movement

Rural Roads in the Late 19th Century
Railroad competition drove the long-distance wagon freighter and stagecoach companies out of business in the 1850's and 1860's, and traffic fell off to the point where toll road operation was unprofitable. Some of the turnpike companies were able to sell their roads to the counties for much less than they cost originally; but most of them simply surrendered their charters and ceased operation. Their facilities were then taken over by the local authorities and maintained as common roads. With the heavy through traffic gone, the more prosperous counties were able to maintain these roads in fairly good condition for local travel.[N 1] In the poorer counties, travel became more and more uncomfortable as the old turnpikes deteriorated from lack of care.

In the East, the old turnpikes were only a fraction of the mileage under county and township control. Most of the people lived along roads that were established in the early days of settlement through continued public use rather than by plan. These followed the boundaries between farms or occupied the lands least suited for agriculture, and, thus, were often winding and poorly located. Over the years, they had been improved by the county and township supervisors with what scanty funds they could raise from taxes, and practically everywhere, except in the wealthiest counties, these roads were maintained by statute labor.

  1. The stone surfaces of the original turnpikes were generally 18 or 20 feet wide. The local supervisors generally replenished the stone only on the central 10 or 12 feet.[1]

A 1948 map of Kansas showing State highways generally located on a grid pattern, a carry over from the days when roads were built on section lines and each owner donated land for the right-of-way.

The local road situation was somewhat different in the "public land States"—i.e., those States that had been formed from the public domain.[N 1] The lands in these States had been subdivided into rectangular townships and sections according to an ordinance of May 29, 1785. These land lines became the boundaries between farms and, thus, were the lines of least resistance for local roads. The customary right-of-way for these roads was one chain wide, or 66 feet, each property owner donating 33 feet on his side of the section line. As in the East, these roads were normally maintained by statute labor.

In the Great Plains and the Far West, this tendency to fix the local roads on the section lines was strengthened in July 1866 by an act in which Congress granted a free right-of-way for public roads over unreserved public lands. A number of counties took advantage of this act by declaring all section lines in the county to be public roads, thus, reserving the right-of-way before the lands became private property. The Legislature of Dakota Territory passed an act making all section lines public roads 66 feet wide, to the extent that it was physically possible to build roads on these lines.[2]

Section line roads were easy to build in level country, but in hilly country it was impossible to stay on the section lines and preserve a reasonable gradient.[N 2] The rectangular pattern imposed considerable indirect traffic on those whose destination was diagonal to the land grid. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of miles of these section line roads were built as the public land States were settled. Initially, these roads were mere wagon tracks, but over the years many of them were graded and ditched, and some were graveled. This work was aided tremendously by the introduction of blade graders after 1878. Some of these were pulled by 6 horses and in easy country, a mile of ditched earth road could be built in a single day.

The years between 1850 and 1900 have been called the "dark age of the rural road," yet in this period well over iy 2 million miles of rural roads were built in the United States. It is true that, with insignificant exceptions, these roads were unimproved, or at best only ditched and graded, yet in the aggregate they represented a mighty public effort, particularly in the West where population was sparse and the people poor.

The Financing of Rural Roads
Until the early 1900's, the main sources of local road funds were taxes on property, poll taxes and statute labor. In 1904 only 25 States had laws permitting counties, townships or road districts to issue bonds for road improvement, and in these the privilege was used sparingly and usually only to finance a particularly expensive purchase, such as a steel or concrete bridge. The total expenditures on rural roads from bond issues were only about $3.5 million in 1904.[4]

Property taxes levied for road support varied widely from State to State and from county to county within the same State. As the Office of Public Roads (OPR) observed in 1904,

Unquestionably the bitterest controversies in counties and townships in connection with the subject of road improvement are over proposed increases in the rates of property taxation for road purposes. It is common in many parts of the United States for uninformed though honestly-disposed citizens, to make a determined opposition to a very moderate and perfectly reasonable increase in the tax rate.[5]

The average tax rate of all counties reporting to the OPR in 1904 was 25.7 cents per $100 valuation, but this gives little idea of the tremendous variation between counties, some of which levied only 1.3 cents per $100 valuation and some as much as $1.60 per $100 valuation.[6] These taxes, together with poll taxes payable in cash, were by far the major source of funds for building and maintaining the country roads, yielding some $53.8 million in 1904. While this seems like a large sum, it amounted to very little when spread over 2.1 million miles of road.[7]

In 1904 11 States assessed an annual poll tax varying from $1 to $5 per person for upkeep of the roads. This tax could be paid in labor or in cash. In addition, 25 States retained the ancient statute labor system under which all able bodied male citizens of certain ages living along a road were required to work on its repair a stated number of days per year or pay the equivalent in cash.[N 3] Despite its inefficiency, the work rendered in 1904 by statute labor was valued by the OPR at $19.8 million, and amounted to about one-quarter of all rural road expenditures that year.[9]

Working out the road tax on a gravel road. Ten days labor or $5 tax was required by law in Alabama as late as 1913.

Most of the rights-of-way for county and township roads were donated by their owners to the local authorities, and these donations represented a very considerable part of the original cost of these roads. Over the years, these rights-of-way came to some 10.4 million acres of land, valued in 1904 at about $342 million.[10] The roads themselves probably represented an investment of at least a billion dollars.

This large investment was, however, spread so thinly that very few rural residents enjoyed adequate road service. In the northern States, earth roads were quagmires during the spring thaw and became distressingly soft during rains at any time of year. Deep sand was a problem in many parts of the South.

  1. All States except the Original Thirteen, and Maine, Ver- mont, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Texas.
  2. In 1900 there were more roads having excessively steep grades in Iowa than in Switzerland.[3]
  3. As late as 1889 no cash poll taxes or property taxes were levied for road purposes in Kentucky, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico and Utah, and the rural roads in these States were built and maintained exclusively by statute labor.[8]

The Jefferson Memorial Road near Charlottsville, Va. before improvement.

Either way—loose sand or deep mud—the loads a farmer could haul with his teams were only a fraction of what they would have been on a reasonably good road, and this difference was, in effect, a tax on everything the farmer bought or sold. The following account of one farmer's struggle with his local roads is typical of the era:

After the war I lived 9 miles north of Charlotte. The roads at times were so very bad that everybody was landlocked; the ladies could not go to church in winter; they hardly ever thought of going to town. The men went on horseback and sometimes it took a good thoroughbred to carry you there. . . . The first thing that impressed me with the importance of good roads occurred in 1867. It rained almost everyday for a month; the roads were horrible. I left home with two wagons, one with four horses and one with three, to go to Charlotte, only 9 miles away, for some fertilizer. I got a ton on one wagon and half a ton on the other, and when within a mile and a half of home on the return trip we stalled, and had to take the horses out and leave the wagons there all night. We went back after the wagons the next day and it took until nearly 11 o'clock to get them home. The merchant from whom I got the guano paid $5 per ton freight on it from Baltimore to Charlotte. Considering everything, it cost me over twice as much to take the guano 9 miles from Charlotte to my home as it did to bring it from Baltimore to Charlotte on the railroad.[11]

The mud could be so sticky that a pair of oxen had difficulty getting these wheels, without a load, free.

Although this appears to be an exaggerated condition of early roads, it was a common enough occurrence that the Good Roads magazine in May 1892 published the following guide on "What to do When A Horse Falls":

  1. Jump down and hold the animal's head, to prevent his dashing it about to his own injury.
  2. Loosen the check-rein (if you are so foolish as to use one) and the parts of the harness which fasten on the vehicle.
  3. Back the carriage so as to get the shafts and traces clear.
  4. Steady and support the horse's head, and excite and encourage him, with hand and voice, to rise.
  5. When you have got him up pat and further encourage him, and see if he is wounded or otherwise injured.
  6. Let him stand still a short time and recover himself, and then proceed gently and with greater caution than before.

The high cost of transport from the farms was also a tax on the people of the cities who were forced to pay higher prices for locally grown food and farm products. In 1901 fruit from California could be shipped to Raleigh, North Carolina, by rail for less than farmers living only 15 miles away could deliver their fruit to the Raleigh markets.

You see by this that the railroads enable the fruit growers of California to compete with the fruit growers of your own county towns.... The way to successfully compete with these people is to build good roads so as to enable us to get to market at any time and carry a full load, thereby reducing cost of transportation.... A bad road is a relentless tax assessor and a sure collector.[12]

Transportation in the Cities
According to the 1900 census, there were 161 cities of more than 25,000 inhabitants. Of these, 27 had populations in the 100,000 to 300,000 range and 11 had more than 300,000 people.

The ability to move goods freely from place to place was absolutely necessary to the prosperity of these cities. Industry, powered by steam, used great quantities of coal which had to be hauled over the streets from the docks and railroad yards to the factories and mills. Similarly, the hauling of raw materials and finished goods to and from the factories, warehouses, docks and railroads generated a tremendous volume of truck and dray traffic. Outside of the industrial areas, city dwellers depended on their streets for deliveries of coal, ice and groceries.

A typical 3-horse truck of the 1890's weighed 7,000 pounds empty and could carry a 10-ton pay load, and horsedrawn trucks and drays capable of hauling 18-ton net loads were fairly common in large cities. These vehicles ran on steel tires which pulverized all but the hardest pavement surfaces. Consequently, the main streets of the large cities were built very heavily and surfaced with granite blocks or hard paving bricks.[N 1] The minor business streets and residential streets were commonly of macadam or gravel, and in the 1890's many of these were made dust-free by asphalt surfacing.[14][N 2]

For the most part, city dwellers enjoyed excellent local transportation. Even comparatively small cities had horsecar lines, some of which persisted into the early 1900's. About 1873 cable railways were introduced in the larger cities, but in the 1890's these, as well as most of the horsecar lines, were converted to electric propulsion. "By 1890 more than one hundred American cities had installed or were in the process of installing electric street railways."[16]

Small towns on the peripheries of the large cities were tied to the cities by steam railroads and after about 1894, by electric interurban railroads as well. Frequent schedules on these railroads made it convenient for thousands of the more prosperous city workers to live in the suburbs and commute to work.

  1. Broadway in New York City was surfaced with blocks of granite 10 inches thick laid on a 6-inch concrete base; and in Philadelphia pavements for important streets were made of 8-inch stone cubes laid on beds of gravel 15 inches deep.[13] In the 1890's these stone pavements were overlaid with asphalt to reduce noise and rolling resistance and to provide better footing for the horses.
  2. Asphalt paving was first used in New York and Philadelphia in 1871 and immediately became popular because of its smoothness, silence and ease of cleaning. By 1897 over 27.4 million square yards of asphalt were laid in American cities.[15]

The Financing of Urban Roads and Streets

Concentrated populations, trade and industry built a fruitful base for property taxation in the cities. These taxes, supplemented by special assessments, provided the funds for thousands of miles of improved

The Cherrelyn Horsecar was unique among horsecars of the day for the horse only pulled the car one way and was a nonpaying passenger on its return trip. It operated up and down the steep hill from downtown Englewood to Cherrelyn (Colorado), a distance of almost a mile, between 1883 and, 1910. The horse, sometimes wearing a straw hat, riding on the special platform on the back of the car was a popular attraction for both tourists and residents. Today the old Cherrelyn is restored and is on display near the City Hall in Englewood.

streets,[N 1] as well as sewers, water supplies, street lights, schools, parks and other municipal services far beyond the reach of the rural citizens.

Even the streets of some towns were nearly as bad as the rural roads after a heavy rain.

Most city street improvements were financed by bond issues which were amortized out of general tax revenues. The cities for the most part avoided "pay-as-you-go" financing and did most of their original construction by contract.

Broken and abandoned carriages were the eyesore of the day.

Practically all American cities enjoyed the right, conferred upon them by the State legislatures, to assess the cost of street improvements to the benefited property. This power greatly enlarged the financial resources available to the cities for improvements.[N 2]

City dwellers were exempt from the obligation to perform statute labor. Instead of relying on the obsolete and wasteful statute labor system, cities accomplished their street maintenance with paid labor under the supervision of civil engineers or, at the least, persons with some knowledge of roadbuilding, and paid for it out of general tax revenues.

Beginning of the Good Roads Movement
The great disparity between the cities and the rural areas in the quality of life was evident to everyone, but few city dwellers thought they had any obligation to do anything about it. They had taxed themselves to build their roads and streets, let the farmers do likewise, was the prevailing sentiment in the cities. Nevertheless, the impetus for road reform came from the cities and primarily from civic leaders who appreciated the economic burdens laid on city dwellers and farmers alike by the bad roads. These leaders realized and accepted the cold hard facts that good roads were impossible without adequate funds and that these could be obtained only by the taxation of urban, as well as rural, property.

In 1879 the General Assembly of North Carolina passed the "Mecklenburg Eoad Law" permitting that county to levy a road tax on all property in the county, including that in Charlotte, the principal city. The act was repealed the following year, but was re-enacted in 1885, and eventually most of the counties of the State elected to operate their roads under this law. By 1902 Mecklenburg was acknowledged to have the best roads in North Carolina, and its citizens were cheerfully paying the highest road taxes in the State: 35 cents per $100 property valuation, plus $1.05 on the poll.[19]

The first State road convention was held in Iowa City, Iowa, in 1883, primarily to try to bring about some improvement in the deplorable condition of the rural roads. This convention recommended payment of road taxes in cash instead of labor, consolidation of road districts, letting road construction to responsible contractors, and, most importantly, authorizing county boards to levy a property tax to create a road fund. These recommendations were adopted by the Iowa Legislature in an act passed in 1884, but the reforms were made optional with the counties rather than mandatory.[20]

  1. In 1907, the first year for which reliable figures are available, there were 47,000 miles of roads and. streets in cities of 30,000 or more population, of which 20,646 were improved with some kind of surface better than dirt. These included 7,675 miles of heavy-duty pavement; 4,161 miles with asphalt surfaces; 6,274 miles of macadam; and 2,536 miles of gravel.[17]
  2. The special assessment is an institution of American origin, first used in New York City in colonial times to finance streets and sewers. By 1893 all States and Territories had laws authorizing municipal corporations to assess the cost of physical improvements against benefited properties. Street railway companies were customarily assessed with the cost of paving between their tracks, and for a certain distance on each side. The right to make special assessments was rarely conferred on counties and townships, but in some States special road improvement districts were created by the legislature and given the power of assessment.[18]

Other States adopted "good road laws" similar to North Carolina's and Iowa's, but the good roads movement did not really get underway until about 1890 when the organized bicyclists launched a national public relations campaign to whip up sentiment favorable to more and better roadbuilding.

As a result of the Mecklenburg Road Law, loads such as this could be hauled by two mules on a macadamized road in any weather where formerly only two bales of cotton could be hauled on an earth road in fairly good weather.

The Wheelmen and The Roads
Bicycles became practical vehicles for personal transportation with the introduction of the "safety" design[N 1] in 1884 and the pneumatic tire in 1888. Almost overnight cycling became a national craze in the United States. "A frenzy seized upon the people and men and women of all stations were riding wheels; ardent cyclists were found in every city, village and hamlet."[21]

The wheelmen were not content to do their riding on the relatively smooth city streets, but fanned out into the country in all directions. They organized cross-country rallies, road races, weekend excursions. These activities brought the wheelmen into intimate contact with the miserable country roads, and they became vociferous advocates of road improvement.

  1. They were called "safety" bicycles because, unlike the "ordinary" bicycle with its high front wheel, the rider was less apt to be propelled over the handlebars if he hit an obstacle.

A leisure bicycle trip into the country about the turn of the century.

All over the country, the bicyclists formed social organizations, or "wheel clubs," to promote cycling as a sport. Leading this movement nationally was the League of American Wheelmen, which had been organized in 1880 by consolidating a number of local "ordinary" bicycle clubs. Very early in its life the League perceived that cycling as a sport depended on good roads, and it transformed itself into a powerful propaganda and pressure group for promoting them. "Newspaper space was freely utilized; many papers making special and regular features of 'good roads'; pamphlets were published and distributed broadly, and a magazine was established."[22] Appropriately, this magazine was titled Good Roads, and it was launched in 1892 under the energetic editorship of I. B. Potter, a New York City civil engineer and lawyer. Good Roads circulated far beyond the ranks of the wheelmen and was very influential in molding public opinion to accept the inevitable taxes that would be required to create good roads. Potter heaped ridicule on American roads by contrasting their sad condition with the fine roads of Europe, particularly those of France. He ran testimonials, praising good roads where they existed in the United States. He also published educational articles on the principles of good roadbuilding and the economic benefits of all-weather roads. He used pictures of good and bad roads freely, thus, holding the reader's attention where words alone would have failed. Newspapers and national magazines reprinted these articles, affording them the widest distribution.[23]

A "Good Roads Association" was formed in Missouri in 1891, followed by similar organizations in other States.[24] A national road conference, the first of its kind, was held in 1894 with representatives from 11 States. Eesolutions passed at this conference urged the State legislatures to set up limited systems of State roads, and to create temporary highway commissions to recommend suitable legislation to implement good roads programs.[25]

State Aid Spreads the Financial Burden
In 1890 all the public roads in New Jersey outside of the cities were under township control and were built and maintained at township expense. Purely local traffic predominated on most of these roads, but some carried traffic from neighboring townships and even beyond, and on a few, teams could be counted from as many as 20 townships. By actual count, the New Jersey Road Improvement Association proved that the traffic on these main roads was intercounty rather than local, and it asserted that, in fairness, the counties and the State should shoulder part of the burden of building and maintaining them. The Association and the League of American Wheelmen put their support behind a State-aid bill in the Legislature which became law April 14, 1891. This law declared that "The expense of constructing permanently improved roads may reasonably be imposed, in due proportions, upon the State and upon the counties in which they are located." It left the initiation, planning and supervision of State-aided projects in the hands of the county officials, but reserved to the State, represented by the Board of Agriculture, the right to approve projects and to accept or reject contracts. Upon completion, the cost of the improvement was to be split three ways: one-tenth to be assessed to the property holders along the road, one-third to the State and the remainder to the county. The act appropriated $75,000 as the State's share for the first year's operations.[26]

The State-aid act was challenged in the courts and upheld. The Board then approved petitions for State aid to three projects in Middlesex County totaling 10.55 miles which, when completed in December 1892, became the first roads to be improved under the act.[27]

In 1894 the operation of the act was placed under a Commissioner of Public Roads appointed by the Governor for a 3-year term. New Jersey, thus, became the second State, after Massachusetts, to establish a State highway organization. For a number of years, however, the Commissioner of Public Roads had very little real authority over State-aided roads and none at all over other roads. Lacking the power to initiate projects, he could not insure that State-aided roads would link up into highways of any great continuous length, and after they were completed, he could not require that they be adequately maintained.

"The Right-of-Way"—bicyclists and horsecart vying for the road.

Nevertheless, the New Jersey State- Aid Act was a milestone in the history of highway administration in the United States, for it clearly stated the principle that highway improvement for the general good was an obligation of the State and county, as well as the people living along the highway. The act also imposed much-needed reforms in local road administration: it abolished the numerous road districts, along with the overseer method of road improvement, and required the township committees to adopt a systematic plan for improving the highways.

The First State Highway Department
Massachusetts approach State aid somewhat differently from New Jersey. The Legislature created a 3-man continuing commission and charged it with the building and control of a system of main highways connecting the municipalities of the Commonwealth. Originally, the counties were supposed to grade these roads, after which the Highway Commission would surface them. In 1894, the law was changed to require the Commission to shoulder the entire cost of construction, charging one-quarter of the expense back to the counties.[28] At the same time, the Legislature appropriated $300,000 to begin the operation of the Commonwealth Highway Plan, an amount that was afterward substantially increased from year to year. The Massachusetts plan was a tremendous improvement over the New Jersey State-aid law. First, it concentrated the limited State funds on a small mileage of the most important roads, thus, assuring that they could eventually be connected into a continuous network. The power to initiate projects remained with the local officials, but the Highway Commission had authority to approve or reject and also to make the surveys and plans and to award and inspect the construction contracts, thus, retaining control over standards. This control eventually led to establishing statewide standards for highways of various classes and also to setting standards for materials used in roads. Finally, the Massachusetts plan left the maintenance of the roads improved with State aid under the direct control of the Highway Commission, which could charge a part of the cost back to the local governments.[29]

The State-aid principle, in various forms, spread slowly to other States after New Jersey and Massachusetts had shown the way. In some States the aid consisted only of advice, which might be accepted or rejected by the local authorities ; but in New York the State Highway Commission was given direct or indirect supervision over every public highway in the State. Four States helped only to the extent of putting convicts from the State penitentiary to work on the roads, while others authorized the employment of State and county convicts for road work and gave cash grants in addition. Illinois conducted a large stone-crushing operation with convicts and gave the stone to the counties free, except for the cost of hauling. Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Washington and California required all State aid to be spent on trunkline road systems.[30] The last States to enact some form of State aid were South Carolina, Texas and Indiana, all in 1917.

Revival of the Federal Government's Interest in Roads
As the Good Roads Movement gained momentum, its supporters began to put pressure on Congress to provide some kind of Federal assistance to highways. The proposed Chicago World's Fair, planned for 1893, seemed an auspicious occasion for a demonstration of Federal interest.

In July 1892, a Senate bill was introduced to create a National Highway Commission "for the purpose of general inquiry into the condition of highways in the United States, and means for their improvement, and especially the best method of securing a proper exhibit at the World's Columbian Exposition of approved appliances for road making, and of providing for public instruction in the art during the Exposition."[31] Although introduced by Senator Charles F. Manderson of Nebraska, this bill was written by General Roy Stone, a prominent New York civil engineer and good roads booster.[32]

The Senate passed the National Highway Commission bill, but it was lost by adjournment of Congress and failed to become law. However, in the next session, Representatives Allan C. Durburow of Illinois[N 1] and Clarke Lewis of Mississippi introduced resolutions instructing the House Committee on Agriculture to incorporate a clause in the pending agricultural appropriation bill to authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to "make inquiry regarding public roads," and to "make investigations for a better system of roads."

The Agricultural Appropriation Act of 1893, as finally approved on March 3, appropriated $10,000 to enable the Secretary "to make inquiries in regard to the systems of road management throughout the United States ... to make investigations in regard to the best method of road-making . . . and to enable him to assist the agricultural college and experiment stations in disseminating information on this subject...."

The U.S. Office of Road Inquiry
Secretary J. Sterling Morton implemented this statute on October 3, 1893, by setting up the Office of Road Inquiry (ORI) within the Department of Agriculture. To head this office he appointed General Roy Stone as Special Agent and Engineer for Road Inquiry, but was careful to limit Stone's authority to investigating and disseminating information. He was specifically forbidden to seek to influence or control road policy in the States or counties or to promote or encourage schemes to furnish work to the unemployed or to convicts. "The Department is to furnish information, not to direct and formulate any system of organization, however efficient or desirable it may be."[33]

With characteristic energy, Stone, whose entire staff consisted of himself and one clerk, sent letters of inquiry to the governors of the States and Territories, and their secretaries of state, the members of Congress, the State geologists and all the railroad presidents, soliciting information on highway laws, the locations of materials suitable for roadbuilding, and rail rates for hauling such materials. By the end of June 1894, the Office of Road Inquiry had issued nine bulletins on these subjects, some of which were already in their second printing![34]

In the following year the ORI produced nine more bulletins, three of which were the proceedings of national good roads conventions. The promoters of these meetings had no trouble getting able and influential men on their programs as speakers, including General Stone, and publication of their speeches at Government expense was an easy and cheap way to spread the gospel of good roads throughout the country.

Another major ORI project begun in 1894 was a large-scale Good Roads National Map of all the macadamized and gravel roads in the United States. For this, Stone sent a map of each county to the clerk or surveyor of that county, asking that it be returned with the existing roads laid down upon it. By June 1895, he was able to compile statewide road maps for Pennsylvania, Indiana and New Jersey from these county maps, with those of other States in various stages of compilation.[35]

  1. Mr. Durburow was Chairman of the Select Committee on the Columbian Exposition.

To round out a year of extraordinary activity, the ORI, with the help of the Division of Statistics of the Agriculture Department, compiled information on the cost of hauling farm products to market in 1,160 counties in the United States. These statistics showed that a farmer's average haul to market or shipping points ranged from 6.4 miles in the East to 23.3 miles in the Far West, with a national average of 12.1 miles. The average load for a 2-horse team was a little over 2,000 pounds and the average cost of hauling was 25 cents per ton-mile.[36] By comparison, the cost of hauling farm products by railroad was about ½ cent per ton-mile at this time.

The Object Lesson Road Program
As yet, General Stone had not found a satisfactory way to assist the agricultural colleges and experiment stations to disseminate information on roadmaking. A solution to this problem came out of the experience of the State Highway Commission in implementing the Massachusetts State-aid law of 1893. The Legislature had appropriated $300,000 with the provision that each county was to receive a "fair apportionment." The Commission decided to parcel the money out to 37 widely scattered projects, each about 1 mile long, on the theory that once the people had a taste of good roads, they would put pressure on the Legislature for a bigger future appropriation. Each project was located where it would eventually form a link in a continuous system of trunk roads between the principal cities.[37]

Stone proposed to apply the Massachusetts idea nationally by building short "object lesson roads" near or on the experimental farms of the various States. These would serve to instruct the roadmakers, to educate the visiting public and to improve the economic administration of the farms.[38] This plan was satisfactory to James Wilson, the new Secretary of Agriculture, who preferred that the ORI emphasize the practical side of roadbuilding rather than the academic. However, the total annual budget of the Office of Road Inquiry was only $10,000 at this time, so General Stone had to scrounge most of the cost of the first object lesson roads.

He began the scrounging by reducing his own office staff, using the money saved to hire practical roadbuilding experts, of whom the first was General E. G. Harrison of Asbury Park, New Jersey, a civil engineer who enjoyed a national reputation as a builder of macadam roads. Next, he talked the road equipment manufacturers into providing equipment free as a good will and promotion gesture. Finally, he got the experiment stations, the local road authorities and, in some cases, private individuals to put up the cash to pay for labor, materials, hauling and part of the wages of the machine operators.

The ORI's share of the cost of each project consisted only of the salary and travel expenses of the supervisory road expert, the expense of transporting the loaned equipment to and from the project and part of the wages of the equipment operators. However, the design, stakeout and supervision of construction were under the complete control of the ORI supervisor, "in order that the roads may be creditable to the Government when done."[39]

Building the first object lesson road near the New Jersey Agricultural College and Experiment Station, New Brunswick, N.J., in 1897.

The first object lesson road project was comparatively small, involving a cash outlay of only $321 put up by the New Jersey Agricultural College and Experiment Station at New Brunswick. Under this project, General Harrison, in June 1897, placed 6 inches of trap rock macadam 8 feet wide on a 660-foot section of the main road leading from the town to the college farm. He then moved the equipment to Geneva, New York, where he built iy 2 miles of road connecting the city to the New York Agricultural Experiment Station. This road cost $9,046 and was financed by contributions from the town of Geneva, the experiment station and three private individuals. After its completion, Harrison moved the equipment to Kingston, Rhode Island, where he completed a road for the Agricultural College of Rhode Island in 1898.[40]

Working the road machine on a section of the experimental road at Geneva, N.T.

These roads accomplished their intended purpose. They were a forceful demonstration of General Stone's "seeing is believing" philosophy of selling good roads to the public. They attracted hundreds of visitors, including many county road officials. They also attracted a deluge of requests for similar object lesson roads at other agricultural colleges which Stone was unable to fill because his funds had run out. In September 1897 he wrote:

The work now in hand will exhaust all the funds that can be spared from this year's appropriation, unless something additional is provided to meet the many urgent demands of the agricultural colleges and experiment stations for 'Government' roads.

If the manufacturers continue willing to furnish the machinery free, an expenditure by the Government of from $300 to $500 for each locality will be sufficient to call out enough local help to build from $2,000 to $10,000 worth of road at most of the 116 agricultural colleges and experiment stations, and any required number of outfits can be put in the field at once ...[41]

Educational Work of the Office of Road Inquiry
General Stone and his deputy engineer, Maurice O. Eldridge, were indefatigable writers and speakers. In addition to writing or editing 20 published bulletins and 30 circulars on various aspects of the road problem, they accepted invitations to appear on the programs of several dozen good roads conventions and farmer's road institutes. The invitations were, in fact, far more numerous than the ORI could accept with its limited budget and force. General Stone was also an acknowledged expert on good roads legislation, and his advice was sought by several States, notably California, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, in framing their highway laws.

Following the outbreak of war with Spain, General Stone, in August 1898, was granted leave of absence from the ORI to serve with the Army. During the war he was a Brigadier General on the staff of General Nelson Miles. The war over, he resumed his duties in January 1899, but resigned October 13, 1899, to return to New York, where he accepted the presidency of the National League for Good Roads, an organization he had helped to found in 1893 before his appointment to the Office of Road Inquiry.

The Office of Public Road Inquiries
While General Stone was on military duty, the Office of Road Inquiry was temporarily headed by Martin Dodge of Cleveland, Ohio, formerly President of the Ohio State Highway Commission. When Stone resigned in October 1899, the name of the agency was changed to the Office of Public Road Inquiries (OPRI) and Mr. Dodge was appointed as Director.

General Stone's plan for three great demonstration roads—from Portland, Maine, to Jacksonville, Fla., on the east coast; from Seattle, Wash., to San Diego, Calif., on the west coast; and from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco, Calif.

About 1898 Martin Dodge advanced the idea of steel track wagon roads by exhibiting sections of steel track at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition at Omaha. The advantages were that steel track was less costly to install and maintain, more durable, and the power required to move a vehicle was only a small fraction of that needed over any other kind of road. This demonstration shows an 11-ton load being hauled by one horse on a steel track while it would take 20 horses to haul this load on an ordinary road of that day.

For 2 years, prior to General Stone's resignation, Congress had turned a deaf ear to his entreaties for more funds to expand the demonstration road program. When Mr. Dodge took office in 1899, the budget was still only $10,000 per year, and for another 2 years he had no success in getting it increased. This resistance was due, in part at least, to fear on the part of some people that the OPRI was the entering wedge for national roads under Federal control. Seeking to allay this suspicion, Dodge wrote in his report for 1901:

It is proper just here to call attention to a misconception which appears to exist in the minds of some to the effect that increased appropriations for this work may lead to National aid. It should be distinctly understood that the work of this Office, like that of many other Divisions of the Department, is purely educational. In requesting an increased appropriation it was not the intention to shift the burden and responsibility of constructing improved roads from the States and counties to the General Government. Such a plan is not feasible, and even if it were, it would not be desirable, for there could be no surer way of postponing the building of good roads than by making them dependent upon National aid. Under such a system States and counties would wait for National aid and little or nothing would be done.[42]

Director Dodge's plea for more funds did not bear fruit until 1903 when Congress increased the OPRI's budget to $30,000. In the meantime, to better keep in touch with local developments and economize on travel expense, Dodge divided the country into four "divisions," with a special agent in charge of each. To head the Eastern Division, he appointed Logan W. Page, a geologist who at the time was also Chief of the Bureau of Chemistry's Division of Tests. Page had been invited to Washington in 1900 to set up a materials laboratory in the Bureau of Chemistry of the Department of Agriculture and to conduct a study of road materials on a national scale. The other division heads were Professor J. A. Holmes of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, J. A. Stout of Menominee, Wisconsin, and James W. Abbott of Denver, Colorado.

All of the division agents, except Page, were part- time employees, and their available time was fully employed attending conventions, writing articles and collecting information on the progress of legislation. An idea of the duties of these agents can be gleaned from Dodge's summary of Special Agent Abbott's work for 1901. In addition to traveling more than 12,000 miles by railroad,

He attended and participated in the work of four very important conventions, at two of which he read papers. He has written several articles for publication in leading newspapers, and numerous interviews have been published giving accounts of his movements and work. He spent some time in consultation with the road committees of the Colorado legislature and assisted in framing a carefully prepared road law. He visited many places in Colorado, Utah, and California, and gave advice where it was desired regarding specific or general road improvement. Mr. Abbott visited, practically at his own expense, this Office and the highway departments of New York, Massachusetts, and California ....

... He has, by personal interviews and private letters, brought the subject of road improvement to the attention of governors and other State officials, the editors of leading newspapers, professors in institutions of learning, presidents and managers of railroads, prominent civil and mining engineers, members of the legislatures, boards of county commissioners, road supervisors, the heads of leading industries, manufacturers of road machinery, besides a large number of influential private citizens.[43]

All this for $1,500 per year! Obviously, Special Agent Abbott also had a private income to draw upon, as did the other division heads. Until 1903 the OPRI had only one object lesson road construction team, which was managed by Special Agent and Road Expert E. G. Harrison until his death in February 1901. This team was shipped from place to place by rail on a prearranged schedule, building eight or nine roads per year, each ½ to 1½ miles long. After a sufficient amount of road had been built at each location, a "good roads day" would be arranged, and the farmers of that and the adjacent counties would be invited to attend. Special Agent Harrison would lead the crowd—often as many as 500 persons—along the new construction, lecturing on the fundamentals of drainage, stone surfacing and road maintenance. Harrison would arrange for the lecture to be printed in the local newspaper. The following is a brief quote from one of these accounts:

'We are not here to build city streets, nor boulevards. Cities are able to pay for their expensive streets and know how to build them. But the U.S. is interested in the rural districts and wishes to help the farmers and others to get good roads. Therefore, the Department of Agriculture has established the Office of Road Inquiry, which is seeking to gather all the information possible about the construction and maintenance of good roads and to impart it gratis to the people. The government will not build your roads, but will place at your disposal all the information it has gained from experts, experiments and other sources. . . .

'Here we have not even built the best kind of macadam road. For that you must go to your cities and look at the boulevards. We have simply taken the material at hand and from it constructed the best road possible with the money we have. The boulders from which the stone is crushed were brought from the neighboring farms. They are of good quality and very hard. They consist of granite, trap, syenite, quartz, etc. This is much better than your soft limestone, or loose sandy, washed gravel.'[44]

After 1903, with a tripled budget, the OPEI was able to keep four demonstration teams in the field. Also, with Page's new laboratory in operation, the Government undertook to test the materials going into the object lesson roads without charge to the local cooperators, eliminating guesswork in this very important aspect of roadbuilding.

The Good Roads Trains
In 1893 there was only one national good roads organization in the United States and three or four local associations. Eight years later there were over 100 organizations promoting good roads, including six distinctly national road associations. In 1901 the most active and aggressive of these organizations was the National Good Eoads Association (NGEA) which had been formed during the Chicago Good Roads Convention of 1900, and was headed by Colonel William H. Moore of St. Louis as president and Colonel R. W. Richardson of Omaha as secretary. Like many other good roads organizations, the National Good Roads Association had no permanent membership list and depended for its support on donations from civic groups, manufacturers of road machinery, suppliers of road materials, wealthy individuals, the public at large and even the railroads.

The Southern Railway Good Roads Train with some of the road experts during its fall trip in 1901.

Colonel Moore, the guiding spirit of the NGRA, was a skillful and persuasive promoter, with a wide acquaintanceship among influential people. In 1901 he conceived the idea of a traveling good roads show that would cover the country, educating the public on the advantages of improved highways, very much in the manner of the circuses and the popular Chautauqua shows. He persuaded the road machinery companies to help with this project by donating their latest models, along with trained operators, to run them. From the Illinois Central Railroad, he obtained the promise of an 11-car train free of charge, to transport the show from place to place. Finally, he approached Director Dodge to give Government sanction to the idea by providing a road expert to lecture on roads and supervise demonstrations of roadbuilding. Dodge was unable to help because his budget was already committed to other work; however, when the Association offered to pay the expert's salary and expenses, he agreed to participate and designated Special Agent Charles T. Harrison of New Jersey as the OPRI's representative.[N 1]

The Association mounted a high-powered publicity campaign to prepare the way for the "Good Roads Train." Advance agents organized local conventions and lined up donations of labor and materials for demonstration projects. The train, consisting of nine flat cars loaded with road machinery, and two sleeping cars for the operators, laborers, officials, road experts and press representatives, pulled out of Chicago early in April 1901, under the management and control of Colonel Richardson. Before returning in August, it stopped at 16 cities in five States, where the construction crew built sample roads of earth, stone or gravel varying in length from ½ mile to 114 miles. Director Dodge, who went along on the first trip from Chicago to New Orleans, expressed his enthusiasm for the project in this glowing account:

About 20 miles of earth, stone, and gravel roads were built and 15 large and enthusiastic conventions were held. The numbers attending these conventions and witnessing the work were very large, in nearly every instance more than a thousand persons and in some cases 2,000 persons being present. Among the attendants were leading citizens and officials, including governors, mayors, Congressmen, members of legislatures, judges of the county court, and road officials. This was undoubtedly the most successful campaign ever waged for good roads, and the expedition has been of great service to the cause, and especially to the people of the Mississippi Valley.[45]

At this time the steam railroads were among the strongest supporters of good roads. Secure in their position as the backbone of the American transportation system, they were anxious to extend their tributary traffic areas and also to overcome some of the widespread hostility engendered by their high-handed methods of dealing with the public. The economic aspect of the railway interest in roads was aptly expressed by an official of the Southern Railroad in 1902:

... They [the Southern Railroad] now handle the products of from 2 to 5 miles on each side of their tracks. In the winter season they can not get the products that are any farther away. If you had improved roads, they would be able to serve the country 20 to 30 miles from their tracks.... If you are a shipper, you know that at some seasons of the year it is hard to get cars; that every railroad in the United States suffers from a lack of cars and locomotives, and that the industries of almost every community suffer on this account. This is because the traffic on all railroads is so greatly congested within a few months of the year. It is not divided over the twelve months as it ought to be. If there were good roads leading to every railroad station in the United States, the railroads would be able to get along with half the cars they now need...."[46]

The Illinois Central Railroad "expedition" was so successful that Colonel Moore had little difficulty lining up others. One left Chicago on the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad for Buffalo, where it was placed on exhibit on the grounds of the Pan-American Exposition during the International Good Roads Congress during September 1901.[47]

'The crushing plant in operation at Winston-Salem, N.C., during a macadam roadbuilding demonstration in 1901.

  1. Charles T. Harrison replaced E. G. Harrison who died February 6, 1901.
The most elaborate expedition of all was sponsored jointly by the Southern Eailroad and the NGRA and cost the railroad over $80,000. It left Alexandria, Virginia, on October 29, 1901, and was on the road for 5 months, traveling 4,037 miles and demonstrating at 18 good roads conventions. Welcoming this train to Lynchburg, U.S. Senator J. W. Daniel of Virginia said:

An itinerant college on wheels has come among us. It brings its professors and its equipment with it. It is known as the 'good roads train' of the Southern Railway system. This college does not teach out of books, nor solely by word of mouth. It teaches by the greater power of example. If you will just watch its operation you will see a new good road grow over an old and bad road at the magic touch of titanic machinery, and while an orator talks of road building it will set his words to the music of practical accomplishment.[48]

When the automobile arrived, many miles of rural road were similar to this one along Bishop Creek in California.

A steam roller in operation on a demonstration macadam pavement near Greenville, Tenn., in 1901.

The Pere Marquette Railroad and the Michigan Good Roads Association sponsored a Good Roads Train for the summer of 1902—the only train which did not have at least one of Dodge's road experts aboard. The last of the Good Roads Trains left St. Paul on the Great Northern Railroad, September 8, 1903, for an expedition through Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana, and beyond to the Pacific Coast.

The First National Road Inventory
One of the most ambitious tasks undertaken by the OPRI during Director Dodge's administration was an inventory of all the roads in the United States outside of the cities. The information for this enumeration was obtained in 1904 from questionnaires sent to the county authorities or from "voluntary correspondents" appointed by the OPRI. The investigators, headed by Assistant Director M. O. Eldridge, went far beyond merely tabulating road mileage. They investigated taxation and sources of revenue, road laws and total expenditures in every county of every State. Road mileage was subdivided according to surface type. The information was so voluminous that over 2 years were required to tabulate it and issue the report, which did not appear until May 1907.[49]

The OPRI study showed that there were 2,151,570 miles of rural public roads in the United States in 1904, plus 1,598 miles of stone-surfaced toll roads.[N 1] Of the public roads, only 153,662 miles had any kind of surfacing.[N 2] The expenditures on roads in 1904 were $79.77 million of which only $2.6 million was contributed by the States in the form of State aid.[52]

  1. By comparison, there were 213,904 miles of railroads in the United States in 1904.[50]
  2. This mileage was distributed as follows:
    Surfacing Type (Miles)
    Earth Gravel Stone Shells, etc.
    Eastern and
    580,850 24,627 21,240 3,091 629,808
    Texas 119,281 167 1,909 52 121,409
    Public Land
    1,297,777 83,439 15,473 3,664 1,400,353
    1,997,908 108,233 38,622 6,807 2,151,570

    In addition to the above, there were 1,101 miles of stone-surfaced toll roads in Pennsylvania and 497 miles of toll roads in Maryland.[51]

Office of Public Roads Achieves Permanent Status

From its beginning in 1893 as the ORI, the Office of Public Road Inquiries had been a temporary organization set up by the Secretary of Agriculture to perform a job mandated by Congress, namely, to collect and disseminate information about good roads. Apparently, Congress did not contemplate originally that this would become a permanent function of the Government, but the work was continued from year to year by a short paragraph in the annual Agriculture appropriation bill. In 1903 and again in 1904 A plank road between El Centro, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz.

Stuck in the mud in Sacramento Canyon.

Director Dodge recommended that his office be transformed into a Division of the Department "with a statutory roll of officers and employees."

The work of this Office appears to be no longer of tentative character. Year after year it has assumed increased importance and wider scope, and there is now a general demand coming up from all sections of the country that it be made a permanent feature of the work of this Department. It appears fitting, therefore, that it be given a more definite legal status, thereby adding dignity and stability to this branch of the Department's work....[53]

Congress eventually heeded this plea, and in the Agriculture Appropriation Act of March 3, 1905 (33 Stat. 882), it merged the Division of Tests of the Bureau of Chemistry with the Office of Public Road Inquiries to form the Office of Public Roads. The new agency had a statutory roll, headed by a Director, "who shall be a scientist and have charge of all scientific and technical work," at a salary of $2,500 per year. The Act also provided for a Chief of Records, an Instrument Maker and 6 clerks, and boosted the total annual appropriation for the office's work to $50,000.

The requirement that the Director should be a scientist prevented Martin Dodge, a lawyer, from succeeding to the directorship of the new Office of Public Roads, and Logan Waller Page was appointed instead.

Director Page assumed the helm of the Office of Public Roads at a momentous time in the history of land transportation. To his predecessors "good roads" meant wagon roads, constructed according to the time-tested methods of Trésaguet, Telford and McAdam and designed for horsedrawn steel-tired traffic traveling 6 to 8 miles per hour. In 1905 the shape of things to come was dimly foreshadowed by scarcely 78,000 automobiles, most of which were confined to the cities. Ten years later 2.33 million autos were raising clouds of dust on the country roads, and by 1918 this number had increased to 5.55 million. The motor age had arrived, and with it a new kind of highway, designed specifically for motor vehicles, would evolve. Director Page would preside over the early stages of this evolution.


  1. J. Owen, The Controverted Questions in Road Construction, Transactions, Vol. 28 (American Society of Civil Engineers, New York, 1893) p. 111.
  2. 43 U.S.C. Section 218 (1964).
  3. M. O. Eldridge, Good Roads For Farmers, Farmers' Bulletin No. 95 (Office of Public Roads, Washington, D.C., 1900) p. 9.
  4. M. O. Eldridge, Public Road Mileage, Revenues and Expenditures, In the United States In 1904, Bulletin No. 32 (Office of Public Roads, Washington, D.C., 1907) p. 16.
  5. Id., p. 18.
  6. Id.
  7. Id., p. 16.
  8. Id., p. 20.
  9. Id., p. 16.
  10. Id., p. 14.
  11. S. Alexander, History of Good Road Making in Mecklenburg County, Proceedings of the North Carolina Good Roads Convention, Bulletin No. 24 (Bureau of Public Roads, Washington, D.C., 1903) pp. 22, 23.
  12. T. Parker, Good Roads and Their Relation to the Farmer, Proceedings of the North Carolina Good Roads Convention, Bulletin No. 24 (Bureau of Public Roads, Washington, D.C., 1903) p. 27.
  13. W. Gillespie, A Manual of the Principles and Practice of Road Making (A. S. Barnes and Co., New York, 1871) pp. 221, 227.
  14. A. Blanchard & A. Fletcher (eds.), American Highway Engineer's Handbook, 1st ed. (Wiley, New York, 1919) p. 467.
  15. G. Tillson, Asphalt and Asphalt Pavements, Transactions, Vol. 38 (American Society of Civil Engineers, New York, 1897) pp. 224, 234.
  16. R. Kirby, S. Withington, A. Darling & F. Kilgour, Engineering in History (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1956) p. 396.
  17. Office of Federal Coordinator of U.S. Transportation, Public Aids to Transportation, Public Aids to Motor Vehicle Transportation, Vol. IV (GPO, Washington, D.C., 1940) p. 6.
  18. L. Van Ornum, Theory and Practice of Special Assessments, Transactions, Vol. 38 (American Seciety of Civil Engineers, New York, 1897) pp. 336-361.
  19. J. Holmes, Roadbuilding in North Carolina, Proceedings of the North Carolina Good Roads Convention, Bulletin No. 24 (Bureau of Public Roads, Washington, D.C., 1903) pp. 66, 67.
  20. H. Trumbower, Roads, Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 13 (MacMillan, New York, 1948) pp. 406, 407.
  21. G. Chatburn, Highways and Highway Transportation (Thos. Y. Crowell, New York, 1923) p. 128.
  22. Id., pp. 128, 129.
  23. Id., p. 129.
  24. W. H. Moore, Response to Address of Welcome, Proceedings of the North Carolina Good Roads Convention, Bulletin No. 24 (Bureau of Public Roads, Washington, D.C., 1903) p. 12.
  25. H. Trumbower, supra, note 20, p. 407.
  26. L. Page, Progress and Present Status of the Good Roads Movement in the United States, Yearbook of The Department of Agriculture, 1910 (GPO, Washington, D.C., 1911) p. 270.
  27. A. Rose, Historic American Highways—Public Roads of the Past (American Association of State Highway Officials, Washington, D.C., 1953) pp. 94, 95.
  28. G. Chatburn, supra, note 21, pp. 150, 151.
  29. M. Eldridge, G. Clark & A. Luedke, State Highway Management, Control and Procedure, Public Roads, Vol. 1, No. 9, Jan. 1919, p. 60.
  30. L. Page, supra, note 26, pp. 273, 274.
  31. 23 Cong. Rec. 6846 (1892).
  32. G. Chatburn, supra, note 21, p. 133.
  33. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1893, Letter From Secretary Morton to General Roy Stone, Oct. 3, 1893, p. 586.
  34. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1894, p. 217.
  35. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1895, p. 198.
  36. Id., p. 197.
  37. G. Perkins, State Highways in Massachusetts, Yearbook of The Department of Agriculture, 1894 (GPO, Washington, D.C., 1895) pp. 508, 509.
  38. BPR, supra, note 35, p. 198.
  39. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1897, p. 174.
  40. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Yearbook of The Department of Agriculture, 1897 (GPO, Washington, D.C., 1898) pp. 376-379.
  41. BPR, supra, note 39, p. 174.
  42. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1901, p. 251.
  43. Id., p. 238.
  44. Gen. Harrison Tells How the Road Was Built, The Road Maker, Vol. 1, No. 3, (Port Huron, Mich.) p. 6.
  45. BPR, supra, note 42, p. 243.
  46. M. A. Hays, Interest of Railways in Road Improvement, Proceedings of the North Carolina Good Roads Convention, Bulletin No. 24 (Bureau of Public Roads, Washington, D.C., 1903) pp. 15, 16.
  47. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1902, p. 309.
  48. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1903, p. 337.
  49. M. O. Eldridge, supra, note 4, pp. 5-7.
  50. Id., p. 11.
  51. Id., pp. 8, 9.
  52. Id.
  53. BPR, supra, note 48, p. 347.
6 Dawn of the Motor Age

The Early Automobiles
In 1900 there were about 8,000 automobiles in the United States, practically all concentrated in the major cities.[1] Probably half of these were electric-motor driven, silent and dependable, but limited by their lead-acid batteries to an operating radius of 25 to 30 miles. Since dependable pneumatic tires did not become available until 1897, practically all of these electrics ran on solid rubber tires, and most of them were European-made.

In the late 1890's, the Stanley brothers of Newton, Massachusetts, perfected the European steam car into a reliable American vehicle with a greater driving range than the electric. By 1900 their steamers had driven the European models from the American market and two factories were producing cars under the Stanley patents.[2]

Karl Friedrich Benz of Mannheim, Germany, built the first reliable internal combustion engine automobile—a three-wheeler—in 1885. This extraordinary vehicle had electric ignition, water cooling system, a differential gear and surface carburetor—all Benz inventions. Later Benz invented the fixed front axle with steerable stub axles and in 1899 the gear box for changing speeds.[3] In 1893 he exhibited a four-wheel vehicle which incorporated most of these advanced mechanical ideas at the Chicago World Fair. This machine, which incorporated in rudimentary form, practically all of the essential features of the modern automobile, was the inspiration for many others produced by American inventors in the following decade.

The total production of TJ.S.-made automobiles for the year 1900 was 4,192 machines, of which 1,575 were electrics, 1,681 were steamers and 936 were gasoline engine-driven.[4][5] These, along with the European imports, were individually handcrafted and correspondingly expensive, costing from $3,000 to $12,000 each at a time when industrial and farm laborers were paid $1 for a 10-hour day.

Auto Manufacturers Tap Mass Market
These early automobiles were large, heavy and clumsy, partly from a paucity of engineering knowledge on how to compute the stresses in their various parts and partly from lack of strong light materials for their manufacture. About 1906 vanadium alloy steel, developed in Europe, became available in the United States, and by using it and other alloys, Henry Ford of Detroit, Michigan, was able to redesign his big, heavy touring car into a much lighter and smaller vehicle—the famous Model T. At the same time, he tooled up to mass-produce components for this one vehicle and designed a moving assembly line on which to put the components together into cars.[N 1]

An early American automobile built around 1898.

By thus redesigning the vehicle and standardizing the production process, Ford was able to increase production from 1,599 units in 1905 to 8,729 units in 1906 and 14,887 units in 1907, at the same time reducing prices. These lower prices, in turn, opened the door to a huge mass market. As sales increased, Ford was able to realize further economies of scale in manufacturing, and still further reductions in cost, until by 1917 he was selling cars for less than $600 apiece.[7]

A 1907 Columbia built by the Electric Vehicle Co. in Hartford, Conn. Hoioever, this is not an electric car. The auto manufacturers of that period numbered in the thousands, but often a manufacturer built no more than a dozen or so cars.

  1. Henry Ford did not invent mass-production, nor was he the first to apply it to auto making. The French made interchangeable parts for musket locks before 1785, and the Colt Armory at Hartford, Connecticut, was mass-producing firearms before the Civil War.[6] Ford's contribution was in organizing manufacturing into a smooth coordinated process, eliminating wasted time and effort, and continuously applying technology to increase productivity.

As Ford's competitors adopted his methods in a rush to catch up with him, the automotive industry turned out an ever-increasing flood of vehicles at lower and lower prices.[N 1] To an increasing extent, the owners of these vehicles began using them on the country roads, as well as the city streets, bringing about a rural road crisis that began to be seriously felt by about 1910.

Competitive Auto Racing Spurs Vehicle Development
Some of the pre-1900 autos were used as for-hire cabs in the cities, but most were owned by wealthy people who used them for personal convenience and as pleasure vehicles. In Europe, where there were many miles of smooth macadam roads, road racing by wealthy owner-drivers was a popular sport. Backed by motor car manufacturers and tire makers, road racing eventually became big business there, and contributed a great deal to the rapid improvement of motor design and mechanical reliability, which, in turn, gave Europe undisputed leadership of the motor car industry up to the outbreak of the war in Europe in 1914.

As the Wheelmen had done before them, the American motorists organized themselves into clubs for social enjoyment of their hobby and to protect themselves from restrictive legislation. The Automobile Club of America, one of the oldest of these social clubs, organized a road race, which was run on April 14, 1900, between Springfield and Babylon, Long Island. A 5-horsepower electric car won this 50-mile event in the surprisingly good time of 2 hours 3½ minutes, followed by a steamer (2 hours 18 minutes) and a gasoline car (2 hours 30 minutes).[9] However, road racing never became popular in the United States, partly because of hostile laws, but mostly for lack of sufficient mileage of reasonably motor able roads.[N 2]

"Toot 'n' be darned." A common problem when horsedrawn vehicles and automobiles mixed on narrow roads.

Harry Grant driving a 60-hp Berliet at Lowell, Mass, Sept. 7, 1908. Grant came in second.

  1. Annual production of U.S.-made motor vehicles was 25,000 in 1905, 187,000 in 1910 and 969,930 in 1915.[8] The average new motor vehicle price in the United States in 1916 was about $605.
  2. In 1906 a group of racing enthusiasts, headed by William K. Vanderbilt, Jr., organized the Long Island Motor Parkway Company, which built a motor road on private right-of-way as a race course for the Vanderbilt Cup. The first unit of this parkway, opened October 10, 1908, was 11 miles long, paved with reinforced concrete, and was one of the first roads in the world to have superelevated or banked curves. When completed in 1910, this road was 45 miles long, and when not used for racing, it was opened to pleasure vehicles as a toll road.[10][11] The European counterpart of the Long Island Motor Parkway was the Avus, begun in 1913 but not completed until 1919. This was a divided highway 6 miles long laid out on an absolutely straight line from Charlottenburg to Berlin, Germany, with no grade crossings and limited access to the traffic lanes.[12] In 1909 Carl G. Fisher built a 2½-mile oval racing speedway at Indianapolis, Indiana.[13]
The Automobile Ventures Into the Country

In the early 1900's a motor trip for any considerable distance into the country was an uncertain undertaking. To run out of fuel was disastrous and might entail a walk of several miles to the nearest hardware or paint store. Mechanical service was practically unobtainable; blowouts and tire punctures were frequent and not easy to repair. Dust was a major nuisance in dry weather. Most embarrassing of all, there were no comfort stations, and tourists were dependent on private kindness or the more secluded portions of the right-of-way for sanitary accommodations.

The automobile, to the dismay of road officials, was unexpectedly damaging to macadam and gravel roads. According to Director Page:

... The driving wheels of motor cars moving at high rates of speed exert a powerful tractive force on the road surface, which displaces the materials composing the surface. The result is that the finer particles and dust are thrown into the air to be carried off by cross currents of air. The rubber tire of the automobile does not wear any appreciable amount of dust from the rock fragments, and consequently, the loss of rock dust is a permanent loss to the road. Under these conditions, the road soon ravels, making travel difficult and allowing water to make its way to the earth subgrade or foundation.[14]

The initial reaction to this destruction of the rural roads was a clamor to bar automobiles from the highways or severely limit their speed. Fortunately, calmer counsels prevailed, and some observers, such as the editor of American Highways magazine, actually viewed dusting as a blessing in disguise:

... However, the motors are unquestionably here to stay and are going to play an important and very useful part in the lives of coming generations, and instead of trying to bar them off the roadways or misusing their owners, highway commissioners should attack the problems they present and should solve them as they have former problems. It is rather fortunate than otherwise that the motors have appeared on the scene before road-building in the better sense engaged public attention. Had their advent been postponed until the country had built up a complete system of roads a tremendous expense would have been incurred for tearing up the old material and relaying it.[15]

It was, perhaps, inevitable that the early motorists should come into conflict with the farmers. Despite the fact that most surfaced rural roads built after 1900 had been made possible by State aid, paid for largely by city people or by urban support for county bond issues, many rural residents looked upon the motorists as intruders. This feeling was exacerbated by a minority of the motorists who used the roads for racing, often with mufflers cut out, frightening livestock and teams and raising clouds of dust. Some of the farmers countered by refusing to yield for overtaking, forcing motorists to creep along behind them for miles. It was even alleged that some farmers buried spikes and glass in the roads to puncture tender tires.

This division between farmers and urban motorists affected the solidarity of the Good Eoads Movement, and was not finally resolved until the farmers themselves became motorists along with everyone else, and motoring ceased to be regarded as a rich man's pastime. The final burying of the hatchet came with the enactment of the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916.

The Problems of Automobile Registration and Regulatory Laws
In the early years of this century, pleasure driving was restricted by a host of State and local laws and ordinances, as well as by the condition of the roads and other hardships. New York was the first State to require registration of motor vehicles, and in 1901, the first year a fee was charged, this State collected nearly $1,000 from its motorists.[16] The New York law was primarily a measure for legal control rather than for revenue, but in later years New York and other States collected sizable amounts of money in registration fees.[N 1]

As other States began charging registration fees, problems of reciprocity between the States arose to plague motorists. New York, the leader in the registration movement, allowed any vehicle to use its roads, provided that vehicle was registered in its own State, and provided that State granted the same privilege to cars registered in New York. At this time, New York had full reciprocity with 15 other States but not with New Jersey. As a result, thousands of New Yorkers who had summer homes on the Jersey coast had to register their machines for the full year in both States.[18] A similar relation existed with Massachusetts and 17 other States which did not grant full reciprocity.

Lack of reciprocity was a serious hindrance not only to pleasure travel, but also to interstate commerce which was just beginning to use the roads again after a lapse of 60 years. As the secretary of state of New York said in 1911:

... It seems to be a failure to recognize the importance of the automobile, when a tourist is confronted by the necessity of carrying with him on a tour throughout the States the license of each State he enters.... The automobile gives opportunities of seeing the country which the people have never had to such an extent before. It leads to many small interesting places which even the railroad with its great facilities has not been able to make sufficiently accessible. It enables the people to know their country better. It brings people into closer contact. Especially is this true of the commercial vehicle. Trips from New York to Philadelphia are very frequent. It surely will not be conducive to the growth of this phase of the industry and to business generally if a merchant in Philadelphia, desiring to carry goods to New York City, will have to have his machine registered in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York and to pay a fee in each State. . . .[19]

In many States, registration fees were not the only imposts on motor vehicle owners. Some cities and villages required the motorist to pay a "wheel tax" of $10 to $20 per year for the privilege of driving on their streets. A number of States collected a personal property tax on the vehicle in addition to the registration fee.

  1. In the first 10 months of 1911, 35 States collected a total of $3,746,938 in registration fees and operator license fees from 516,977 owners of motor vehicles. The amounts collected ranged from $986 in Utah (442 owners and 51 operators) to 2,975 in New York (81,665 owners and 33,485 operators).[17]
After he had solved the registration and tax problems, other hazards confronted the motorist when he ventured beyond the limits of his own city. The individual municipalities had their own ordinances regulating speeds, parking, the use of bells, horns and The Pasear was the name given to a combination of three highways in California: El Camino Real or the Royal Highway; El Camino Sierra or the Mountain Highway; and El Camino Capital or the Capital Highway. These roads form a 1,500-mile scenic circuit from San Francisco to Los Angeles, to Lake Tahoe, and back, to San Francisco. In 1912 the advocates of the Pasear urged that the roads be improved for motor travel in time for the Panama-Pacific Exposition to be held at San Francisco in 1915. These scenes along the El Camino Sierra are a prelude to the rugged beauty to be found on the Pasear. gongs, the making of unnecessary exhaust noise and the emission of noxious gas, smoke or steam, and they

could impose fines for violations. These regulations varied widely from city to city and, especially in the smaller municipalities, were often enforced in a discriminatory way. The operation of "speed traps" by local peace officers was a widespread abuse in rural communities, with the fines going into the local treasury or the pocket of the police justice or magistrate.[N 1]

One of the challenges of the early AAA tours.

The widespread variations in traffic regulations, and especially in registration requirements, laid a severe burden on motorists and also on automobile manufacturers who regarded them as obstacles to vehicle ownership and the expansion of the market for automobiles. Combating restrictive legislation was a principal reason for the organization of both the American Automobile Association in 1902[N 2] and the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce in 1913.[N 3] These and other organizations backed a bill in the 60th Congress that would have required Federal reg- istration for all vehicles. They also worked diligently to standardize the motor vehicle laws in all the States. Eventually, both goals were achieved without Federal intervention, as shall be seen.

The Motor Pathfinders
Up to 1903 no automobile had crossed the United States under its own power, and most people who knew anything about American roads, especially those of the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains States, thought such a trip impossible. Dr. H. Nelson Jackson, of Burlington, Vermont, thought otherwise, and he burned with the urge to be the first person to travel from coast to coast by motor. On May 23, 1903, he left San Francisco, in secrecy, with his chauffeur Sewell K. Crocker, in a 20-horsepower Winton touring car. Sixty-three days later, the two pathfinders rolled into New York after averaging 90 miles per day in 44 days actual running time, despite terrible weather.[21]

  1. The speed trap racket was so bad in New York prior to 1910 that the Legislature passed an act that year requiring all fines imposed for violations of the motor vehicle laws to be turned over to the State treasurer. This reduced the fines collected from motorists to a mere trickle.[20]
  2. A number of State and local automobile clubs banded together to form the American Automobile Association, which rapidly became the national voice of the automobile owners and a powerful lobby for good roads.
  3. Now the Motor Vehicles Manufacturers Association.

A year after Doctor Jackson's feat, a group of motor enthusiasts conceived the idea of a mass motor tour or "pilgrimage" from the major eastern cities to the Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposition in St. Louis. The logistics for such an expedition at this time were formidable. There were no through routes, no reliable road maps, no way of knowing the condition of the roads in advance, no road signs or route markers. Between major cities, getting repairs for a breakdown, or even fuel, was an uncertain business. The promoters of the tour enlisted the aid of the automobile clubs along the way who agreed to select and map the best roads in their areas and mark them with confetti at the critical cross roads so the out-of-State motorists wouldn't get lost. The trip was planned in 100-mile stages, and each entrant was provided with marked maps showing the assembly points, the selected routes, and points along the way where repairs, fuel, lodging and meals might be obtained. Finally, the promoters persuaded the American Automobile Association (AAA) to supervise the affair through a set of committees.[22]

Fifteen cars left New York City July 25, 1904. At Albany they were joined by a contingent from New England led by Charles J. Glidden, the most experienced motorist in America, who, with Mrs. Glidden, had already logged 17,782 miles in 17 countries in his English Napier. The tour continued through Buffalo, Cleveland, Toledo, South Bend and Chicago to St. Louis, losing a few machines enroute from mechanical failure, but picking up new entrants at the principal cities. Of 108 machines registered for the tour, 70 reached starting points and only 58 of these reached St. Louis. The Boston entrants covered 1,264 miles in 17 days, an average of 70 miles per day of hard driving.[23] Unlike Dr. Jackson, who had shunned publicity, the St. Louis World Fair Motor Caravan carried reporters from the Nation's principal newspapers and was attended by enormous ballyhoo, which focused on the execrable condition of most of the roads encountered by the hardy pathfinders.

Upon arrival in St. Louis, Charles Glidden announced that he was presenting a trophy to the American Automobile Association on which would be engraved the name of the owner-driver of the car making the best record on a carefully organized long distance tour such as the one just completed. This reliability contest would be an annual affair, supervised by the AAA, which would draw up the rules for the contest and retain ownership of the trophy.

The first Glidden Tour of 34 participants left New York City July 11, 1905, on an 870-mile junket through New England. Thereafter, the Tour was held annually until 1910.[24]

The Ohio Mud Hen during a cross country trip in 1911 about to cross the Gila River in Arizona with the aid of a couple of mules.

The Pioneer Freighter bridging a swampy area on the north side of the White Mountains in Arizona.

The Jackson-Crocker transcontinental trip had been a daring stunt, like crossing the Atlantic in a rowboat, with no underlying purpose other than to show that it could be done. The St. Louis tour was a similar challenge on a larger scale. The competition for the Glidden Cup, however, had a more serious objective—to focus national attention on the difficulty of traveling any considerable distance on the common roads—and it was remarkably effective in meeting this objective. The Glidden Tours showed conclusively that motor cars were mechanically capable of traveling long distances if the roads were reasonably good, and they fueled a rising demand from motorists for motorable long-distance roads, even a coast-to-coast highway.[N 1] Many people thought the States and counties would never be able to provide such highways, and they seriously advocated that the Federal Government build and operate national highways.

The Pioneer Freighter, a gasoline-powered motor truck made by the Saurer Motor Car Company, made two memorable cross country trips in 1911. This 37 horsepower vehicle weighed 3 tons and carried a load of 3½ tons of lumber for bridging creeks and soft places, plus supplies of fuel and camp equipment. The expedition was in the charge of A. L. Westgard of the Touring Club of America, who had also been commissioned a Special Agent of the Office of Public Roads by Director Page.

The first trip of the Pioneer Freighter began March 4, 1911, at Denver, Colorado, and proceeded via Santa Fe and Phoenix to Los Angeles. This trip traversed 1,450 miles in 66 days, of which 53 days were consumed in actual travel. The average speed was 3.26 miles per hour—about as fast as a man could walk. The machine was shipped to Pueblo, Colorado, by rail, leaving there under its own power June 12, 1911, and ending in New York City in July 1911. The full significance of these trips would be felt a few years later, when the United States began mobilizing for World War I.[26]

  1. In 1907 a group of promoters proposed a toll road from New York to Boston to be built on a 150-foot fenced right-of-way with two one-way 25-foot roadways and entrances every 6 or 7 miles. They estimated that traffic would be 250 cars per day each way and planned to charge each one a toll of 5 cents per mile.[25]

The Pioneer Freighter fording a river near Ft. Apache, Ariz.


  1. 1971 Automobile Facts and Figures (Automobile Manufacturers Association, Detroit, 1971) p. 18.
  2. C. Borth, Mankind on the Move (Automotive Safety Foundation, Washington, D.C., 1969) p. 171.
  3. R. Kirby, S. Withington, A. Darling & F. Kilgrou, Engineering In History (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1956) pp. 406, 407.
  4. Supra, note 1, p. 3.
  5. A. Rose, Historic American Highways—Public Roads of the Past (American Association of State Highway Officials, Washington, D.C. 1953) p. 102.
  6. A. Burstall, A History of Mechanical Engineering (M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, 1965) p. 224.
  7. A. Rose, supra, note 5, p. 103.
  8. Supra, note 1, p. 3.
  9. A. Rose, supra, note 5, pp. 101, 102.
  10. Id., p. 106.
  11. H. Kelly, Toll Roads, Public Roads, Vol. 12, No. 1, Mar. 1931, p. 4.
  12. C. Tunnard & B. Pushkarev, Man-Made America: Chaos or Control? (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1963) p. 163.
  13. A. Rose, supra, note 5, p. 103.
  14. L. Page, Roads, Paths and Bridges (Sturgis and Walton, Co., New York, 1912) p. 216.
  15. Editorial, American Highways, Vol. 2, No. 8, Jan. 1908 (American Highways Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich.) p. 239.
  16. A. Rose, supra, note 5, p. 102.
  17. E. Lazansky, A Model State Motor Vehicle Law, Papers, Addresses and Resolutions Before the American Road Congress (Richmond, Va., Nov. 1911), (Waverly Press, Baltimore, 1912) p. 151.
  18. Id., pp. 153, 154.
  19. Id.
  20. Id., p. 157.
  21. A. Rose, supra, note 5, pp. 102, 103.
  22. C. Borth, supra, note 2, pp. 178-183.
  23. Id.
  24. A. Rose, supra, note 5, p. 103.
  25. Plan Great Auto Boulevard, American Highways, Vol. 1, No. 10, Mar. 1970 (American Highways Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich.) pp. 278, 279.
  26. A. Rose, supra, note 5, p. 107.
7 The Beginning of Scientific Roadbuilding

The appointment of Logan Waller Page as Director of the Office of Public Roads brought a new type of leader—the scientifically trained civil servant—into the highway movement. In 1893, when only 23 years of age, Page was appointed director of the road materials laboratory of the Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard University and also geologist and testing engineer of the Massachusetts State Highway Commission. At this time, although standard practice in France, the laboratory testing of road materials was unknown in the United States. Page enrolled in the French Laboratory of Bridges and Roads where he learned the French methods, introducing them later into his Massachusetts laboratory.[1] After 7 years of distinguished work for the Commission, Page was invited to Washington in 1900 to set up a road materials laboratory in the Bureau of Chemistry of the Department of Agriculture.[2] This laboratory tested thousands of specimens for the OPRI under the object lesson road program, and Page was instrumental in establishing testing laboratories in some of the States. In the reorganization of 1905, Page's laboratory became the Division of Tests of the Office of Public Roads and eventually one of the world's famous physical research organizations.

The Jefferson Highway near DeQueen, Arkansas, before improvement.

The Jefferson Highway after improvement as a gravel road.

Expansion of the Object Lesson Road Program
When Page became director of the Office of Public Roads (OPR) in 1905, only 14 States had highway departments, and 5 of these were less than 6 months old.[N 1] The mileage of roads under State control was very small, and State expenditures, mostly in the form of aid to the counties and townships, were only about 3 percent of total road expenditures in the United States.[N 2]

It was as evident to Director Page as it had been to his predecessors that the main effort for improving the rural roads would have to be directed to the counties and townships. Up to this time, the OPR's most popular work with the local governments had been the object lesson roads, and already ample evidence of their effectiveness was beginning to accumulate. This evidence was summarized by Director Dodge in 1904:

... a section of good road built as an object lesson under the direction of the United States Government in any community has the effect of awakening much greater interest than such a road constructed by the local authorities. That the people desire instruction by the building of object lesson roads and are willing to bear the expense incident thereto is fully proved by the requests received for cooperation, the number being far more than we are able to comply with. That the results are almost uniformly satisfactory and frequently beyond the most sanguine expectation is demonstrated by reference to the letters embodied in this report from representative citizens in the sections where the roads were built and by personal investigations by representatives of this Office. In some instances the object lesson resulted in the slow but steady improvement of the common roads; in a few cases the results were the inauguration of extensive systems of road building. In practically every instance some measure of progress resulted from the object lesson. It would seem to be conservative to estimate that an average of at least 10 miles of improved highways are constructed as a result of the building of each of these roads....[5]

  1. Massachusetts (organized 1893), New Jersey (1894), Connecticut (1895), Rhode Island (1896), New York (1898), Vermont (1898), Pennsylvania (1903), Ohio (1904), Iowa (1904), Illinois (1905), Michigan (1905), Minnesota (1905), New Hampshire (1905), Washington (1905).[3]
  2. In 1904 total road expenditure, including the estimated value of statute labor, was $79.77 million, of which $2.6 million was State aid.[4]
Page, whose budget had been increased to $50,000, decided to expand the object lesson road program and change its emphasis away from macadam construction to a wider use of local materials, particularly the most abundant of all—earth, clay and sand. As he wrote in 1909:

... Experience has shown that our earth roads can, in general, be very much improved by proper construction and systematic maintenance at a cost well within the reach of almost any community. Furthermore, these improved earth roads serve as the best possible foundation for further improvements with a hard surface as means become available. . . .[6]

Post road in Lauderdale County, Alabama. Small hump in distance is chert which will be cut and used for surfacing.

The concept of stage construction, enunciated by Page in the above quotation, became one of the guiding principles of Federal road policy for the next 50 years.

During 1908, 1909 and 1910, the OPR supervised the construction of 1,300 miles of earth roads and 440 miles of sand-clay roads.[N 1] Inevitably, object lesson roads to demonstrate the use of local materials became, in some respects, experimental roads as well. The OPR's Road Expert, W. L. Spoon, who was handling the object lesson road work in the southern States, thought that clay might be made into a suitable road surfacing material by burning or roasting it in place on the road. A small experimental project was set up the summer of 1904 near Clarksdale, Mississippi, in which 300 feet of clay "gumbo" road was burned by wood and bark fires until the clay was nonplastic. The resulting surface compared favorably to gravel and cost only one-fourth as much.[8]

The OPR also cooperated in the construction of experimental sand-clay roads in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska to determine whether sand-clay was suitable for areas with cold climates and deep frost penetration.

  1. Mileage based on an assumed average width of 15 feet. Sand-clay roads were ancestral to our modern soil stabilizations and were first used extensively in Richland County, South Carolina, in 1889, from where they spread through the South in the 1890's.[7]

Sand-clay road in San Patricio County, Texas. Smoothing with road drag after rain. No roller available and the road is not yet thoroughly compacted by traffic.

Experimental Roads Expand Knowledge of Roadbuilding
These experiments were not the first in which the Office had been involved. In 1898, the Office of Public Road Inquiries had built short steel trackway roads at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition at Omaha and at Ames, Iowa, and St. Anthony Park, Minnesota. These proved to be impractical. Another experimental trackway road, this one of bricks, was built on the Department of Agriculture grounds in Washington in 1900. The most important of these early experiments, however, was the oil treatment of a 4,650-foot section of the Queens Chapel Road in the District of Columbia.

In 1900 the automobile was not a significant cause of road dusting, and road oiling was practically unknown outside of Los Angeles County, California, where 6 miles of road were oiled in 1898 to lay the dust "which, churned beneath the wheels of yearly increasing travel during the long dry season in that region, had become a most serious nuisance."[9] The Queens Chapel Road had a surface of sandy clay and loam. This was shaped up and sprinkled with oil delivered by an ordinary water-sprinkling wagon.

The ordinary sprinkling wagon was found quite satisfactory, especially as the weather was warm, so that the oil ran quite fast enough to be gradually taken up by the surface and not so fast that it would flow into the side ditches, as would have been the case had the required amount been applied at once.[10]

The oil used for this experiment was "that which is left of crude petroleum after such volatile substances as naptha, kerosene, benzine and gasoline have been extracted." The results of the treatment appeared to be good, but the OPRI elected to reserve judgment on its ultimate effectiveness:

This road was treated several weeks ago, and so far as we are now able to judge the new system is a success as a dust layer. We believe that where roads have so much traffic and dust as to require the use of the sprinkling cart in dry weather, the residue oil, or roadbed oil, as it is called by dealers, could be used very effectively and economically. The fact that it settles the dust and kills weeds was first recognized and utilized by the West Jersey and Seashore Railroad. It is now being applied annually to about thirty of the leading railroads throughout the country, and its use is being gradually extended to the ordinary country roads. It is claimed by some that the application of crude oil will make a surface impervious to water, and consequently comparatively free from frost and mud. If this be the case, oil will supersede gravel and stone in the improvement of country roads. The test of time alone can settle this very much disputed question.[11]

Out of these early experiments there gradually evolved a new program, the object of which was not so much to demonstrate good construction practice as to acquire new knowledge and experience.

In 1908 the OPR began a study to determine whether blast furnace slag could be made into a suitable road aggregate by mixing it with lime, limestone, tar or asphaltic road oil. This investigation had an immense economic potential, since about 20 million tons of slag were produced annually in the United States, most of which had no commercial value.

Between 1908 and 1916, the OPR supervised or participated in the construction of several dozen experimental roads, ranging from earth-oil mixtures to Portland cement concrete and paving brick. These were inspected periodically and their service evaluated and correlated with the laboratory records of the materials that went into them. Eventually the OPR engineers drew up specifications for each type of construction based on their experiences with these experimental roads and the numerous object lesson roads. These specifications were published in bulletins, some of which went into five editions, and were widely used by counties, States and engineering colleges as references. In particular, the OPR's specifications for bituminous road binders became the standards for the industry and were adopted by most of the State highway commissions.

Electric car on steel track at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition at Omaha in 1898.

The Dust Nuisance and Road Preservation
The light duty macadam and gravel roads constructed during the Good Roads Movement served their purpose very well until appreciable numbers of automobiles began to use them.[N 1] Many engineers, Page among them, were convinced that the solution to this troublesome problem lay in using something other than stone dust or clay as a binder for stone and gravel roads. Hot-laid asphalt paving had been used on city streets in Europe and the United States since the early 1870's, but was considered far too expensive for country roads. However, liquid materials containing bitumen cement, such as petroleum, coke-oven tar and water-gas tar, were plentiful and cheap and seemed promising as dust layers.

An opportunity to test these materials came in 1905 when the Madison County Roads Association and the city engineer of Jackson, Tennessee, sought the OPR's cooperation in experiments to determine the value of coal tar and petroleum oils for building dustless roads. Page agreed to participate by supplying expert supervision and the facilities of the OPR laboratory. The Tennessee experiments were moderately successful, and 3 years later, in 1908, the tar and residual petroleum oil (asphalt) treatments were pronounced "on the whole very satisfactory," but the crude oil treatment had disappeared, leaving the roads as dusty as ever.[13]

  1. In 1900 there were 8,000 automobiles in the United States. By 1905 there were 77,400 autos and 1,400 trucks. By 1910 motor vehicles had multiplied six times, to 468,500, and by 1915 the total was 2,491,000.[12]

The dust nuisance.

In the summer of 1907, the OPR joined with the Massachusetts Highway Commission to make experimental application of water-gas tar and coal tar on the main New York to Boston highway and also co-operated with Warren County and Bowling Green, Kentucky, to investigate the fitness of rock asphalt as a binder for macadam.

These projects all pointed to the need for a more systematic knowledge of bituminous products and methods for using them. To get some of this knowledge, the OPE, arranged a cooperative research project with Cornell University at Ithaca, N.Y., to test the relative value, under practically uniform conditions, of different bituminous road binders applied by different methods. As its contribution to the project, the OPR added two chemists to its laboratory staff and stepped up its testing and research on asphalts and tars.

The field tests showed that both the penetration method and the mixing method of making bituminous macadam surfaces gave good results. The laboratory studies were especially fruitful:

Through its laboratory work the Office has been able to offer valuable advice in regard to specifications for bituminous road binders and in many instances to frame such specifications upon the request of various public bodies.

Many worthless road preparations have been and are at present being manufactured and sold to the public through ignorance on the part of both producer and consumer with regard to the requisite characteristics of such materials to meet local conditions. These materials are sold under trade names, and as a rule carry no valid guarantee of quality. Specifications for such materials are therefore needed for the protection of the public.... Some manufacturers have already followed the work of the Office along this line, and are either manufacturing materials in accordance with specifications of the Office or stand ready to do so upon request.[14]

In succeeding years the dust abatement program was enlarged, until by 1916, the OPR was involved in experiments on 28 roads in 11 States and the District of Columbia. Gradually, the emphasis shifted from "dust prevention" to "road preservation," and the building up of tar or asphalt wearing courses over macadam, slag or gravel bases. This led to the general adoption of bituminous surfaces wherever automobiles were an appreciable portion of the total traffic.

In 1909 the science of producing Portland cement concrete was in its infancy. This early rotary mixer was used at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

The Office of Public Roads' dust prevention and experimental roads programs were the training grounds for the small group of highway engineers and physical scientists who later laid the foundations of soil engineering and pavement design.

Dragging the Dirt Roads
Dirt roads will not stand up under traffic unless they are shaped and kept free of ruts so that water will shed quickly and not soak in and soften the roadbed. Even before the Civil War, some township supervisors were smoothing their roads by dragging them with "a stick of timber, shod with iron, and attached to its tongue or neap obliquely, so that it is drawn over the road 'quartering,' and throws all obstructions to one side."[15]

Applying bitumen on a stretch of road at Cornell University in 1910.

About 1905, D. Ward King, of Maitland, Missouri, improved on this simple device by splitting the timber lengthwise and positioning the two halves, one ahead of the other, to make a rigid platform. A typical King drag was made from an 8-inch log split down the middle; the two halves were held about 3 feet Coal tar and crude oil experiments.

apart by struts and the lower edge of the front log was shod with a 1,4-inch steel cutting plate. A hitching chain attached to the front log could be adjusted so that the drag would move earth to either side of the road as the device was pulled behind a team. This drag could be made on the farm for about $2.[16]

The King split-log drag was a surprisingly effective maintenance machine. After a little instruction and practice, an average farmer could easily drag 6 to 8 miles of road per day and could keep a well-graded dirt road in good shape for light traffic for as little as $8 per mile per year. The appearance of the King drag coincided with Director Page's decision to place greater emphasis on earth and sand-clay roads in the object lesson road program, so Page decided to promote dragging as well. In 1906 he had King write a manual on how to make and use the split-log drag. This was published by the Department of Agriculture as a Farmer's Bulletin, and thousands of copies were distributed. The OPR assigned experts to deliver lectures and make demonstrations in the use of the drag. A number of States passed "King Drag Laws" authorizing the township supervisors to contract with abutting farmers to drag the public roads.[17]

This activity, in a few years, brought about a remarkable improvement in the condition of the country dirt roads and brought home to the local supervisors, as nothing else had before, the importance of prompt and intelligent maintenance.

Experimental Maintenance
In 1911 the French roads were not only the best in the world, but were also the best maintained. Maintenance was strongly centralized and closely supervised; every road was divided into short segments of a few kilometers, each the full-time responsibility of a paid patrolman who lived nearby, usually within walking distance. Page wanted to try out the French system under American conditions, and in 1911 at his recommendation, the Secretary of Agriculture contracted with Alexandria County, Virginia, for a 2-year experimental maintenance project to include 8 miles of earth roads. Under this contract, the county supervisors agreed to shape up the roads and put them in good condition, after which the OPR hired a local farmer as a patrolman to maintain the roads under OPR supervision. The patrolman was paid $60 per month plus an extra $1 per day whenever he used his team for dragging.

The roads selected for the experiment—Columbia Pike and the Mount Vernon Road—were among the heaviest-traveled in the county,[N 1] yet the patrolman kept them in first-class condition most of the time at a cost of $95.77 per mile per year.[18] This, however, was far more than the average rural county was spending to maintain its roads. In the final analysis, this experiment demonstrated not so much the efficiency of the patrol system as the desirability of more durable surfaces for all but the very lightest-trafficked roads.

  1. One section near Fort Myer carried 173 wagons and 96 cavalry horses per day, plus a few runabouts.

The Washington-Atlanta Maintenance Demonstration Road
The Alexandria County experiment was the beginning of a major effort by the OPR to raise maintenance standards in the counties. By 1912, a decade of promotion by the good roads associations, the motorists, and the Office of Public Roads and others had trebled the funds available annually for roadbuilding. Hundreds of counties had issued bonds to finance road programs, and about half of the States had State-aid programs, some of which were financed by State bond issues.[N 1] Roads were improved with borrowed money faster than the supervisors could arrange to take care of them, and in this emergency, the counties turned to the OPE for advice and assistance.

To meet this demand, Page set up a Division of Maintenance in the OPR under Edwin W. James which embarked on an ambitious program of instruction and demonstration. James' engineers studied the details of State maintenance in States that had effective highway departments and also in selected counties, some with good maintenance programs and some with poor ones. They also persuaded a number of strategically located counties with new bond-financed roads to introduce adequate maintenance on one selected demonstration road in each county, the work to be under OPR supervision.

Knowing who is responsible for the condition of the road and appealing to the pride of the patrolman.

The capstone of the maintenance program was a mammoth demonstration road, involving 49 counties in Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia, the purpose of which, in Page's words, was "conducting an object lesson in road maintenance on a sufficient scale to attract general attention, and at the same time render the largest amount of assistance at the least relative cost to the Office of Public Roads ..."[20] Under the plan adopted for this "Washington-Atlanta Highway," a continuous route between these cities was traced over existing county roads, the combined length of which was 1,038 miles. The participating counties agreed first to put the selected roads in good condition and then to accept the supervision of an engineer assigned by the OPR who would approve all maintenance expenditures.

Removing the ridge with a drag after a cultivator has loosened the material.

The work began in the spring of 1914 with only 723 miles under the cooperative plan and three experienced engineers detailed by the OPR to supervise the work. The experiment continued until 1917 when the OPR had to withdraw its engineers for more urgent work. The success of the maintenance plan was attested by the fact that, from March 1915 through June 1916, a total of 876 miles of road had been under OPR supervision and "had not been closed to traffic at any point, even in the winter months,"[21] and by the adoption of the OPR maintenance methods by many other counties not on the Washington–Atlanta route.

Among these last was a group of 13 counties in North Carolina which joined with the State Highway Commission in 1916 to petition for OPR supervision over a proposed Central Highway from Morehead City to Statesville, about 338 miles. The OPR assigned two engineers to this project until the United States' entry into the European war made it necessary to withdraw them.

The Problems of Road Management
The OPR's four road construction demonstration teams could fill only a fraction of the requests for object lesson roads. However, in many cases what was needed was not so much a demonstration road as good advice from a road expert. After 1904 Page began detailing experienced engineers, upon request, as consultants to counties to get them started properly on their road programs. These assignments, each lasting from 2 days to a week, covered every conceivable aspect of road engineering and management and occupied most of the time of the OPR special agents.

  1. There were $229.44 million of local road and bridge bonds and $115.32 million of State bonds outstanding on January 1, 1915.[19] Many of the roads financed by county bond issues were improved to make them eligible as free rural mail delivery routes.
In time, Page and his aides came to realize that advising the counties on specific road problems did little to improve the overall competence of road management, Therefore, in 1908, the OPR began a more comprehensive approach which is best described in Page's own words:

As an example of this work, San Joaquin County, Cal., may be mentioned. At the request of the proper authorities an engineer was detailed to make a comprehensive study of all conditions affecting the highways of that county. About three months were required for this work, during which time his salary was paid by the Government and his local expenses by the community. The final report, besides containing a full and detailed description of the existing conditions, embodied also detailed recommendations for a system of improvements in road administration, construction, and maintenance within the reach of the people and which they have since adopted. A bond issue of about $1,800,000 was voted to provide the necessary revenues, and a system of roads is now under construction which will place San Joaquin County among the foremost counties of the State in the matter of transportation facilities.[22]

The "model systems" program was an instant success. By assigning as many engineers as he could spare from other work, Page in 10 years was able to assist 144 counties in 28 States to reorganize and modernize their road operations. Most of these counties sold bonds to finance a start on the programs recommended by the OPR advisers.

County patrolmen in New York were responsible for 2 to 8 miles of road and were paid $3 per day in 1914.

Bennington County, Vermont, carried the model system idea one step further. In 1912, 69 of the 74 road officials of the county, with the approval of the State Highway Commissioner, petitioned the OPR to detail an engineer for 1 year to supervise all road work in the county and its townships. Page assigned an engineer in 1913, who was in effect the County Engineer, in direct charge of all road work carried on in the county. This arrangement, one of the most extraordinary in U.S. highway history, lasted until December 1913. "The officials of Bennington County were so pleased with the results of this object-lesson supervision that they have since employed an engineer to take charge of the road work of the county."[23]

The Shortage of Highway Engineers
The Bennington County experience pointed up one of the most serious problems of this period—the general lack of engineering expertise at the county level. Some critics asserted that, because of this lack, from one-quarter to one-third of all the money spent on the country roads was wasted. Most of this waste came about because the roads were originally poorly located or poorly drained, and these errors were perpetuated when the roads were later upgraded. Repeatedly, in its bulletins and expert advice, the OPR urged that the old locations be revised to reduce grades and unnecessary curvature, and to improve drainage before expensive bond-financed surfacing was undertaken. Such improvement required engineering study and advice.

Many, perhaps most, counties thought they were too poor to afford an engineer. Others didn't really want one for fear he might lead them into expensive road schemes that would raise taxes. Still others clung to the ancient tradition of amateur supervision of inefficient statute labor. Those counties that wanted to hire engineers had difficulty finding them, since the supply of civil engineers with highway training was exceedingly small.

The shortage was so serious that Director Dodge in 1903 had recommended that Congress establish in Washington, in connection with the Office of Public Road Inquiries, a National School for Roadbuilding, similar to the famous School of Bridges and Roads which had trained French road engineers since 1747. This institution, as envisioned by Dodge, would be "... a post-graduate school, where graduates in civil engineering from the land-grant colleges could secure a thorough course in theoretical and practical road building.... The American school of road building should include a series of lectures by experts of this Office, and some practical work in the road-material laboratory and in connection with the object-lesson road work of the Office in different parts of the country."[24] Most of the students would be employees of the States, counties and cities who would return to these agencies after completing their training.

This school was never established, but after he became Director, Page obtained Department approval for a training program under which a limited number of young civil engineering graduates, after taking competitive examinations, were appointed to the position of civil engineer student in the OPR, at a salary of $600 per year. These young men learned practical roadbuilding in the field with the OPR's object lesson road teams. They received instruction in testing road materials in the laboratory and were detailed as assistants in the OPR's other activities to learn by doing. After 1 year in the training program, they were eligible for promotion to junior highway engineer without further examination.[25]

Despite the small compensation, the OPR had no trouble recruiting all the civil engineer students it needed. Over a period of 10 years, some 70 engineers were hired, of whom about 36 resigned within a year of completing their training to accept positions with colleges, counties and State highway departments. Page accepted these losses philosophically:

... the engineers after a few years' training in the office are in great demand for State and county work. The practice of permitting these engineers to resign is detrimental in one sense to the service, in that the office is constantly losing some of its best men, but the benefits derived by the various States and counties through the distribution of trained men to all sections of the country are so great as to be a vindication of the wisdom of this project.[26]

Page also realized that his ability to expand the Federal good roads effort would depend on attracting additional experienced engineers to his staff. His first acquisition was Arthur N. Johnson, the able highway engineer of the Maryland Roads Commission.[N 1] Johnson agreed to take over the supervision of the OPR's far flung field operations. Later, Page got Edwin W. James, who had supervised road work in the Philippines, to transfer to the OPR from the War Department. However, in the long run, the major source of recruitment for the OPR's permanent force of engineers was the civil engineer student training program. Page's foresight was forcefully demonstrated 12 years later when the trainees he had selected for this program became the backbone of the Bureau of Public Roads organization for administering the immense Federal-aid appropriations.

Director Page's interest in the education and training of engineers went far beyond his own organization. In 1909 he had the OPR survey the status of highway engineering instruction in all the technical schools and colleges in the United States, and he furnished advisors to help the schools set up practical courses in highway design and construction. The OPR aided a number of schools to set up first-class testing laboratories, and whenever its agents and engineers could be spared from other work, they were detailed to lecture on highway engineering in the colleges.

Federal Roads on Federal Lands
Since the two agencies were in the same department of the Government, it was natural for the Forest Service to turn to the Office of Public Roads for help with its road problems, and the OPR was furnishing occasional advice on forest trails as early as 1905.[27]

However, it was not until 1913 that a formal arrangement was made for the OPR to handle road work in the national forests.[N 2] Congress in 1912 had required that 10 percent of the revenues from the national forests should be spent to construct roads and trails within these forests.[29] By the end of fiscal year 1912, $210,925 had accumulated in the forest road fund, and the Forest Service found that it needed expert advice on where and how to spend the money. The Chief Forester asked Director Page to assign highway engineers to inspect all the existing roads and to recommend how these should be improved and where others should be built. The OPR then assigned five engineers to this work, one for each of five forest districts.

About this time, the Secretary of the Interior also asked for assistance to help with the planning of roads in the national parks. Page responded by placing an engineer and a field survey party in Yosemite National Park during the summer of 1914 and promised to begin work in five other parks as soon as he could find the engineers.[N 3]

  1. Johnson resigned 2 years later to become chief engineer of the Illinois Highway Department, and he subsequently became one of the most distinguished American highway engineers and one of the founders of the science of traffic analysis.
  2. In 1910 the OPR, at the request of the Crater Lake Highway Commission, a private body, assigned a road expert to supervise the construction of a road through the Crater Lake National Forest to the Crater Lake National Park and to plan a system of roads and trails for the Park. This road was financed by county funds and private subscriptions and was not actually Forest Service work.[28]
  3. At this time, there was no National Park Service; each park superintendent reported directly to the Secretary of the Interior and did his own road work, except for Yellowstone where the roads were built by the Corps of Engineers. In 1914 there were 12 national parks.

To handle this sudden increase in workload, Director Page set up a Division of National Park and Forest Roads within the OPR and assigned responsibility for the Division to T. Warren Allen. The work in federally owned areas built up so rapidly that, by 1916, the OPE was maintaining 160 miles of road, constructing 170 miles and making surveys and plans for yet another 477 miles — a total program that was spread over 12 States and Alaska, and which exceeded the programs of a number of State highway departments. This far-flung program would soon receive a major boost from Congress in the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916.

Publicity Adds Momentum to the Good Roads Movement
Most of the OPR's engineers were as much at home on the lecture platform as in the field or the laboratory. The special agents spent most of their time on such work, and they and the Washington Office staff were in great demand as speakers at road conventions and meetings of trade associations and professional groups. Director Page supplied lecturers only upon invitation and then only upon assurance that the meeting had been properly advertised and that the attendance would justify the expense. He was never able to satisfy the demand, even though he doubled and then trebled the number of men assigned to the work. In 1906 the OPR engineers gave about 100 lectures in 14 States. By 1912, 27 lecturers were giving 1,139 lectures which were heard by 208,472 persons in 37 States.[30]

To reach even more people, Page, in 1907, launched an information campaign directed at the rural population. Twenty-five hundred county newspapers co-operated by publishing short practical articles on road construction and maintenance written by the OPR staff. Through this program, Page estimated that he could reach up to 10 million people a year.[31][32]

Important as it was, the OPR publicity was only a small part of a nationwide outpouring of good roads propaganda. The magazine, Good Roads, founded by the League of American Wheelmen, was still the leading publication in the good roads field, but it had many competitors. In 1908 the American Automobile Association (AAA) launched the American Motorist to speak for the rapidly increasing number of automobile owners. Hardly a month passed without an article on good roads appearing in the influential Saturday Evening Post or in Harper's Magazine, and between 1910 and 1915, it is safe to say that no national issue received greater coverage in the country and city newspapers.

Show Business in the Road Business
In 1908 Congress authorized a Government exhibit at the Alaska- Yukon-Pacific Exposition and specifically provided that the Office of Public Roads should be represented. For its part of the exhibit, the OPR prepared a series of scale models, complete with miniature machinery, showing every aspect of roadbuilding. These were supplemented with a handbook, a series of moving pictures and stereopticon slides and a lecture on roads.

The Seattle exhibit of 1909 was so successful that the OPR made up several others like it which were shown at national expositions and fairs in 1910. These boosted the demand still further, so Page arranged to transfer a professional model maker from the Smithsonian Institution to augment the OPR's effort. The models were loaned to various State fairs and expositions, which agreed to cover the cost of installation and transportation. The exhibits were accompanied by an OPR road expert to show the slides and give lectures. Between 1910 and 1917, the exhibits were shown at over 100 places and were seen by some 2½ million people.

In 1911 the Pennsylvania Railroad offered to provide a "Road Improvement Train" to carry the OPR exhibit throughout the State of Pennsylvania, and arrangements were made with the State Highway Department and the Pennsylvania State College to sponsor the tour. The train consisted of an exhibit car, a lecture car and two flat cars carrying full-sized crushers, rollers, graders and even split-log drags. The train stopped at 165 places during its 2-month tour. The crowds were so large in the larger towns that the lectures had to be held in court houses and opera houses. Over 53,000 people saw the exhibits and heard the lectures.[33]

Not to be outdone by the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Southern and five other eastern and midwestern railroads petitioned the OPR to outfit Road Improvement Trains for them, and these took to the road in 1911 and 1912, carrying the good roads gospel to some 163,000 people in 650 towns. The last Good Roads Train in American history toured the State of Iowa in 1916.

The American Highway Association By 1910 there were literally scores of organizations in the United States devoted to the promotion of good roads. A few of these were strong, effective, and national in scope. The American Automobile Association founded by the motorists in 1902 and the American Road Makers, bringing together State engineers, road contractors and road machinery manufacturers, were in this category. However, many of the good roads associations were primarily pressure groups whose purpose was to get improved roads by influencing legislation. Most of these had no dues-paying members but depended on commercial interests—railroads, materials producers, automobile manufacturers—for financial support.

The interior of the exhibit car of the Road Improvement Train.

Secretary of Agriculture Wilson and L. W. Page visiting the Road Improvement Train October 4, 1911. Page continued his predecessors' policy of furnishing speakers for the annual conventions of the larger good roads associations, but he also saw a need for a larger, permanent umbrella-type organization to encompass the entire Good Roads Movement. In 1910 at Page's invitation, the officials of some 30 State and interstate organizations, including highway departments, railroads, good roads associations, and others, met in Washington and formed the American Association for Highway Improvement, electing Page as its first president, along with a prestigious board of directors.

This Association sponsored the First American Road Congress at Richmond, Virginia, in 1911 which passed strong resolutions recommending:[34]

  • That Congress extend financial aid to the States to encourage them to build and maintain good roads.
  • That no appropriation for road construction should ever be made without proper provision for maintenance afterward.
  • That all States provide for State supervision of main highways through a State highway department, and that liberal financial assistance be given through State aid in the building and maintenance of such roads.
  • That the work of construction and maintenance of all public highways of any locality or State should be under the direction of experienced highway engineers.
  • That all the States enact laws providing for the employment of prison labor for the improvement of public highways.
  • That, for safety of the public, all vehicles be required to display a lighted lamp at night, visible at least 200 feet ahead, and a red light visible from the rear.
  • That the use of the muffler cut-out and the unnecessary use of horns and bells be forbidden in thickly settled sections.
  • That slow-moving traffic be required to drive to the right so that faster vehicles may pass.
  • That uniform speed regulations be adopted by all States, and the local authorities in cities, villages, and towns be prohibited from fixing local speed regulations.
  • That officials responsible for bridges be required to inspect them periodically and post safe weight limits.
  • That all roads be systematically placarded by sign boards giving directions and distances to towns and cities.

A plank bridge in South Carolina a half mile long and too narrow for two teams of horses to pass.

These resolutions were a complete and unambiguous statement of the principles that were to guide the American highway movement for the next 5 years.

In 1912 the Association shortened its name to American Highway Association and joined with the American Automobile Association to sponsor the Second American Road Congress. The Third and Fourth American Eoad Congresses followed in 1913 and 1914.

A number of State highway commissioners and chief engineers assumed very active roles in the American Highway Association, but most of the State men felt a need for an organization more specifically tailored to their needs. Such an organization, with membership restricted to the chief officials of the State highway departments and their staffs, was proposed by Virginia's Commissioner of Highways, George P. Coleman, in January 1914. Page endorsed the idea, although he had hoped the State officials would organize within the framework of the American Highway Association, and in March 1914 he wrote to Mr. Coleman:

It has become increasingly apparent to me during the past few years that some medium should be provided for bringing the heads of the various State Highway Departments and of this office into closer touch, for the consideration of questions of mutual interest. Some sort of organization is, to my mind, highly desirable, but I think the best results can only be obtained by limiting the membership strictly to official heads of departments and their immediate staff, thus making the organization strictly official and enabling full and frank consideration of questions, particularly those of a technical character untrammeled by commercialism or popular prejudices.[35]

With Page's blessing, the formation of the new body was assured, and in December 1914 the American Association of State Highway Officials was organized "for the purpose of providing mutual cooperation and assistance to the State highway departments and the several States and the Federal Government, as well as for the discussion of legislative, economic and technical subjects pertaining to the administration of such departments." [36]

One of the first acts of the newly formed association was to instruct the executive committee to prepare, for the consideration of Congress, a bill authorizing Federal aid to highways.


  1. L. Page, The Selection of Materials for Macadam Roads, Proceedings of the Third American Road Congress (Detroit, Mich., Sept.–Oct. 1913), (Waverly Press, Baltimore, 1914) p. 170.
  2. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1919, pp. 34, 35.
  3. AASHO—The First Fifty Years, 1914-1964 (American Association of State Highway Officials, Washington, D.C., 1965) pp. 322-330.
  4. M. Eldridge, Public-Road Mileage, Revenues and Expenditures in the United States in 1904, Bulletin No. 32 (Office of Public Roads, Washington, D.C., 1907) pp. 16-18.
  5. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1904, pp. 442, 443.
  6. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1909, p. 7.
  7. A. Rose, Historic American Highways—Public Roads of the Past (American Association of State Highway Officials, Washington, D.C., 1953) p. 92.
  8. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1905, pp. 427, 428.
  9. A. Rose, supra, note 7, p. 101.
  10. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1900, p. 287.
  11. Id.
  12. 1971 Automobile Facts and Figures (Automobile Manufacturer's Association, Detroit, 1971) p. 18.
  13. Office of Public Roads, Progress Reports of Experiments With Dust Preventives, Circular No. 89 (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Washington, D.C., 1908) p. 26.
  14. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1910, pp. 785, 786.
  15. W. Gillespie, A Manual of the Principles and Practice of Road-Making (A. S. Barnes, New York, 1871) p. 191.
  16. Office of Public Roads, The Road Drag and How It Is Used, Farmers' Bulletin 597 (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Washington, D.C., 1914) p. 5.
  17. Kansas King Drag Bill, American Highways, Vol. 1, No. 10, Mar. 1907, p. 277.
  18. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1913, p. 9.
  19. Office of Public Roads, Public Road Mileage and Revenues in the United States, 1914, Bulletin No. 390 (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Washington, D.O., Jan. 12, 1917) p. 3.
  20. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1914, p. 6.
  21. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1916, p. 4.
  22. BPR, supra, note 6, p. 27.
  23. BPR, supra, note 20, p. 4.
  24. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1903, p. 332.
  25. BPR, supra, note 8, pp. 434, 435.
  26. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1911, p. 28.
  27. BPR, supra, note 8, p. 434.
  28. BPR, supra, note 26, pp. 25, 26.
  29. Agricultural Appropriation Act of 1912 (37 Stat 288).
  30. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1912, pp. 33, 34.
  31. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1907, pp. 22, 27.
  32. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1908, p. 6.
  33. BPR, supra, note 26, p. 42.
  34. American Association for Highway Improvement, Papers, Addresses, and Resolutions Before the American Road Congress (Richmond, Va., Nov. 1911) (Waverly Press, Baltimore, 1912) pp. 187-190.
  35. Supra, note 3, p. 50.
  36. Id. p. 52.
8 The Drive for Federal Aid

Rural Free Delivery of U.S. Mail—A Powerful Force for Road Improvement
It is hard for rural residents today to realize the isolation in which most farmers lived in the 19th century. There were then no rural mail delivery, no telephones. One had to go to town, perhaps 4 or 5 miles away, to get a newspaper. If the roads were bad, as they usually were in winter and spring, the rural schools and churches might be only a third filled, and even neighbors might have difficulty communicating with each other.

One of the strongest arguments of the good roads advocates of the 1890's was that good roads would reduce this isolation, and particularly, would make it practical for the Government to deliver mail to the farms, as some European countries had been doing for decades. In 1893, largely through the influence of the State Granges of the Patrons of Husbandry, Congress appropriated $10,000 for an experimental program of rural mail delivery. After some foot dragging by the Postmaster General, who thought the idea impractical, the Post Office Department established the first experimental rural delivery routes from Charlestown, Halltown and Uvilla, West Virginia, on October 1, 1896, and by July 1897, 44 routes were in operation. Congress increased the appropriation to $50,000 in 1898, and thereafter the free delivery system grew rapidly until, by 1903, there were 8,600 carriers traveling 200,000 miles per day and reaching almost 5 million people.[1]

The Department made it a rule that rural delivery would be established only along reasonably good roads and that the carrier need not go out on his route unless the roads were in fit condition for travel. These requirements marshaled public opinion on the side of those who wanted better roads, and hundreds of counties undertook substantial road improvements to get rural delivery. In Texas, for example, 100 fords were replaced by bridges in 1901 and 1902.

Under a 1906 agreement between the Postmaster General and the Secretary of Agriculture, a locality desiring a rural mail route could petition the Office of Public Roads for an engineer inspector to examine the route and recommend whatever was necessary to make it suitable for carrying the mail. It was then up to the local officials to make the improvements, but sometimes the inspector, if requested, might assume temporary supervision of the work as an object lesson in roadbuilding. Director Page, thus, hoped to greatly extend the OPR's educational work:

As the chief aim and purpose of this Office is to bring about a general and uniform improvement of the country roads throughout the United States, a cooperative plan such as the one described above offers the best possible means of achieving positive results in furtherance of that purpose. By this means correct methods of road building and road maintenance will be introduced into practically every section of the United States.[2]

Important as these efforts were, they did not satisfy the skyrocketing demand for rural delivery service. Congress was generous with funds to operate and extend the free delivery system—in fact, it consistently appropriated more than the Post Office Department asked for—but the problem was really one of roads on which to carry the mails and not one of financing the postal service. This was realized by Congressman Walter P. Brownlow of Tennessee, who in 1903 introduced a bill that would provide $20 million annually in Federal aid to States or counties for the building of post roads. The grants would have to be for specific roads, and the State or county applying for aid would have to agree to pay one-half of their costs. Plans and specifications for the aided roads would be drawn by the Federal Government to insure adequate standards, but the contracts for the work could be let and supervised by the State or county.[3]

Brownlow's bill did not become law, but thereafter, for 13 years, bills for some form of national aid to roads were introduced in every session of Congress. One of these, introduced in 1912 by Representative Dorsey W. Shackleford of Missouri, would authorize the spending of $25 million per year out of the Federal fiscal surplus to improve and maintain rural free delivery routes. The aid would be distributed to the counties at the rate of $15 for each mile of graded earth road, $20 for each mile of gravel road, and $25 for each mile of macadam, provided the counties had spent a like amount on these roads in the preceding year.[N 1] The sliding scale would be an inducement to the local authorities to upgrade their roads.[4] Shackleford argued that this aid would actually save the Government money in the long run by reducing the cost of rural delivery which was then losing $28 million per year.[5]

The Shackleford bill passed the House but was lost in the Senate. However, in the same session an experimental appropriation was added to the Post Office Department Appropriation Bill (37 Stat 551) to be spent by the Secretary of Agriculture, in cooperation with the Postmaster General, to improve the condition of certain selected post roads, and thereafter, to determine "the increase in the territory which could be served by each carrier as a result of such improvement, the possible increase of the number of delivery days in each year, the amount required in excess of local expenditures for the proper maintenance of such roads, and the relative saving to the Government in the operation of the Rural Delivery Service and to the local inhabitants in the transportation of their products by reason of such improvement...."

The Act also required that the State or local government receiving aid should put up two-thirds of the total cost and that the Secretary and the Postmaster General should report back to Congress within 1 year the results of their operation and also their recommendations, pro or con, on a general plan of national aid for the improvement of postal roads.

This was a very large assignment for both Departments and one that was to test their negotiating skills to the utmost. Unfortunately, Congress failed to provide either agency with administrative funds to carry out the Act, so they had to secure the necessary engineers and postal inspectors by cutting down on other activities.

Another more important provision of the same Act authorized the appointment of a joint committee of five Senators and five Representatives to make an inquiry into the whole matter of Federal aid to highways and to report back to Congress at the earliest possible date.

  1. In 1912 there were 1,200,000 miles of rural delivery routes in the United States, most of them over dirt roads.
Traffic on an improved post road in Tennessee in 1903.

An earth road near Stafford, Va. that was repaired with pine poles about 1912.

The Complexities of Federal-State-County Cooperation
In order to treat all States equally, and also to get information representative of all parts of the country, the two Departments divided the $500,000 appropriation equally among the 48 States. They then, in a joint letter, notified each governor of the apportionment and asked that he designate about 50 miles of road within his State on which rural delivery was or might be established as an experimental post road. Five governors did not even bother to reply to this request; six refused to participate; and 28 indicated that they were unable to comply for lack of legal powers or because of conflicting State statutes. Two States, Georgia and South Carolina, declined to participate because of Federal statutes requiring an 8-hour work day and the Executive Order of May 18, 1905, barring the employment of convict labor on Government work. In the end, only Alabama, Iowa, and Oregon agreed to designate post roads and accept the Federal subsidy.[6]

By this time, nearly 7 months had passed and no projects were underway, so the two Departments tried a different approach. They decided to select from two to eight locations representative of conditions in various sections of the country and to concentrate the available funds on a few roads in these localities. This plan produced the desired result, and eventually agreements were made for 17 post road projects totaling 457 miles, located in 13 States and 28 counties, but not without practical and legal difficulties. One county in Virginia figured that it could build roads more economically by doing its own work with convicts or by free labor working 10 or 11 hours per day than by accepting the Federal subsidy, and the county canceled its agreement. The original idea of appointing a trustee in each county to hold the funds for each post road, subject to disbursement by a Federal engineer, had to be dropped in some States because of conflict with State laws. The most serious objections came from Minnesota which protested the 8-hour clause in the agreements and appealed the matter to the Attorney General of the United States, who ruled that the work contemplated under the post road program was, after all, not public work of the United States, within the meaning of the statutes, and, therefore, neither the 8-hour law or the prohibition on use of convict labor would apply.[7]

The Secretary of Agriculture turned the supervision of the post road program over to the Office of Public Roads, and Page in turn assigned responsibility to E. W. James, who detailed an engineer to each project to lay out the road, supervise construction, and approve expenditures. Cooperation with the counties was not easy. Unlike Bennington County, Vermont, which had petitioned the OPR to assign an engineer, the cooperating post road counties had surrendered their control over the joint road funds unwillingly and only to get the Federal subsidy. The Secretary and the Postmaster General described some of the difficulties in these words:

From correspondence and from the attitude of the local officials in many places it appears that there is a disposition frequently to avoid the obvious requirements of the present act with respect to Government control over the expenditure of joint funds. The allotments have been looked upon not infrequently in the light of a gratuity, the idea of the post road has been lost sight of, and the question has been frequently raised in the field as to why the Government would not give the money to the counties and let them spend it....

Fiscal procedure in the States and counties, if possible, should be provided for in local statutes, written with Federal aid in mind. The longest delays, the most unsatisfactory conferences, and the most troublesome routine in the execution of the present projects have arisen because the Federal aid and supervision of local funds was not thought of when the fiscal regulations of the States and counties were made.

We find that many States incorporate into their State road laws certain details of design and methods of construction which, in any general distribution of national aid, would at once act as checks on supervision by the National Government....[8]

The first post road to be completed was opened to traffic in 1914. It was a dirt road, extending 14½ miles west from Florence, Alabama, to Waterloo. The program, with congressional extensions, dragged on for four more years, until the last post road, in Dubuque County, Iowa, was opened in 1918. From the start, this program was a very considerable burden on the Office of Public Roads, yet in carrying it out, the OPR learned valuable lessons which Director Page was able to pass on a few years later to the framers of the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916. The most important of these recommendations was that Federal aid should be dispensed only through the 48 States, avoiding the complexities of dealing with the Nation's more than 3,000 counties.

It is worth noting that the post road program of 1912 to 1918 was the Office of Public Roads' first involvement with the Federal policy of inducing social change in the States by means of the public works programs. Later legislation conditioned Federal grants for roads on State compliance with the 8-hour law, the prohibition of convict labor, the use of hand labor methods, the payment of minimum wages, and numerous other requirements that were primarily social.

Although the date is not known, it can be assumed that Director Page made up this model of a State highway department about the time that he made his recommendation on the 1916 Federal Aid Road Act.

The Lincoln Highway
The Glidden Tours and the exploits of the Pioneer Freighter inspired a growing interest in motorable long-distance roads among the rapidly increasing class of automobile owners. In 1912 Carl G. Fisher, builder of the Indianapolis Speedway, conceived the idea of a "coast-to-coast rock highway" as a way to dramatize the need for interstate roads. He was able to get support for this idea from some of the foremost leaders of the automotive and allied industries, and in July 1913, Fisher and his supporters formed the Lincoln Highway Association to carry out the scheme and collect public subscriptions to pay for it. The Association then selected what they considered the most direct route across the mid-United States beginning at New York and proceeding by way of Philadelphia, Chicago, Omaha, Cheyenne, and Salt Lake City to San Francisco, a total distance of about 3,150 miles.[9]

The Association recruited members in all of the towns along the route, and, with thoroughgoing efficiency, appointed able and influential local citizens as "consuls" to promote the improvement of the various sections of the route. The result was a rich harvest of local and national publicity and sizable cash contributions as well.

The Lincoln Highway Association collected millions of dollars from the public, but its officers had no illusions that they would ever be able to get enough to build the highway from this source. Their primary purpose was to educate the public to the need for better roads and build political support for national aid to good roads. As a vehicle for this educational campaign, they adopted Roy Stone's tried and tested technique of object lesson roads. The funds donated to the Association were used to finance "seedling miles" distributed throughout the length of the route. The first of these, begun October 1914, near the village of Malta, Illinois, was a cement concrete pavement, and many of the others were of similar high types suitable for heavy traffic.

The Lincoln Highway inspired a tremendous amount of argument both for and against long-distance roads. The rural interests generally were against them, claiming that the Nation would be drained of funds to build a few "peacock alleys" for the enjoyment of wealthy tourists. Urban spokesmen said the country had been too long in bondage to the medieval English concept that roads were the responsibility of the smallest and weakest units of government, namely, the road districts, townships, and counties, and that the Federal Government should assume responsibility for "national routes."

Among the most active of the national roads advocates was the National Highways Association, an organization its enemies claimed was dominated by the road machinery, road materials, and portland cement interests. This Association published a map showing a recommended 50,000-mile system of national roads extending from coast to coast and from Canada to the Gulf, which it claimed should be the responsibility of the Federal Government to build and maintain.[N 1][10] Such a system, proponents claimed, would not lay any additional expense on the States and counties but, rather, would relieve them of the cost of keeping up their heaviest trafficked roads, leaving more of the local funds to spend on the local roads.

  1. This idea was 30 years ahead of its time and was not realized until the Interstate System was authorized in 1944.

With the spring thaw, roads such as this one in Michigan about 1916 annually became impassable because of the mud.

The American Automobile Association took a strong position in favor of Federal aid and against dissipating the Federal funds in driblets over the more than 2 million miles of local roads:

... we advocate the main roads to be built first, and those are the two fundamental principles that this Association is working for: that the government should aid, and that the government money should be spent only on the main thoroughfares and should not be dissipated by trying to spend it on 2,000,000 miles of road ... we believe that this work should not of necessity be done by the government, but that the State highway officials, in cooperation with the government, should agree on the roads, the plans, and the specifications, and on the various features of the contract.[11]

The Evolution of a National Policy on Federal Aid
When the Post Office Appropriation Act of 1912 was passed, it was already apparent to most Congressmen that some form of Federal aid to roads was inevitable. The real questions before Congress were how much the aid should be and the form in which it should be granted. The experimental post road appropriation and the congressional joint committee were measures designed to get some answers to these questions, but in the end, the inevitable Federal-aid bill was hammered out on the anvil of political compromise.

The legislators appointed to the Joint Committee on Federal Aid in the Construction of Post Roads represented all shades of opinion from extreme national road advocates to local road supporters. The Committee held hearings and drew heavily on the files of the State Department and the Office of Public Roads for information on the economic and social importance of roads and how they were administered in the United States and the advanced countries of Europe. They learned, for example, that in the United States the average haul for farm products to market or to the nearest railroad station was 9 miles; and the average cost of hauling over the existing country roads was 21 cents per ton-mile. By comparison, it cost French farmers only 8 cents per ton-mile to haul farm products over their macadam roads. The difference, or 13 cents per ton-mile, was in effect a financial burden laid on American producers and consumers alike by bad roads, a "mud tax" that was costing the country $504 million annually. At 6 percent, this loss represented the interest on $8.4 billion, which, according to some economists, might profitably be spent annually to improve the roads instead of the niggardly $204 million spent in 1912.[12]

The Committee received testimony on the effect of bad roads on the education of rural children, the quality of rural life, and migration of young people from the farms to the cities ; and on the value of farm land, the labor of horses, and the wear and tear on wagons and draft gear, and the motorization of farm transportation. They sent inquiries to people in all walks of life in all parts of the country, and of 10,000 replies, 97 percent were in favor of some form of Federal aid.

The Joint Committee's work stretched out far longer than Congress had anticipated and was not completed when the 63d Congress convened in 1914. This did not discourage the proponents of Federal aid, who poured a steady stream of bills into the legislative hopper in the first session. In all, 10 bills were introduced in the Senate and 39 in the House. These bills covered the whole spectrum of thinking on the Federal-aid question. At one extreme was Alabama Senator John H. Bankhead's bill to set up a National Bureau of Highways in Washington to spend $25 million per year on a national highway system. At the other end was a bill by Senator Hoke Smith of Georgia to classify all the rural mail routes according to the type of surfacing and then pay each State $60 annually for each mile of Class A (macadam) road, $30 per mile for Class B (gravel), and $15 per mile for Class C (earth), as "rental" for the use of the roads to carry the U.S. mail. A novel plan offered by Senator Jonathan Bourne, Jr., of Oregon would apportion $1 billion among the States according to four factors. Under this complicated plan, the Federal Government would lend part of the money to the States at 4 percent interest and the remainder would be a subsidy for State roads. This was to be accomplished by the issuance of both State and Federal Government bonds over a long period of time.

Through this welter of different Federal-aid plans there ran a thin thread of agreement on three matters:

  • The amount of Federal aid should be from $20 to $25 million annually.
  • The aid should be apportioned among the States according to some formula. (The most popular formula was one-third of the funds according to population, one-third according to geographic area, and one-third according to the mileage of post roads.)
  • The aid should be matched by State contributions, with 50-50 the most favored ratio.

Eventually the House passed a modified version of the "ABC Rental Plan" offered by Representative Shackleford of Missouri, but this bill was lost in the Senate reportedly because of the opposition of the American Automobile Association and big city interests.[13]

State Highway No. 1 (now 1-25) in New Mexico in 1915 with a 6 percent grade into Nogal Canyon.

In support of his plan to subsidize the lesser rural roads, Shackleford used an argument that would have repercussions for years afterward in the design of highways. He asserted that there are two types of roads: "touring roads" and "business roads," and that the two are somehow incompatible in the same system of highways. In 1913, at the Third American Road Congress he said:

It can not be doubted that an overwhelming majority of the people want federal road legislation; but, unfortunately, they radically differ in opinion as to what such legislation should provide. They are divided into two general classes, which for the purposes of this discussion may be designated as the 'touring-roads' class and the 'business-roads' class. The 'touring-roads' class is marching under a banner upon which is inscribed in letters of gold: 'See America first.' The 'business-roads' class is marshaling its forces under a flag which bears the legend: 'Cheaper transportation and lower cost of living.'...

The 'touring-roads' class demands that the United States shall limit its road activities to the construction and maintenance of a few 'ocean-to-ocean' and 'across-country' highways of great perfection and then leave the rest of the people to build their own roads or do without, as they may choose.

The 'business-roads' class believes that in dealing with roads we must keep in mind their functions and the relation which they bear to the general transportation system of the country ; that, as the harbor is the terminus of the river and the railroad, so, for practical purposes, the railway station is the terminus for roads; that neither freight nor passengers will ever be carried long distances over roads as cheaply as they could be over railways, and that it is an idle dream to imagine that auto trucks and automobiles will take the place of railways in the long-distance movement of freight or passengers; that the proper function of roads is not to connect antipodal oceans nor the distant capitals of far-away States, but to make easy communication between the farms on one hand and the towns and railway stations on the other, to the end that the farmer may market his crops at less expense and the town dweller may get farm products more easily at less cost. They therefore favor a general system of roads radiating from the towns and railway stations out among the farms.[14]

In later years, in a different context, and in somewhat different form, Shackleford's arguments would be used to oppose parkways, highway beautification and long-distance freeways.

In their report of January 21, 1915, the members agreed unanimously on the need and desirability of Federal aid and its constitutionality, but not on any specific policy for Congress to follow in granting such aid. The Committee failed to come to grips with the question of how much aid should be granted, other than to counsel that Federal aid should be undertaken in a large way rather than a small, haphazard way. They warned that small contributions spread over a large mileage would create a "pork barrel" that would dissipate the Federal funds without any permanent upgrading of the roads. The Committee also came out against centralization of control over the road program in Washington.

Prophetically, the Committee declared, "We believe that permanent highways will result in very considerable adoption of auto-truck hauling in preference to rail transportation where the distance is within a half day's run."[15]

Federal Aid Becomes A Reality
Among the first bills introduced into the 64th Congress in January 1916 was Representative Shackleford's H.R. 7617, providing that "the Secretary of Agriculture, on behalf of the United States, shall, in certain cases, aid the States in the construction and maintenance of rural post roads." This bill proposed to appropriate $25 million annually, out of which each State would receive at least $65,000. The remainder would be apportioned one-half in proportion to population and one-half in proportion to the mileage of rural free delivery (RFD) and star post routes. The locations and standards of the aided roads were to be agreed upon between the Secretary of Agriculture and the States, and earth, sand-clay, and other low cost surfaces would be eligible for the subsidy, as well as higher types, and the Federal share of the cost would be not less than 30 percent nor more than 50 percent. To receive Federal aid after 1920, each State would have to have a State highway department to administer the Federal funds. Finally, the construction and maintenance of the aided roads would remain under State control.

Other good roads bills were introduced in the 64th Congress, but Shackleford's H.R. 7617 attracted the most support. Its author had been cochairman of the Joint Congressional Committee, and he was now chairman of the newly formed House Committee on Roads. He had come to realize that compromise between the long-distance roads and local roads advocates would be necessary to pass any Federal-aid bill. His new bill had the support of the American Association of State Highway Officials, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Postmaster General, and the Office of Public Roads, all of whom opposed the ABC rental plan so dear to Shackleford's heart.

When the Shackleford bill reached the floor of the House, there was no opposition to it on constitutional grounds, and almost everybody was satisfied that ownership and responsibility for roads should remain with the State and local governments. There was also general agreement that the Government should deal only with States through a highway department. Debate revolved almost entirely about the formula for apportioning the funds among the States, and the exclusion of places of more than 2,500 population from the benefits of the act.[N 1]

Opponents of the bill claimed that the apportionment formula gave the wealthier States, which contributed most of the Federal revenues, less than their fair share of the post road benefits, and they were particularly bitter that the cities, which contributed a very large share of the revenue in all States, got nothing at all from the bill. The rural road advocates replied that the wealthy States and the cities had already received more than their fair share of the national income in other forms, such as expensive post offices and public buildings, harbor improvements, veterans' pensions (one-third of the pensioners lived in six eastern States, practically none in the south) and, most of all, in shelter of their industries behind a high protective tariff.

Despite the opposition, the Shackleford Bill, with some changes, passed the House by a good margin and was carried unanimously in the Senate. It became law July 11, 1916.

The principal changes in the bill were to reduce the funding and change the apportionment factors to one-third according to area, one-third according to population, and one-third according to post road mileage. The Secretary of Agriculture was allowed to take 3 percent off the top of all appropriations for administration. No Federal aid was to be apportioned to any State until its legislature had assented to the provisions of the Act, but after that, the Secretary would pay one-half of the actual cost of any approved project, including the cost of bridges and culverts, up to $10,000 per mile. After completion of the aided road, it would be the duty of the State to properly maintain it, and if this were not done, the Secretary could refuse to approve further Federal aid in that State until the road was restored to good condition.

  1. The debate on the Federal-aid bill comprises some 300 pages of The Congressional Record, Vol. 53, 1916.
Congress realized that it would take some time for the States to enact suitable legislation assenting to the Federal Act, to raise matching funds and train personnel for an expanded road program. The Congress, in order to provide time, allowed States with unexpended funds at the close of the fiscal year one additional fiscal year to obligate funds and, for those States that did not have a State highway department, the appropriation would be available until the close of the third fiscal year following the fiscal year for which it was apportioned. The legislators may also have remembered how long it took the Secretary of Agriculture and the Postmaster General to implement the much smaller post road program of 1912. At any rate, they appropriated only $5 million for fiscal year 1917, the first year of the new program, but at the same time, they provided for increasing the amount by $5 million annually up to a maximum of $25 million in 1921.[N 1] Thus, although the amount initially available was not large, Congress, by appropriating for 5 years in advance, made it possible for the States to plan ahead and build up an orderly program. This wise policy has continued down to the present.

Launching the Federal-Aid Program
The Federal Aid Eoad Act of 1916 placed an immense additional responsibility on Logan Waller Page and the Office of Public Eoads and Eural Engineering,[N 2] to whom Secretary of Agriculture Houston delegated the administration of the Act. First, they had to apportion the appropriated funds among the 48 States, and this required that the Postmaster General certify the mileage of rural delivery and star routes in each State. The apportionment was published July 21, 1916, just 10 days after President Wilson signed the Act.

Page and the Department solicitor then drafted tentative regulations for carrying out the provisions of the Act, and invited the heads of all the State highway departments to a conference in Washington to discuss them. The draft regulations did not satisfy everyone, particularly the provisions denying Federal participation in the cost of right-of-way and the cost of making preliminary surveys and plans. However, most of the suggestions made by the State officials were incorporated in the final draft, and the regulations were issued September 1, 1916.

The harmonious cooperation between the Federal and State officials in drafting these regulations was a good omen for the eventual success of the Federal-aid program. Their work was so well done that the regulations were not greatly changed for years afterward, even though the Act itself was very considerably amended.

The Act gave the State highway departments the authority to initiate projects subject to approval of the plans, specifications and estimates by the Secretary. To provide prompt inspection and approval of projects, Page decentralized the OPKEE into ten regional districts, each in charge of an experienced highway engineer. At the same time, he had men at work, in cooperation with the States, preparing standard forms for plans and specifications, and in February 1917 he convened a conference of State testing engineers in Washington to recommend to the States standard specifications and methods of testing road materials.

The OPRRE's administrative diligence was matched by that of those States which already had adequate highway departments. By July 1917, Page's district engineers had received applications from 26 States for Federal aid in the construction of 949 miles of road estimated to cost $5.43 million, the Federal share of which amounted to about $2.43 million, or less than half of the funds appropriated by Congress for fiscal year 1917. Of these projects, 188 miles, with a Federal share of $846,152, had been approved.[17]

Standards for Federally Aided Roads
Representative Shackleford's original bill, which much amended eventually became the Federal Aid Road Act, provided that Federal aid might be used for earth and sand-clay roads, as well as for higher types, "... one of the purposes of this Act being to encourage and promote the improvement of a general system of roads leading from cities, towns and railway stations into the adjacent farming communities."[18] This specific language was eliminated while the bill was under consideration in Congress. Instead, the Secretary of Agriculture was given the power to review and approve State proposals, including road types and standards, subject to the limitation that approved projects should be "substantial in character."

The poorer States of the South and West regarded this limitation with considerable apprehension, fearing that the Secretary might require macadam, concrete or other high types of surfacing for Federal approval. This apprehension may have been reinforced by the fact that the first Federal-aid project approved was a 20-foot concrete road in California. To allay this widespread fear, Secretary Houston, in February 1917, issued a specific statement to the public:

'This department, which is charged with the administration of the Federal Aid Road Act, has placed absolutely no restrictions, either direct or implied, upon the kinds of highways to be constructed. States may submit for approval any kind of road, even an earth road, and approval will be given if the construction be substantial in character, suitable for traffic needs, and meets the terms of the Federal act. To give State legislators and highway officials the impression that this department favors only costly types of road or discriminates in favor of any particular material, results not only in spreading misinformation, but in placing barriers in the way of States which wish to avail themselves of Federal aid in road construction.[19]

This announcement apparently had the desired effect. As of January 1918, 80 percent of the 2,849 miles submitted for Federal-aid approval were for gravel, sand-clay or graded earth roads.

  1. In addition to providing $75 million for Federal aid to post roads, Congress appropriated $10 million for roads and trails in national forests to be spent at the rate of $1 million per year beginning in 1917 under the supervision of the Secretary of Agriculture.
  2. On July 1, 1915, the Department's work on farm drainage, irrigation and farm architecture was merged with the work on roads under a new Office of Public Roads and Rural Engineering (OPRRE) with Logan Waller Page as Director. The working force under Page after the merger was 450 persons, of whom 288 were from the rolls of the old OPR and 162 from other agencies.[16]

A caution sign to drivers to preserve the low type State highway.

The Federal-aid regulations of 1916 contained one rather unusual provision:

Unless otherwise specifically stipulated in the project agreement, bridges, viaducts and under-passes shall have clear width of roadway of not less than 16 feet, and clear head room of not less than 14 feet for a width of 8 feet at the center.[20]

This was one of the few occasions on which the Federal Government chose to set standards for roads. In the years following, the Government let the States set standards by agreement among themselves through the American Association of State Highway Officials and then made adherence to these standards a condition for receiving Federal aid. Thus, strictly speaking, there have never been "national standards" for roads in the United States, such as were established by the governments of France and other European countries.

The Road Census of 1914
The Office of Public Road Inquiries made the first national road inventory in 1904, canvassing not only road mileage, but also revenues and expenditures for construction and maintenance. This information, such as it was, was obtained entirely by correspondence, and before the inventory was over, some 60,000 printed forms and letters were sent out and received by the OPRI. The information was far from complete, and some was of questionable accuracy. In some instances, the county road officials refused to supply the information unless paid for their services, and in such cases, it became necessary to secure the information through postmasters, attorneys, physicians or other private citizens.

The roads in many counties and townships have never been measured, surveyed or recorded, and in such cases it became necessary to secure an estimate of the mileage from persons best informed on this subject in the counties. In some instances no permanent records appeared to have been kept of collections or expenditures of road funds, and in others the records are kept in such manner as to confuse rather than enlighten one in search of information.[21]

Tollgate in Ambrose County near Lynchburg, Va. The sign warns that there is a fine of $10. for exceeding the speed limit of 6 m.p.h. In 1909, the OPR made another inventory by mail, canvassing only the mileage of various types of road surfaces.

By 1914, well over half of the States had highway departments, and Page persuaded these departments to help with the road census by supplying "collaborators" who would collect the information in their States and forward it to OPR. In those States that did not supply collaborators, the OPR collected the information directly from the local authorities, or from local and State road associations, chambers of commerce, automobile clubs, postmasters and private citizens. Apparently, in these States the quality of recordkeeping had improved but little since 1904:

Highway accounting systems and methods, especially in the local subdivisions of States, are, in general, far from satisfactory. In many places the records were found to be so indefinite or so incomplete that the most careful investigation failed to determine even the bare total of what funds had been expended on roads and bridges during the previous years. At times the memory of some official or employee seemed a better guide than the permanent existing records.

Lack of definite data and records by the local subdivisions is even more pronounced as to road mileage. Hundreds of instances were discovered where the local officials could give no more than a rough estimate, as maps had not been prepared or measurement of the roads been made.[22]

Despite these shortcomings, the census of 1914, taken as a whole, was the most accurate and comprehensive inventory of American roads and road finances made up to that time. The most striking finding was an enormous increase in the total annual expenditures on roads and bridges, from $79.62 million in 1904 to $240.26 million in 1914, a large part of which was derived from the sale of bonds.[N 1]

The mileage summary showed that the country's network of rural roads, that is, those outside incorporated cities and towns, had grown from 2,151,379 miles in 1904 to 2,445,760 miles in 1914. Roads surfaced with sand-clay, gravel, macadam or substances other than plain dirt had increased from 153,530 miles in 1904 to 257,291 miles in 1914 but were still only 10.5 percent of the total mileage. Of the surfaced mileage, 32,180 miles, or 12.5 percent, were of dust-free types, such as bituminous macadam, brick or concrete. These, with a few thousand more miles added in 1915 and 1916, would soon be put to the supreme test of wartime traffic.

  1. About $21.0 million of road and bridge bonds had been issued in the 10 years preceding 1904 in five States.[23] In 1914, the total of State and local bridge and road bonds outstanding was $344.76 million, distributed through 42 States. Of this amount, $115.32 million were State bonds issued by New York ($65 million) and 10 other States.[24]


  1. A. Machen, Rural Free Delivery of Mails, Proceedings, North Carolina Good Roads Convention, Bulletin No. 24 (Office of Public Road Inquiries, Washington, D.C., 1903) p. 51.
  2. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1906, p. 23.
  3. M. Dodge, Our National Policy, Proceedings, National Good Roads Convention Held At St. Louis, Mo., Bulletin No. 26 (Office of Public Road Inquiries, Washington, D.C., 1903) p. 20.
  4. Address by Hon. Wm. P. Borland, Proceedings, Third American Road Congress, (American Highway Association, Washington, D.C., 1914) p. 76.
  5. 64 Cong. Rec. 1353 (1916).
  6. Joint Report of The Progress of Post Road Improvement, H. Doc. 204, 63d Cong., 1st Sess., pp. 4, 5.
  7. Id., pp. 19, 20.
  8. Id., p. 13.
  9. A. Rose, Historic American Highways—Public Roads of The Past (American Association of State Highway Officials, Washington, D.C., 1953) p. 109.
  10. D. Shackleford, Federal Road Legislation, Proceedings, Third American Road Congress (American Highway Association, Washington, D.C., 1914) pp. 59, 60.
  11. Proceedings, Fourth American Road Congress (American Highway Association, Washington, D.C., 1915) pp. 26, 27.
  12. Federal Aid To Good Roads, H. Doc. 1510, 63d Cong., 3d Sess., pp. 15-17.
  13. D. Shackleford, supra, note 10, p. 63.
  14. Id., pp. 56, 57.
  15. H. Doc, supra, note 12, p. 15.
  16. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1915, p. 1.
  17. Bureau of Public Roads Annual Report, 1917, p. 3.
  18. H. R. 7617, 64th Cong., 1st Sess., Jan. 6, 1916.
  19. J. Pennybacker & L. Boykin, Federal Aid to Highways, Yearbook of The Department of Agriculture, 1917 (GPO, Washington, D.C., 1918) p. 135.
  20. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rules and Regulations of The Secretary of Agriculture For Carrying Out The Federal Aid Road Act, Circular No. 65 (GPO, Washington, D.C., 1916) p. 10.
  21. M. Eldridge, Public-Road Mileage, Revenues and Expenditures In The United States In 1904, Bulletin No. 32 (Office of Public Roads, Washington, D.C., 1907) p. 7.
  22. Office of Public Roads and Rural Engineering, Public Road Mileage and Revenues In The United States, 1914—A Summary, Bulletin No. 390 (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Washington, D.C., 1917) p. 2.
  23. M. Eldridge, supra, note 21, p. 18.
  24. OPRRE, supra, note 22, pp. 3, 8.

ft Highway /y/tem

The Clouds of War

The United States was only slightly prepared for hostilities when war was declared against Germany April 6, 1917. The total strength of the Army was less than 200,000 men, and most of these were recent enlistments in the early stages of training. Perhaps half a dozen regiments stationed in the Canal Zone and on the Mexican border were at war strength; the rest of the Regular Army was scattered all over the country in battalion-sized garrisons. Some industries had tooled up to produce munitions for the Allies, and America was making large shipments of food to Europe; but these were only token efforts compared to those that would be required to fight a full-scale war.

Within a week of the Declaration of War, President Wilson created the Council of National Defense, con- sisting of the Secretaries of War, the Navy, Agricul- ture, the Interior, Commerce, and Labor, along with an unpaid Advisory Council of industrialists, labor leaders, financiers, and prominent citizens from all walks of life. Boards and committees functioning under the authority of the National Council eventually supervised every aspect of the war effort, including regulation of the national economy.

On May 17, 1917, Congress imposed Selective Service, and the United States set out to build an army of a million men. This national Army was to be trained in 16 huge cantonments, each as large as a good-sized city, complete with railroad tracks and terminals, sewers, waterworks, streets, roads, and housing for 22,000 men. First, however, it was neces- sary to train the officers who would train the men; and for this job the Army built 12 officer training camps at existing military posts. All of this con- struction went on at such a pace that the 12 officer training camps and 9 of the 16 cantonments were completed by June 14, 1917 — just 30 days after the program was started. 1

A drastic industrial expansion paralleled the mili- tary mobilization. Steel mills were expanded. The capacity of portland cement mills was increased to meet the spiraling demand triggered by an immense construction program. Brand new shipyards were built in eastern ports to build steel and concrete ships to replace the dozens sunk each month by German U-boats; and at Sparrows Point, Maryland, Bethle- hem Steel built a city to house its shipyard workers, complete with sewerage, water, and streets. Breakdown of a Lopsided Transportation System The railroads were as unprepared for war as the rest of the country — perhaps more so. For a decade they had been under effective Government regulation, and to preserve competition they had been prohibited from pooling freight or from merging parallel com- peting lines, even where such mergers would have resulted in more efficient systems. The years 1913 and 1914 were a period of sluggish business activity during which the earnings of the railroads had been low and their dividends small. They had had diffi- culty borrowing money for equipment and improve- ment of terminals, and some authorities estimated that the American railroads as a whole were 5,000 locomotives short of the number needed to handle traffic in normal times, especially during the fall harvest.

At the low point of the 1914 recession, the railroads had about 400,000 idle cars. In 1915 traffic began to pick up under the stimulation of war orders from the Allies, and by September 1916, cars were beginning to be scarce. When the United States entered the war, there was a nationwide shortage of about 148,000 cars. 2

Foreseeing trouble ahead, the railway executives met in Washington on April 11, 1917, and "voluntar- ily agreed to merge their 'individual and competitive activities to produce a maximum of national trans- portation efficiency.'" 3 They created the Kailroads' War Board, a committee of five top executives, to coordinate the operations of the mainline railroads and draw up rules for conservation of motive power, joint use of terminals, and the use of embargoes against shipments to areas already choked with loaded cars. The board eliminated unnecessary or competing passenger trains and luxury services. They organized an educational campaign among shippers to promote better utilization of cars* and quicker loading and unloading. By September 1917, these efforts had re- duced the car shortage to about 34,000 cars, and the railroads had moved 16 percent more freight than in the corresponding period of 1916, which itself had been a record year.

Despite the efforts of the Eailroads' War Board, the transportation picture became darker as the fall harvest of 1917 approached, and creeping paralysis began to spread over the railroad system. Coastal ships that normally carried coal from Chesapeake Bay ports to New England were diverted to trans- Atlantic service, throwing an extra load on the rails. Ancient locomotives that had been continued in serv- ice far beyond their normal lifespan began to break down. Traditionally underpaid track labor left the railroads for the warplants, and track maintenance declined to a dangerous level. However, the major bottlenecks appeared at the terminals, which for dense traffic lines, fixed the ultimate limit of the traffic that could be handled. In the words of one executive, "Its terminals are the heart of a transportation sys- tem. If the terminals are inadequate to handle the traffic currently, then congestion follows, traffic is set

  • It was estimated that in 1916 an average carload of less-

than-carload package freight was only 7 tons, whereas the capacity of a properly loaded car was several times that amount. 4

The importance of streets and highways in shipping goods was demonstrated during the war as increasing numbers of trucks carried commercial or military supplies. Below, army trucks wait for a load of tires.

The poor loading of railroad cars added to the general inability of the railroad system to handle all the transportation needs of the war years. off between terminals, the arteries become clogged, and the system fails to perform its functions properly." 5

The terminal tieups came about from a variety of causes. Due to shortage of ships, export freight ac- cumulated in the North Atlantic terminals. Con- tractors for cantonments and shipyards ordered materials forwarded far in advance of their ability to receive and unload them. (At one time over 5,000 carloads of wooden piling were tied up in the Hog Island shipyard waiting to be unloaded.) Feverish demand for materials to keep industry going led manufacturers to purchase raw materials from un- usual markets in excessive quantities, with the result that arrivals were badly bunched and unloading was slow and difficult.

In many terminals antiquated business procedures were a principal cause of congestion. Older cities such as New York had an inadequate number of team tracks where freight could be unloaded directly from the cars into drays and trucks. Most freight con- signed to lower Manhattan, even in carload lots, was unloaded at freight depots and stored there until picked up by the consignee, who was notified by mail of the shipment's arrival. Due to congestion in the mails, the notice might take 3 days to reach the con- signee who then had 48 hours in which to pick up the goods.

Indescribable traffic congestion prevailed around the freight houses. Some trucks stood in line for hours or even days to pick up a few boxes of freight. One count at a Manhattan depot showed 100 drays standing in line at 7 a.m. waiting for loads. Unload- ing from the freight cars was often haphazard, so that a truck driver might have difficulty finding his consignment and then even more trouble getting it to the loading dock.

With freight piling up in the stations, the railroads set off incoming cars in the freight yards, and when these also filled up, on any available empty siding at small towns approaching the city. As these, too, be- came filled, the congestion spread outward as much as 30 or, in extreme cases, 50 miles from the city. Eventually, the railroads were forced to embargo further shipments to that city until some of the con- gestion cleared up.

Toward the end of the war the railroads, then under Government operation, cleared up much of the terminal congestion by instituting "store-door deliv- ery." Under this system, cities were divided into zones. Freight consigned to addresses in these zones was unloaded from the cars into specified areas on the loading docks, where it was picked up by registered trucks and delivered direct to the consignee without prior notice. If the consignee was not ready to accept the shipment, it was taken immediately to a public warehouse and stored at the consignee's expense. By eliminating the free storage at the depot, this system broke the bottleneck in a few weeks. Store-door de- livery also reduced the enormously inefficient waste of tracks and labor waiting for loads at the freight stations.

Unable to get long-haul freight into the cities, the railroads refused to accept short-haul shipments such as milk and produce from the surrounding country, and the food distribution system began to suffer. A few farmers who owned trucks began to drive them into the city with loads of vegetables instead of to the nearest railroad station. At the other end, wholesal- ers and even retailers began to send their own trucks out into the country for loads of produce. The cost per mile was more than for rail shipment, but the delay was less and terminal costs were eliminated at both ends, so they at least broke even on the business.

Birth of the Trucking Industry

Practically every large business in the cities had a few trucks for drayage and deliveries, and by 1917 most of these were power driven.[1] When the city terminals began to choke up, some consignees had their shipments sent to outlying towns and sent their trucks there to receive them, at the same time carrying outgoing shipments. Soon, hundreds of trucks were being used in this way, and the radius of operation was constantly increasing.

Akron, Ohio, tied up with a package freight embargo, broke the embargo by truck hauls to 14 outlying shipping points within a radius of 20 miles. A New York drug firm started making weekly deliveries to Boston in its own trucks. Cleveland manufacturers bought motor trucks and started a motor freight service to bring castings from foundries 20 to 30 miles away. An Akron tire manufacturer found it feasible to deliver to Detroit and Boston by truck, and a new household moving business began operat- ing between Chicago and Milwaukee. Some shippers used trucks for the first part of a haul that would have required two rail carriers, avoiding the transfer between railroads. In June 1917, nine new trucks were driven from Hartford, Wisconsin, to Baltimore — 1,200 miles — under their own power because the manu- facturer couldn't get railroad cars; and in Connecti- cut, when the railroads embargoed certain classes of freight, truck transport made it possible to keep factories open. 6

By August 1917, car shortages and embargoes had diverted so much traffic to trucks that the highways began to show signs of distress. Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and New England had fairly good networks of bituminous macadam roads; but these were of light construction, seldom more than 7 or 8 inches thick, and also were in many places only 14 to 16 feet wide. At this time all trucks ran on solid rubber tires, and since there were no laws against overloading, many were loaded to the full capacity of their engines. Within a few months maintenance costs began to soar, as the thin road crusts wore out and broke through. The States and counties were unable to get railroad cars to haul stone and bitu- minous material, and they increased over-the-road hauling with their own trucks, throwing a further load on the highways. The Connecticut Legislature made an emergency appropriation of $6.5 million just to keep the main highways passable for traffic. Massachusetts spent $2 million on maintenance of State highways alone and $1.25 million for resurfac- ing and strengthening trunk routes. Other States were faced with similar huge expenditures at a time of rapidly escalating costs and labor shortage.

The Plight of the Highway Contractors

The large highway bond issues of 1915 and 1916, plus the prospect of sizable road expenditures under the 1916 Federal Aid Eoad Act, led many experienced and inexperienced contractors into the road business. With the outbreak of war, they immediately began to encounter difficulties in getting materials, especially steel, and in retaining labor on the job. Within a few months material costs advanced 20 to 30 percent and wages of common labor went up to $2.50 and even $3.00 per day. Bailroad car shortages made deliveries of stone and asphalt uncertain. Large numbers of contractors were forced out of business, and others, having completed their contracts, refused to bid for new work.

The virtual collapse of the highway construction industry created a desperate situation for States and counties struggling to keep the roads open in the face of ever-increasing numbers of heavy trucks and dev- astating losses of personnel to war industry and the Army. What made the job particularly heartbreak- ing was the sentiment openly expressed in some seg- ments of the war effort hierarchy that roadbuilding was nonessential work that should be discontinued for the duration of the emergency.

As the summer of 1917 advanced, a coal famine began to develop in the industrial eastern States be- cause of the shortage of railway cars. Production of munitions was beginning to be affected when the Priority Board of the Council of National Defense issued Priority Order No. 2, to be effective November 1, 1917, prohibiting the use of open top cars other than flat cars for shipping supplies, other than coal, for construction, maintenance and repair of public and private highways, streets, and sidewalks or for theaters and other places of amusement. 7 This pe- remptory order, issued without public hearings or other advance warning, struck the States "like a bolt from the blue," at a particularly bad time. It caught them with many miles of new road graded but not surfaced with winter approaching. Despite the fact that trucking had already released thousands of cars for war purposes and the roads in the vicinity of cantonments and ports of embarkation were being pounded to pieces by truck traffic, the Priority Board refused to recede from its position, and road work

At the turn of the 20th century, the Hicks Company in Rockville, Md., was making local deliveries of dry goods. This was a forerunner of the scene on a much larger scale during World War I when local deliveries for all kinds of goods became a demand with the advent of motorized delivery trucks. 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The story of the development of highways and of highway transportation in the United States, as presented here, has been limited largely to the role of the Federal Government in the construction of our Nation's highways under the remarkably successful Federal-aid highway program. As the name indicates, the "Federal-aid" program is one involving joint Federal-State funding and execution of the design and construction of highways on approved systems of interconnected routes in all States. The Federal-State funding varies with the designated system on which the improvement is undertaken, and the States, at their option, may schedule construction without Federal funding and without Federal review.

In the Federal-aid highway program, each of the State highway departments has served as a full and equal partner in that State and merits equal credit for the program accomplishments. This text has recorded the story of the Bureau of Public Roads as one of the partners. The accomplishments of each State highway department in a common and parallel endeavor is a separate story. It has been a truly successful partnership program.

The agency that was to become the Bureau of Public Roads, and ultimately the Federal Highway Administration, was created in 1893 with an initial appropriation of $10,000 per year. The activities of the agency were limited to making "inquiries" among State and local units as to road construction and maintenance practices. The initial "staff" was the Special Agent and Engineer, General Roy Stone, and a clerical assistant, and the first year's expenditures totaled less than $3,000 of the available appropriation. Thus, at the outset, frugality in manpower and administrative expenditures, through the years, characterized the performance of the Federal Government's highway agency, by whatever title it was termed under law.

Initially, the interest of the Federal Government in road improvement was minimal, and years passed before the public demand for improved rural mail delivery service resulted in a Federal enactment of financial aid to the States for improvement of selected post roads. Experimentation in road construction methods and in the use of construction materials was the forerunner of today's sophisticated program of construction and research in the highway industry. The post road improvement program led to the Federal-aid highway program and provided valuable experience which was of assistance to the Congress in its framing of the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916—the first real Federal-aid highway legislation.

Early efforts toward a system of Federal highways, constructed and maintained by the Federal Government, did not prevail. Rather, there developed an underlying concept of State ownership, State responsibility, and State program initiation, with the Federal agency advising and consulting and with the Federal Government providing financial assistance.

The Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 established the partnership role of the State and Federal Governments in a program of Federal aid for highway construction, and the Federal Highway Act of 1921, together with the Post Office Appropriation Act of 1922, provided a multiyear plan of Federal funding for the program—both essential to the continuous program that has endured to the present.

During the time period in which congressional action on the basic highway legislation was evolving, first Logan Waller Page (1905-1918) and then Thomas H. MacDonald (1919-1953) were appointed to be Director of Public Roads and ably developed the Bureau of Public Roads (as it is known to most Americans). Under these two men, the Bureau procedures implemented the basic concept of equal Federal-State partnership roles in carrying out the congressional mandate for Federal assistance in constructing a highway system in the United States. The State had the responsibility to locate and design the proposed highways, to secure the necessary rights-of-way, to advertise and award the proposed construction contracts, and to supervise the construction activity under the contract which followed. The role of the Bureau of Public Roads was that of consultation, advice, review and approval at each of the successive steps as the project developed from its initial proposal to its final contract completion. The State owned and agreed to maintain the highways on which Federal-aid moneys were spent.

While the size of the program has increased dramatically—from an authorization level of $75 million in 1922 to a program level in excess of $5 billion in 1974—the same basic procedures initiated in the beginning years of the program are still followed. This stability of program operation has resulted in widespread confidence in and acceptance of the highway program at local, State and Federal levels, both in and out of the highway program.

The success of the Federal-aid highway program is unquestioned, and the reasons are many. The Congress consistently provided advance authorizations and timely appropriations so that the States, from the beginning, could move with confidence knowing in advance the level of authorization at which they could operate and knowing that appropriated funds would be adequate to provide cash reimbursement for their expenditures. The Congress increased the level of financing as public needs required, and expansion of the scope of program activities has been authorized as special needs for highway transportation became evident. The sage action of Congress in highway legislation has been a most important factor in the success of the Federal-aid highway program. A second and equally important factor has been the development of strong, competent individual State highway organizations and their interaction with members of the construction industry in implementing the program made possible by the congressional authorizations. The States have developed organizations with the technical and administrative ability to meet the changing program demands, and the construction industry nationwide has kept pace through advancing construction technology and integrity of purpose to meet the growing needs in highway construction procedures.

Recognizing the contributions of Congress, the States, and the construction industry toward the development of highway transportation in the United States, the Bureau of Public Roads, for its part, has implemented and administered the legislation since 1916 and has fostered the successful Federal-State partnership.

In the formative years, the Bureau held a tight rein in guiding development of the program. All approval authority was administered from the central office in Washington, with assistance provided through 10 field district offices to which routine operating responsibility and authority was delegated, and a Regional Office which served as an extension of the Washington Office covering operations of the program in 11 western States in which most of the direct Federal construction work was performed. Strong central office control prevailed over all system approvals, program actions, and project plans and specifications. Construction contract administration was a more local responsibility with review at the field level.

This initial strong central control accomplished a major objective of uniformity in the administration of emerging regulations and procedures among the States, thus establishing Federal-aid programs in each State on a common basis.

Mr. MacDonald developed within the Bureau a spirit of organizational pride in professional excellence of performance combined with a dedication to public service and unquestioned integrity. The ability of the Bureau to attract competent and dedicated personnel through the years stemmed in a large part from the early organizational image. The well ordered, fully professional program was attractive to young engineers who sensed the opportunity to participate in a rewarding program and who normally remained in that service throughout their professional careers.

In the 1940's a major organizational change established BPR offices in each State, with geographical regional offices designated to serve as intermediary between these State level organizational units and the central office in Washington. The reorganization resulted in closer operating coordination at the State level and the development of staff capability at the regional level, both of which were to be of immense value in the decentralization of program control and delegation of authority which were to follow a few years later.

The increase in the size of the Federal-aid program funding in the postwar years, the expanding Federal interest in urban transportation problems, and the anticipated legislation for separate funding for construction of the Interstate System resulted in major delegation of operating authority in 1953, and in the following 2 years, authority for all program and project approval action was delegated. The submission of project plans to Washington was discontinued as a general requirement. The Washington Office role became that of consultant and arbitrator on project matters and one of leadership in establishing program policy consistent with the total transportation program objectives of the Administration and of Congress. The result was that the Bureau effectively administered a vastly increased program with very little increase in the number of personnel.

Changes in the program have been many, and their impact has been dramatic. The program started as a rural post road improvement program. With the growth of the Nation and of its urban population, the program became one of meeting the complex transportation and social problems in urban areas and the needs for intercity and interstate motor vehicle transportation. The changing focus in national highway needs and in national transportation objectives had been anticipated by BPK leaders and had prompted their early efforts in the fields of highway planning and needs studies, highway research sponsorship, highway design and construction, highway traffic operation, and highway transportation economics. This capability to meet the demands of changing national interests with major program changes and with a modest, but flexible, staff is the real success story of the Bureau of Public Koads. It is a story of dedicated and competent public service which has earned the confidence and respect of the American people over a 60-year period. Professional excellence with total integrity has marked that performance from the beginning.

But what about tomorrow? Is it not only natural to expect that this impressive story of accomplishment will continue well into the future?

Engraved on the facade of the National Archives building is the phrase "What is past is prologue." This is certainly true with respect to the long and successful highway building era in America. We cannot contemplate the present without knowledge of the past nor forecast the future in ignorance of either.

The national highway program is in the throes of major change in direction and emphasis. These changes are emanating from complex issues and problems associated with growing questions of government involvement. For instance, the appropriate roles of Federal, State, and local governments in highway construction, operation, and maintenance are being reconsidered. We realize that the Interstate System is going to require a continuing process of resurfacing, restoring, and rehabilitation to maintain the high level of transportation service demanded by the public. This will be quite expensive and probably beyond the financial capability of the States to do it adequately. A program for Federal participation in the upgrading and rehabilitation of the Interstate System has been authorized in the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1976.

The Federal role in other highway systems—the Primary, Secondary, and Urban Systems—will also be examined closely and debated in the coming months and years. It appears likely that more of the responsibility for planning the construction, maintenance, and operation of these systems will shift away from the Federal and further toward State and local levels of government over time, consistent with the policy of increasing the decisionmaking flexibility of these levels of government to deal with issues of lesser national significance.

During the past 10 years, although the total investment for all highway functions by all levels of government has increased substantially, inflation has eroded the highway dollar so seriously that actual construction activities on highways has in fact decreased. In the same 10-year period, the number of miles of highways in the United States, the number of registered vehicles, and the number of vehicle miles of travel have all increased substantially. These facts indicate that, at best, we have maintained approximately the same level of performance on our highway system during the last 10 years. As more facts are gathered, however, we may learn that the highway system's overall performance has deteriorated. A major issue, then, will be to determine appropriate funding levels to maintain a reasonable performance level on our highways and to provide for those funds fairly and equitably in accordance with the benefits derived by the users of the highway system. Included in this issue is the question of what funding mechanisms can be used to adequately finance the Nation's highway system—for example, shall we retain the Highway Trust Fund or establish a Transportation Trust Fund? Or should we return to general revenue funding for highways? And how will rising State and local funding needs be satisfied? These are questions which will also be debated during the coming months.

More attention will be given in the coming years to upgrading public transportation, including light and heavy rail mass transit and railroad facilities. At the same time, more rigorous analytical procedures will be needed in making such large transportation investment decisions through cost-effectiveness studies and analyses of alternatives. Highway builders, the engineers who developed the highway system that is the envy of the whole world, may be expected to assist in the rehabilitation of the fixed rail systems in the Nation. We may expect that State and Federal highway organizations will become more closely involved in this new major thrust within the transportation family.

A major objective now and in the years to come will be to make better use of the highway facilities we already have. Land and other resources in many areas are becoming scarce, and fuel is becoming more precious. Accordingly, we may expect to see in the future a continuing emphasis on the more efficient utilization of our existing facilities. Better traffic management, auto-restricted zones in our dense urban areas, preferential transit bus and carpool treatments, better utilization of air space and below ground space in rights-of-way—all of these concepts will receive more attention in the coming years, especially in the more densely populated urban areas where efficiency is paramount.

More attention will be given to the conservation of energy and the development of new sources of energy. We will need to discipline ourselves to use less fuel by driving at slower speeds and developing more fuel efficient vehicles. It would be comforting to predict the development of new, clean, infinite sources of energy. After all, the United States did not become a great Nation by saving energy, but by using huge quantities of it. We may again reach a time when we can use all the energy we want without polluting the atmosphere or depleting finite resources, but this day is far off, and in the interim, conservation must be our watchword.

Improved highway safety will continue as a high priority goal. Significant improvement has been realized in very recent years, due in part to the nationwide 55 mile per hour maximum speed limit. Since 1973, the actual number of fatalities, as well as the fatality rate, have been significantly reduced. But we must continue to improve highway design and engineering so that the roads become ever more "forgiving" of errant drivers and vehicles. At the same time, we must continue to make the vehicles themselves more mechanically safe, and we must try to better equip the human beings who operate those vehicles to do so safely.

Past investments in highway improvements have provided a high level of mobility for the general population. In the future we can anticipate greater efforts to provide better mobility for the young, the elderly, and the handicapped who lack ready access to automobile transportation. In this regard, local elected officials of urbanized areas may elect to use certain apportioned highway funds for public mass transportation projects instead of for highways. Such an effort may be expected to extend to the transportation disadvantaged segment of our population the same opportunities for social, cultural, recreational, and economic benefits enjoyed by the rest of us.

The United States does not have an explicit national land use policy. The uncertainty regarding the nature and direction of changes in land use and settlement patterns is increased by the lack of a concensus regarding desirable growth within and among regions and between urban and nonurban areas. The Federal Highway Administration and the State and local highway organizations have responded to the needs of our growing Nation well in the past. As we look to the future, our efforts must be to provide even greater flexibility of choice to the States and local governments to provide highway services to meet changing population or economic developmental patterns that may emerge or be consciously pursued.

Out of all our past efforts—planning, designing, constructing, bridge building, and organizational efforts at all levels of government—has come a superb system of highways to serve a growing Nation. The challenge now and in the future is to preserve and enhance the performance level of our highways and at the same time promote within a multi-modal transportation family a more flexible and innovative transportation system. Our past performance, in all respects, would indicate that we will be equal to the challenge. We must demonstrate that we are.


The following is a chronological list of national laws which have had a significant impact on the growth and development of the Federal-Aid Highway System. The full title, date of passage and citation number are given for each reference.

Title Date Number
Land Grant to Ohio Act of 1823 Feb. 28, 1823  3 Stat 727
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1894 Mar. 3, 1893 27 Stat 134
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1895 Aug. 8, 1894 28 Stat 264
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1896 Mar. 2, 1895 28 Stat 727
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1897 Apr. 25, 1896 29 Stat 99
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1898 Apr. 28, 1897 30 Stat 1
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1899 Mar. 22, 1898 30 Stat 30
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1900 Mar. 1, 1899 30 Stat 47
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1901 May 25, 1900 31 Stat 191
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1902 Mar. 2, 1901 31 Stat 22
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1903 June 3, 1902 32 Stat 286
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1904 Mar. 3, 1903 32 Stat 1147
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1905 Apr. 23, 1904 33 Stat 226
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1906 Mar. 3, 1905 33 Stat 361
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1907 June 30, 1906 34 Stat 369
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1908 Mar. 4, 1907 34 Stat 2256
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1909 May 23, 1908 35 Stat 251
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1910 Mar. 4, 1909 35 Stat 1039
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1911 May 26, 1910 36 Stat 416
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1912 Mar. 4, 1911 36 Stat 1235
Post Office Appropriation Act of 1913 Aug. 24, 1912 37 Stat 551
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1914 Mar. 4, 1913 37 Stat 828
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1915 June 30, 1914 38 Stat 415
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1916 Mar. 4, 1915 38 Stat 1088
Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 July 11, 1916 39 Stat 355
Post Office Appropriation Act of 1917 July 28, 1916 39 Stat 412
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1917 Aug. 11, 1916 39 Stat 446
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1918 Mar. 4, 1917 39 Stat 1134
Post Office Appropriation Act of 1919 July 2, 1918 40 Stat 742
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1919 Oct. 1, 1918 40 Stat 973
Post Office Appropriation Act of 1920 Feb. 28, 1919 40 Stat 1189
Army Appropriation Act of 1919 July 11, 1919 41 Stat 105
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1920 July 24, 1919 41 Stat 234
Wadsworth-Kahn Act of 1920 Mar. 15, 1920 41 Stat 530
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1921 May 31, 1920 41 Stat 694
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1922 Mar. 3, 1921 41 Stat 1315
Budget and Accounting Act June 10, 1921 42 Stat 207
Federal Highway Act of 1921 Nov. 9, 1921 42 Stat 22
Post Office Appropriation Act of 1923 June 19, 1922 42 Stat 660
Federal- Aid Highway Amendment of 1925 Feb. 12, 1925 43 Stat 889
Federal-Aid Highway Amendment of 1926 June 22, 1926 44 Stat 760
Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1928 Jan. 18, 1927 44 Stat 976
Federal-Aid Highway Amendment 1927 Mar. 3, 1927 44 Stat 1398
Federal-Aid Highway Amendment 1928 May 21, 1928 45 Stat 683
Federal-Aid Highway Amendment 1930 May 5, 1930 46 Stat 261
George Washington Memorial Parkway Act 1930 May 29, 1930 46 Stat 482
Emergency Construction Act of 1930 Dec. 20, 1930 46 Stat 1030
Federal-Aid Highway Amendment 1931 Jan. 31, 1931 46 Stat 1053
Emergency Relief and Construction Act 1932 July 21, 1932 47 Stat 709
National Industrial Recovery Act June 16, 1933 48 Stat 195
Hayden-Cartwright Act of 1934 June 18, 1934 48 Stat 993
Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935 Apr. 8, 1935 49 Stat 115
Davis-Bacon Act 1935 Apr. 30, 1935 49 Stat 1011
Federal-Aid Highway Act Amendment 1937 June 16, 1936 49 Stat 1519
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1938 June 8, 1938 52 Stat 633
Defense Highway Act 1941 Nov. 19, 1941 55 Stat 765
Inter-American Highway Act 1941 Dec. 26, 1941 55 Stat 860
Defense Highway Act Amendment 1942 July 2, 1942 56 Stat 562
Federal-Aid Highway Amendment 1943 July 13, 1943 57 Stat 560
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1944 Dec. 20, 1944 58 Stat 838
Federal-Aid Highway Amendment 1945 July 31, 1945 59 Stat 507
Philippine Rehabilitation Act 1946 Apr. 30, 1946 60 Stat 128
Federal-Aid Highway Amendment 1946 July 29, 1946 60 Stat 709
Federal-Aid Highway Amendment 1947 June 21, 1947 61 Stat 136
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1948 June 29, 1948 62 Stat 1105
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1950 Sept. 7, 1950 64 Stat 785
Budget and Accounting Procedures Act Sept. 12, 1950 64 Stat 832
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1952 June 25, 1952 66 Stat 158
Departments of State, Justice and Commerce Appropriation Act 1954 Aug. 5, 1953 67 Stat 367
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1954 May 6, 1954 68 Stat 70
Department of Commerce and Related Agencies Appropriation Act 1956 June 30, 1955 69 Stat 226
Inter-American Highway Appropriation Act July 1, 1955 69 Stat 244
Supplemental Appropriation Act 1956 Aug. 4, 1955 69 Stat 450
Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 June 29, 1956 70 Stat 374
Highway Revenue Act of 1956 June 29, 1956 70 Stat 387
Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1958 Aug. 7, 1958 72 Stat 389
Alaska Statehood Act Apr. 16, 1958 72 Stat 89
Alaska Omnibus Act June 25, 1959 73 Stat 141
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1959 Sept. 21, 1959 73 Stat 611
Mutual Security Appropriation Act 1960 Sept. 28, 1959 73 Stat 717
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1960 July 14, 1960 74 Stat 522
National Driver Register Service Act Aug. 14, 1960 74 Stat 526
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1961 June 29, 1961 75 Stat 122
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1962 Oct. 23, 1962 76 Stat 1145
Federal-Aid Highway Amendments Act 1963 Oct. 24, 1963 77 Stat 276
Urban Mass Transportation Act 1964 July 9, 1964 78 Stat 302
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1964 Aug. 13, 1964 78 Stat 397
Government Employees Salary Reform Act of 1964 Aug. 14, 1964 78 Stat 400
Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 Amendments 1965 Aug. 28, 1965 79 Stat 578
Highway Beautiflcation Act of 1965 Oct. 22, 1965 79 Stat 1028
National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act 1966 Sept. 9, 1966 80 Stat 718
Highway Safety Act 1966 Sept. 9, 1966 80 Stat 731
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1966 Sept. 13, 1966 80 Stat 766
Historic Preservation Act 1966 Oct. 15, 1966 80 Stat 915
Department of Transportation Act 1966 Oct. 15, 1966 80 Stat 931
Highway Interstate Systems Modification Act 1968 Jan. 2, 1968 81 Stat 772
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1968 Aug. 23, 1968 82 Stat 815
National Environmental Policy Act 1969 Jan. 1, 1970 83 Stat 852
Clean Air Amendments of 1970 Dec. 31, 1970 84 Stat 1676
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1970 Dec. 31, 1970 84 Stat 1713
Highway Safety Act 1970 Dec. 31, 1970 84 Stat 1739
Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 Jan. 2, 1971 84 Stat 1894
Noise Control Act of 1972 Oct. 27, 1972 86 Stat 1234
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1973 Aug. 13, 1973 87 Stat 250
Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act 1974 Jan. 2, 1974 87 Stat 1046
National Mass Transportation Assistance Act 1974 Nov. 26, 1974 88 Stat 1565
Federal-Aid Highway Amendments of 1974 Jan. 4, 1975 88 Stat 2281
Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1976 May 5, 1976 90 Stat 425


We gratefully acknowledge all those whose illustrations were used in this book. Many of the color plates, especially in Part I, are paintings in a series of 109 by the late Carl Rakeman (1878–1965), which were completed in the 1930's and 1940's on the theme of American transportation development. Rakeman was an employee of the Bureau of Public Roads who studied at the Corcoran Art School and the Royal Academies of Dusseldorf , Munich and Paris. Among other accomplishments, he helped complete the painted decorations of the U.S. Capitol. Special thanks are also extended to the National Archives and Records Service, which stored and protected much of the photographic material of the Federal Highway Administration and its predecessor agencies which appears in this history.

The following is a listing by chapter of all those individuals and organizations outside of the Federal Highway Administration who contributed illustrations printed in this book. The abbreviations with the page number of each credit indicate position; i.e., Top (T), Top Left (TL), Top Right (TR), Middle (M), Middle Left (ML), Middle Right (MR), Bottom (B), Bottom Left (BL), Bottom Right (BR).


Page 4 (BR):
Winter Trail. Drawing by H. W. Hendley.
Page 5 (BL):
Post Rider. Drawing by H. W. Hendley.
Page 7 (T):
Rolling Tobacco. Drawing by H. W. Hendley, after H. E. Elliott.
Page 18 (B):
Fairview Inn. Courtesy of Culver Pictures, Inc.
Page 40 (T):
The Cherrelyn Horsecar. Courtesy of E. H. Maloney and Edie Dines.
Page 51 (T):
Bishop Creek. Courtesy of California Division of Highways.
Plank Road. Courtesy of California Division of Highways.
Page 52 (T):
Sacramento Canyon. Courtesy of California Division of Highways.
Page 55 (BR):
1907 Columbia. Courtesy of Hank Head.
Page 58 (T):
The Pasear Highway. Courtesy of the California Division of Highways.
Page 59 (M):
Scenes of El Camino Sierra. Courtesy of the California Division of Highways.
Page 60 (T):
Challenge of early AAA tours. Courtesy of the Michigan Department of State Highways and Transportation.
Page 84 (T):
Spring thaw and roads in Michigan. Courtesy of the Michigan Department of State Highways and Transportation.
Page 85 (B):
State Highway No. 1 (Now I-25) in New Mexico. Courtesy of New Mexico State Highway Department.
Page 93 (B):
W. Hicks and Sons General Store, Rockville, Md. (1900). Courtesy of William L. Hicks.
Page 94 (T):
State highway officials on inspection tour. Courtesy of the Michigan Department of State Highways and Transportation.
Page 95 (MR):
McConnellsburg, Pa. Courtesy of the Michigan Department of State Highways and Transportation.
Page 118 (T):
Concrete Mixer patching a bad spot on the road. Courtesy of Hank Head.
Page 122 (M):
Maryland State Roads Commission testing laboratory. Courtesy of the Maryland State Roads Commission.
Page 127 (T):
First centerline on a rural state highway. Courtesy of the Michigan Department of State Highways and Transportation.
Page 151 (B):
The Pennsylvania Turnpike. Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.
Page 169 (T):
Turnpike toll booth. Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.


Page 207 (ML):
Old tour bus. Courtesy of the Grey Line, Inc.
Page 207 (BL):
Modern tour bus. Courtesy of the Urban Mass Transit Authority.
Page 210 (MR):
Lansing, Michigan street scene. Courtesy of the Michigan Department of State Highways and Transportation.
Page 240 (TL):
1905 Cadillac. Courtesy of Hank Head.
Page 244 (T):
1922 Superior Motor Coach body. Courtesy of the National Association of Motor Bus Owners.
Page 250 (T):
Rio Grande Gorge Bridge near Taos, N.M. Courtesy of the New Mexico State Highway Department.
Page 258 (BL):
40 ton straddle-lift crane. Courtesy of the Southern Pacific Co.
Page 259 (MR):
Air Force C-5 Galaxy. Courtesy of Tadder/Baltimore.
Page 270 (T):
Traffic survey station. Courtesy of the New Mexico Highway Department.
Page 291 (B):
Chicago Post Office. Courtesy of H. Dean Fravel.
Page 299 (T):
Stapleton International Airport. Courtesy of the Denver Post.
Page 332 (T):
Circular Track in Arlington, Virginia. Courtesy of Carl A. Carpenter.
Page 332 (B):
Profilometer. Courtesy of Carl A. Carpenter.
Page 367 (TR):
Highway road crew removing litter. Courtesy of the Delaware Department of Highways.
Page 373 (BL):
Beverly's Mill in Middleburg, Virginia. Courtesy of U.S. News and World Report.
Page 383 (BL):
Horse towing an old car in winter. Courtesy of the Michigan Department of State Highways and Transportation.
Page 384 (TR):
The National Road near Hancock, Maryland (before construction). Courtesy of the Maryland State Roads Commission.
Page 385 (TL):
The National Road near Hancock, Maryland (after construction). Courtesy of the Maryland State Roads Commission.
Page 391 (T):
Center marked highway curve, 1921. Courtesy of the Michigan Department of State Highways and Transportation.
Page 396 (MR):
Arterial highway of 1940's. Courtesy of Donald W. Loutzenheiser.
Page 404 (B):
Automobile Club of Maryland posting directional and mileage signs. Courtesy of the Institute of Traffic Engineers.
Page 406 (TL):
Jackson, Miss, route markers. Courtesy of the Institute of Traffic Engineers.
Page 407 (T):
Intersection in Detroit, Mich. (1922). Courtesy of the Institute of Traffic Engineers.
Page 412 (T):
The Baltimore-Washington Boulevard. Courtesy of the Maryland State Roads Commission.
Page 412 (B):
The Baltimore-Washington Boulevard widened in the 1930's. Courtesy of the Maryland State Roads Commission.
Page 419 (T):
Covered bridge reproduction near Concord, Massachusetts. Courtesy of the Massachusetts Department of Public Works.
Page 420 (TL):
Camp Nelson Bridge over the Kentucky River. Courtesy of the Kentucky Department of Transportation.
Page 420 (TR):
Covered timber bridge over the Connecticut River between Cornish, N.H. and Windsor, Vt, Courtesy of the New Hampshire Department of Public Works and Highways.
Page 420 (BL):
Indiana covered bridge (1900). Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.
Page 425 (T):
Roebling Bridge over the Ohio River between Cincinnati, Ohio, and Covington, Kentucky. Courtesy of the Kentucky Department of Transportation.
Page 426 (BR):
Vertical lift bridge over the Cape Fear River at Wilmington, North Carolina. Courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
Page 427 (T):
Lake Washington Pontoon Bridge, Seattle, Washington. Courtesy of the Washington Department of Highways.
Page 427 (ML):
George P. Coleman Memorial Bridge. Courtesy of the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation.
Page 428 (T):
The Morgan Bulkeley Bridge. Courtesy of the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
Page 430 (T):
San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Courtesy of H. Dean Fravel.
Page 430 (B):
Mackinac Bridge over the Straits of Mackinac. Courtesy of the Michigan Department of State Highways and Transportation.
Page 431 (TR):
Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Courtesy of the National Museum of Science and Technology.
Page 431 (B):
New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia. Courtesy of the West Virginia Department of Highways.
Page 433 (T):
I-80 Bridge over the Allegheny River. Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Page 434 (T):
I-480 exit ramp in Omaha, Nebraska. Courtesy of the Nebraska State Highway Department.
Page 435 (T):
Red Bridge over the Seekonk River. Courtesy of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.
Page 435 (BR):
Mission Valley Bridge in San Diego, California. Courtesy of the California Department of Transportation.
Page 436 (B):
Sitka Harbor Bridge in Sitka, Alaska. Courtesy of the Alaska Department of Highways.
Page 437 (T):
Sherman Minton Bridge over the Ohio River. Courtesy of the Kentucky Department of Transportation.
Page 437 (B):
Poplar Street Bridge over the Mississippi River. Courtesy of the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Page 438 (T):
Pedestrian bridge over U.S. 41 in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. Courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
Page 438 (B):
47th Street Bypass in Boulder, Colorado. Courtesy of the Colorado Department of Highways.
Page 441 (B):
Demolition of C & O Bridge over the Ohio River. Courtesy of the Kentucky Department of Transportation.
Page 487 (T):
Mount Rainer. Courtesy of James L. Obenschain, Sr.
Page 496:
Clakamas River flood. Courtesy of the Oregon State Highway Department.
Page 499 (B):
Going-to-the-Sun Highway. Courtesy of James L. Obenschain, Sr.
Page 504 (T):
Cole Creek Bridge. Courtesy of James L. Obenschain, Sr.
Page 504 (B):
Creek channel in the Great Smoky Mountains. Courtesy of James L. Obenschain, Sr.
Page 508 (T):
Jordan Pond. Courtesy of James L. Obenschain, Sr.
Page 511 (T):
Blue Ridge Parkway. Courtesy of James L. Obenschain, Sr.
Page 511 (B):
Blue Ridge Parkway in the fall. Courtesy of the National Park Service.
Page 512 (T):
James River Bridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Courtesy of the National Park Service.
Page 514 (B):
Suitland Parkway. Courtesy of James L. Obenschain, Sr.
Page 519 (T):
Map of FHWA Foreign Assistance Programs. Courtesy of the International Road Federation.
Page 535 (B):
Alaska Highway at Summit Lake. Courtesy of Gail Pinkstaff.
End papers:
Fairview Inn on the National Pike. Courtesy of Culver Pictures, Inc.


Accidents, 115, 127–129, 135, 149, 246, 262, 278, 279, 337, 342, 344–348, 352, 391–392, 401–403, 406, 408, 440, 459, 460, 484, 485
Agricultural Appropriation Act of 1893, 44
Agricultural Appropriation Act of 1894, 200
Agricultural Appropriation Act of 1905, 52
Agricultural Appropriation Act of 1928, 138
Agricultural Appropriation Act of 1936, 125
Alaska Highway, 149, 530–536
American Association of State Highway Officials (A.A.S.H.O.), 79, 86, 96, 98, 101–102, 104, 106–108, 120, 145, 148, 152, 158, 163, 165–166, 172, 202, 207–208, 296–297, 326, 334, 341
American Automobile Association, 60–61, 74, 76, 84–85, 102, 106
Army Corps of Engineers, 21, 31, 107, 138, 498
Automobiles, 52, 54–57, 60, 115, 123–124, 147, 154, 162, 238, 247, 370, 382, 384, 390, 411, 414 (also see Registration)
Bankhead Act 1916, 107
Barnett, Joseph, 188–190
Beautification, (see Highway Beautification Act 1965)
Bridwell, Lowell K., 194
Bridges, 19, 240, 331–332, 418–442
Bureau of Public Roads, 102–110, 120–121, 124–126, 129, 132, 134, 137–140, 150, 156, 163, 169–173, 208–209, 214, 218, 267–268, 271, 281–282, 298, 327, 330, 337, 339, 341, 352, 368, 431, 448–151, 453–454
Capper-Cramton Act, 139
Congestion, 115, 154, 165–166, 171, 261, 281, 300, 370, 466
Construction, (see Roads)
Cumberland Road, (see National Road)
Curtiss, Charles D., 172, 193
Defense, (see Roads)
Defense Highway Act 1941, 150, 249, 269, 275
Design, 337–341, 349, 381–382, 384–398, 401, 411, 476
Dodge, Martin, 46–50, 52, 64, 191, 235
Department of Transportation, 297, 298, 318, 319
Department of Transportation Act 1956, 218
Department of Transportation Act 1966, 221
Department of Transportation Act 1974, 372
DuPont, Francis V., 170, 192
Eldridge, Maurice O., 46, 50, 215–216, 519
Emergency Relief & Construction Act 1932, 124
Emergency Relief Appropriation Act 1935, 125, 130
Environment, 221, 223, 314, 349–352, 366, 378, 396, 459–460
Expressways, 150, 152, 160, 163, 169, 171, 397–467
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1934, 268–269, 467
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1938, 134, 278, 368
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1940, 249, 275, 369
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1944, 153, 156–158, 214, 249, 269, 274, 276, 321, 456, 468, 493
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1948, 165, 288
Federal-Aid Highway Act, 1950, 165, 221, 252, 258, 494, 528
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1952, 166, 254, 469, 528
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1954, 166, 171, 254, 292, 294, 358, 469, 528
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1956, 159, 174, 222, 228, 234, 254, 256, 259–260, 292, 303, 317, 358, 362, 396, 472, 476–477, 494
Federal- Aid Highway Act 1958, 478–479
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1959, 255, 479
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1961, 259, 481
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1962, 211, 269, 299, 305, 315, 321, 363
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1966, 305
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1968, 262, 299, 315, 317, 363, 364, 442, 472, 477
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1970, 223, 237, 262, 315, 317, 358, 364, 376, 442, 495
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1973, 202, 262, 302, 377
Federal-Aid Highway Act 1976, 226, 230
Federal Aid Road Act 1916, 83, 86, 93, 100, 103, 108, 113, 144, 202, 204, 219, 240–242, 244
Federal Aid System, 108–109, 113–114, 116, 125–126, 136, 140–142, 156, 160–161, 164–165, 167, 170 (also see Roads)
Federal Highway Act 1921, 108–109, 113, 121, 126, 136, 138, 142, 205–206, 214, 220, 242, 244, 246, 321, 357–358
Federal Highway Administration, 210, 219, 222, 226, 231, 233, 236–237, 256, 298, 315, 352, 359, et al.
bonds, 41, 73, 89, 101–102, 114, 137, 151–152, 163–173, 239, 243–244, 247, 248, 252, 256, 282, 431, 470–471;
Federal aid, 198–214, 220, 227–235, 240, 243, 245–247, 253–255, 259–260, 266–267, 270, 273, 282, 289, 431–432, 470;
State aid, 43–44, 50, 57, 64, 76, 155, 199–200, 239, 249, 260;
taxes, 37–39, 41–42, 50, 57, 74, 84, 114, 118, 122–125, 131, 148, 157, 163–164, 166–167, 169–173, 238, 242, 245, 247, 250–251, 254–255, 267, 271, 295, 473;
tolls, 7–11, 14, 18, 20–23, 30, 116, 136–137, 164–167, 169, 244, 271, 290–291
Forest Roads, (see Roads)
Gallatin, Albert, 17
Good Roads Association (see Good Roads Movement)
Good Roads Movement, 41-44, 46-50, 57, 67, 75, 124
Good Roads Train, 48-50, 76
Grade–Crossings, 125, 128-130, 136, 159, 165, 246-247, 393-394
Hayden-Cartwright Act of 1934, 124-125, 130, 134, 139, 156-157, 167, 171, 247, 265, 270, 321
Hewes, L. I., 489–491
Highway Access, (see Right-of-Way)
Highway Beautification Act 1965, 367-369
Highway Related Legislation, 546-547
Highway Research Board, (see Research)
Highway Revenue Act 1956, 174, 228, 254, 472-474
Highway Trust Fund, 173, 211, 227-230, 254-256, 262, 276, 301, 473-475, 481
Historic Preservation, 373-374
Holmes, Edward H., 283-286
Hubbard, Prevost, 117, 322
Inter-American Highway, 139-140, 150, 522-530
International–Roads (see Roads)
Interstate (see Roads)
James, Edwin W., 73, 108, 110, 520, 526-527
King Drag Laws, 22
League of American Wheelmen, 42-43, 56, 76
Lincoln Highway Association, 83, 95, 109, 135
Long Distance Roads, (see Roads, Transcontinental)
Maintenance, (see Roads)
Mass Transit, 262, 301-302, 312
McAdam, John L., 12-13, 21, 52, 117-118
MacDonald, Thomas M., 103, 105-107, 108, 113, 114, 121, 123, 126, 135-136, 138, 142, 144, 147-148, 161, 170, 176-179, 192, 206-208, 233, 257, 268, 271, 273-274, 277, 289, 367, 467, 500, 520
Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, 134, 139, 394, 405
National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, 125, 130, 139, 156-157, 246-247, 493
National Roads, (see Roads)
National Road, (or National Pike, Cumberland Road), 10, 14, 16-17, 19, 21-22, 24, 26, 29, 32, 109, 198-199, 201, 273, 382
National Good Roads Association, 48–50, (also see Good Roads Movement)
Normann, O. K., 338-341
Object Lesson Roads, 45–48, 64-66, 72-75, 83, 320, 515-516 (also see Good Roads Movement)
Office of Public Roads, 37, 52, 62, 64-69, 72-76, 80, 82-84, 86-87, 89, 235, 240-241, 266, 367, 519
Office of Public Roads and Rural Engineering, 87, 95-96, 100-101, 118, 204
Office of Public Road Inquiries, 46-50, 52, 88
Office of Road Inquiry, 44-46
Page, Logan W., 47, 52, 57, 64-65, 67, 72-76, 80, 82-83, 87, 89, 96, 98, 101-102, 114, 117, 191, 206, 323, 329
Parkways, 56, 86, 133-134, 137-139, 154, 159-160, 163, 167-169, 368-369, 396-397, 507-512
Pioneer Freighter, 62, 83
Planning, 264, 265-271, 276-286, 294, 295, 299, 303, 304, 306, 316-319, 351
Pneumatic Tires, 42, 54, 119, 145, 384, 394, 454
Post Office Appropriation Act 1912, 84, 240
Post Office Appropriation Act 1913, 81, 201
Post Office Appropriation Act 1919, 102, 103, 107
Post Office Appropriation Act 1922, 108
Post Office Appropriation Act 1923, 206, 227
Post Roads, (see Roads)
Public Roads Administration, 142-145, 147-151, 156-158, 160-162, 165-166, 168-169
Railroads, 13, 14, 23-24, 26, 29-34, 36, 39, 44, 49-50, 76, 84, 90-93, 97-99, 113, 117, 127, 145, 150, 154, 250, 257, 259, 420
Registration, 57, 60, 109, 114, 123, 124, 126, 143, 146, 154, 161, 169, 239-242, 245, 248, 251, 262, 263
Relocation, 363-365
Right-of-Way, 9, 12, 20-21, 24, 37, 56-57, 87, 102, 114-115, 117, 126, 132-137, 139, 149-150, 152-153, 159-160, 163, 165, 168, 199, 249, 294, 364-365, 473
Remote Sensing, 326, 389, 394
Research, 208-210, 277, 320-352, 439
Road Signs, 61, 78, 109-110, 1–5, 130, 343, 404-410, 477
construction, 2, 9-13, 24-25, 37, 39, 45, 47–48, 50, 56-57, 64-67, 87, 89, 98, 100, 104-106, 113-114, 117-118, 121, 137, 147, 161, 171, 324, 325-329, 332, 333, 335, 385, 388, 394, 395, 444-464, 495, 498, 519;
defense, 18-19, 24, 26, 30-31, 62, 94-100, 138, 142, 153, 166, 241, 249, 267, 275, 357, 468, 469, 513, 514, 524, 525, 531-536;
Federal aid, 16-24, 26, 44, 47, 80-89, 98, 113-115, 143-147, 155, 157-160, 165-167, 169-173, 295, 296, 300, 302, 447-448, 494, 542-545;
forests, 75, 126, 137-139, 170, 242, 247, 487-507;
other nations', 139-140, 149-150, 152, 518-536, 539, 540;
Interstate, 83, 96, 102, 107-110, 116, 136-137, 152-153, 156-159, 165-166, 168-174, 211, 213, 228, 230, 243, 249, 252, 254, 256, 259-260, 263-264, 271, 273-277, 281-292, 295-296, 303, 341, 343, 345, 354, 466-485, 543-544;
maintenance, 6, 8, 12-15, 20, 30, 36-37, 41, 43-44, 47, 65, 68, 78, 80-81, 83, 93, 95, 98, 105, 118, 134, 147, 161-163, 165, 249, 330, 331, 336, 444–464;
national, 47, 62, 84-85, 95, 101-102, 106, 108, 137, 151, 153, 173;
post, 16, 22-23, 26, 80-87, 100-102, 106, 108, 114, 201-202, 240;
rural;, 36-37, 41, 48, 50, 56-57, 64, 66, 72, 80-81, 85-86, 89, 102, 114-118, 128, 132, 151-152, 156-157, 160-162, 238, 240-241, 262-264, 381-382, 384, 414, 415, 468;
toll, 8-12, 14, 21, 36, 50, 117, 135-137, 142, 150-152, 165, 171, 247-248, 252, 256-257, 263, 272, 274, 294, 466–467, 469;
transcontinental, 62, 83, 85, 101, 107–109, 113, 136, 138, 152–153, 272, 277, 498;
urban, 34, 39, 41, 47, 56, 66, 103, 125, 135–136, 151–152, 154, 156–158, 160, 163, 169–172, 263
Safety (see Accidents)
Settlements, 16, 26, 29, 32, 34
Signs (see Road Signs)
Shirley, Henry G., 106
State Aid (see Finance)
Statute Labor, 7, 10, 12, 36–37, 41, 238
Steamboats, 29–31
Stone, Roy (General), 44–47, 83, 191, 206, 213, 444
Suburbs, 39, 133, 154
Taxes (see Finance)
Tiemann, Norbert T., 195
Trade, 10–12, 14, 18, 20, 24, 38–39, 44–45, 49, 57, 84–86, 98–100, 102, 115, 121, 126, 166, 247, 257–259, 274
Tresaquet, J.P.M., 12, 13, 20, 52, 117
Trucking, 92–95, 97–99, 102, 114, 117–119, 122, 132, 137, 145–147, 163, 169, 171, 241–242, 248, 250, 257–259, 288, 295
Tunnels, 442
Turner, Francis C, 185–187, 195
Turnpikes, 8–16, 22–24, 29–31, 36, 136–137, 150–151, 159, 166–169
Turnpike Companies, 8–13, 15, 22–24, 36
Uniform Relocation Assistance & Real Property Acquisitions Policy Act 1970, 211, 221, 363–364
Volpe, John A., 193
Wheelmen (see League of American Wheelmen)
Whitton, Rex M., 194
Zane's Trace, 16


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).

  1. In 1917 there were 391,000 motor trucks registered in the United States, most of them used in the cities.