Route 66: Thankful for the Journey
By Diana Blidy
We have taken a fictional trip on Route 66 this past year, traveling some 2,400 miles all the way from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California. Here are some interesting facts about the history of this famous highway.
- Cyrus Avery: Mr. Avery was known as the Father of Route 66. A businessman from Tulsa, Oklahoma, he served on the committee that laid down the U.S. highway system. He was intending to name the highway Route 60, however, the state of Kansas wanted that highway number for a cross-state roadway they were building so Mr. Avery settled on Route 66 which, he later said, sounded better. He also made certain that the famous highway would pass right through the middle of his own home town, Tulsa.
- 84-day Endurance Marathon: In 1928, a coast-to-coast marathon was held that began in Los Angeles and concluded in New York. The 3,000-mile route included the entire 2,400 miles of Route 66. Of the 199 men who ran, only 55 finished the race. Andy Payne, a 20-year old Oklahoman, and part Cherokee won the $25,000.00 first-place prize.
- The Song: A former Marine penned the song that helped make Route 66 famous. “Get Your Kicks” was written by Bobby Troup, who, after serving in the Marines during WWII, drove to Hollywood in hopes of making a career in songwriting. He came up with the famous song lyrics during his drive along Route 66. When in California, he met Nat King Cole, who first recorded the song and the rest is history!
- John Steinbeck: The famous writer gave Route 66 the name of The Mother Road when he penned his novel, “The Grapes of Wrath.”
- The Mother Road: Route 66 was the first all-weather highway linking Los Angeles, California, all the way to Chicago, Illinois.
- The Green Book: During the years of segregation, African-Americans were barred from many of the hotels and businesses that were located along Route 66. Of the 84 counties through which the Mother Road crossed, 44 were “Sundown Towns,” which meant African- Americans had to be out of town before nightfall. The Negro Motorist Green Book was used from 1937 to 1966 to guide African-Americans to gas stations, restaurants, and other businesses that would be open to serving them.
- The End of the Road: Originally Route 66 ended at the intersection of Lincoln and Olympic in Los Angeles since legally a U.S. highway can only end when another highway joins it. However, since the intersection wasn’t that attractive an ending point for such a famous highway, it was agreed that Santa Monica pier would be marked as the “official” end of the route.