The Story of Route 66
Route 66 originally began as a dream in the 1920s. Cyrus Avery, named the “Father of Route 66”, initiated the ambitious project of building the road. He envisioned a road that would connect the upper Midwest with the riches of California. After much debate and physical hard work Route 66 was officially opened on July 23, 1926. It ran from Chicago to Los Angeles. In 1936 the road was officially extended to go all the way to the Santa Monica Pier.
The Great Depression fell upon the nation in the 1930s, holding the country in a grip of economic turmoil. The Dust Bowl, a massive dust storm that lasted from 1934 to 1939, blew some 300 million tons of top soil from farms all over the Midwest. Vast numbers of farms were lost to the bank. Droves of farmers fled to Route 66 in search of a better life, in the fields of California. Route 66 became known as the “Mother Road”. This historical event is told in story form in John Steinbeck’s legendary novel “The Grapes of Wrath”.
On December 7, 1941 The United States was plunged into World War Two. The country suffered an automobile shutdown that lasted from 1942 to 1945. Gas and tires were rationed. These unfavorable conditions caused travel on Route 66 to virtually halt.
Route 66 reached its height in popularity during the decade of the 1950s. These times were known as the “Glory Days” of Route 66. During these times Americans had solid paychecks and plenty of leisure time. American car dealers such as Chrysler, Chevrolet, and Ford produced huge swanky cars. Americans wanted to hop into their cars and throw caution to the wind on this free open road. All this gave rise to extravagant road trips, giving rise to the iconic roadside amenities that Route 66 is famous for. “Fast food” diners and cafes sprung up offering hungry travelers hamburgers, French fries, and malts. Motels opened that provided weary travelers with home style and personalized comfort. Trading posts and gift shops offered an array of nostalgic gifts and souvenirs to eager customers, both adults and children alike. A multitude of service stations with attendants opened that offered friendly service to the travelers and their cars.
Route 66 still held on in the 1960s as it lured youth in their UV buses to idealistic California places such as Sunset Boulevard, Haight-Ashbury, and Hollywood. Buz (George Maharis) and Tod (Martin Milner), stared in the popular TV show, route 66” that ran from 1960 to 1964. This show, that portrayed the actors traveling on Route 66 in a Corvette, added to Route 66’s popularity.
In the 1970s retirees and baby boomers alike took to the road in their travel trailers, truck campers, and motor homes. The gas crunch occurred in the mid-1970s, putting a halt on long fancy road trips. As well five major interstates were built that bypassed many of the stretches of Route 66 and the small towns the highway had served.
By the mid-1980s Route 66 was no longer classified as a federal highway. The government removed the official road signs. Many of the friendly road side attractions had lost business and were closed. Many parts of the road were run down into muddy fields of disrepair. Sadly Route 66 was virtually forgotten.
In recent years there has been a huge rebirth of interest in Route 66. Travelers worldwide come to seek and experience the glorious era of Route 66. Fortunately they discover that there still are substantial pieces of the magical road left with scenic spots to behold. Here and there lively diners, motels, gift shops and even friendly filling stations can be found along this old road that travels from the huge metropolis of Chicago to the azure waters of the Pacific Ocean.