By 1913, about 180,000 of us Americans were registered to drive automobiles, but had nowhere to drive them safely. Driving surfaces were mucky. Wooden boards were thrown across pot holes as a temporary fix and then forgotten. Roads would start out with great promise but often just dead-ended with no warning and without actually going anywhere. And don’t even ask about proper signs. It was like bumper cars out there.
Until one man stepped up, promising he’d build better roads and connect east to west. Meet Carl F. Fisher, an auto pioneer and the driving force behind America’s first transcontinental road, the Lincoln Highway.
Fisher, who had co-founded the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Prest-O-Lite headlamp company, sought assistance from industry professionals at the Packard Motor Car Company and Goodyear Tires. These automotive companies had what travelers needed to experience the soon-to-be highway improvements, so at the same time they were lending their expertise, they were able to advertise and sell their products to a public that now needed them. It was an early example of marketing brilliance – drivers got their roadway and became consumers of the road trip essentials sold by the companies who created the need by helping build the road.
For the first time in history, Americans were encouraged to be adventurous, to step off their front porches, to dare to see what lay beyond the tree line. The country’s pioneer spirit kicked in and off they went, motoring along the Lincoln Highway that today stretches across 14 states – making its way through sweeping prairies, towering mountains and 700 cities.
Fun Fact: The Lincoln Highway was named after Abraham Lincoln, making it the first national memorial monument ever made in his honor!
To experience the highway in its 3,000 mile entirety, you’d begin at Times Square in New York City and end at Lincoln Park in San Francisco, (or vice versa). Along the way, travelers follow the 2,000+ red, white and blue concrete markers put in place by the Boy Scouts of America in the 1920s. (Each marker weighs more than 200lbs!) After battling muddy axles in Iowa and sand drifts in Nevada, the original average travel time to complete the trip was about 34 days. Nowadays, you could easily make the journey in a week, but honestly, what’s the rush? Here are more than a few wacky photo opportunities and detours worthy of losing some daylight driving time:
- H.I. Lincoln Store, Illinois – Established in the 1860s by cousins of Abe Lincoln, the space was first used utilized as a general store. It is the current national headquarters for the Lincoln Highway Association. Stop in for live music and a history lesson.
- The Lincoln Motor Court, Pennsylvania – Need a place to rest in the Keystone State? Stay at the Lincoln Motor Court, the only operating overnight motor court on the Lincoln Highway.
- The Great Salt Lake and Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah – Get some perspective, float, and think about the bike made famous on American Pickers.
- The Loneliest Road in America, Nevada – Jump on U.S. 50 for a unique experience, or run down it like Forrest Gump did!
- Seedling Miles, throughout the highway – These miles were the first paved sections of the highway demonstrating what driving the route would be like upon coast-to-coast completion. They included paved roads, green grass, and many trees. (Hence, seedlings!) Like a scene from a movie, they perfectly painted the American road trip fantasy.
What’s amazing for many of you is that the Lincoln Highway exists right in your backyard. Fill up your tank, grab a few essentials, and dare to explore the historic highway. No time was ever wasted on two lane travel!
The road looks a little different today. To see a variety of current travel photos of the Lincoln Highway check out #lincolnhighway on Instagram!