Lincoln Highway National Headquarters photo credit Nicholas Cardot

By 1913, about 180,000 Americans were registered to drive automobiles but had nowhere to drive them safely. Driving surfaces were mucky. Wooden boards were thrown across potholes 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.

lincoln highway old photos
Photo courtesy of the collection of Russell S. Rein

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.

lincoln highway old photos
Photo courtesy of the collection of Russell S. Rein

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 the U.S. 50 for a unique experience, or run down it as 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!

lincoln highway old photos
Photo courtesy of the collection of Russell S. Rein

The road looks a little different today. To see a variety of current travel photos of the Lincoln Highway check out #lincolnhighway on Instagram!


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35 thoughts on “Lincoln Highway: The Birth of American Adventure”

  1. Ron Miller

    Living on the Lincoln Hwy here in Pa. I have seen folks fro ll over the world traveling down it’s many miles.
    Folks from Brasil, Germany , Sweeden France, Australia, Canada, and many more.
    I’m proud to be a step in it’s way

  2. Merri J Boulden

    I watch your program all the time, right now in fact. History channel shows it almost every day. You were practically driving in my back yard a year or so ago. Auburn, California is in the gold country where I live. Take care, happy trails. Drive safe.

  3. Mary Andrus

    I was born and raised where the Lincoln Highway , or Highway 30 as we knew it, crosses the Mississippi River from Illinois to Iowa – Clinton, Iowa. Once a month, the highway was the path to the family farm some 100 miles west. I remember Burma Shave signs, farmers selling sweet corn and the trains that ran right along side the highway. It is all connected to the experience of that road.

  4. Liz wagstaff

    We live next to an old roman road here in England
    Which is a major maintained route into London
    With some great landmarks on the way
    We love it’s straight lines and history even though the ancient brits took a bashing!
    Love the programme! Due on dave ja view in 10 mins
    Love liz and dave stevenage herts
    Still home of the Vincent motorcycle x

  5. Terrence Downs

    Glad to see this, as it did traverse east-to-west thru York County, PA, on part of it the original Monocacy Trail (an American Indian pathway which tailed off leading to the Great Wagon Road thru Virginia and southward thru Carolinas and Georgia, &c.). A “modern” bypass was built here in 1967 which removed the US30 to this new highway, and the old became Pennsylvania Route 462. York is going thru a metamorphosis, with Gettysburg at its west, and Lancaster (with its famed Dutch Country) at the east – and the scenic Susquehanna River. A hope is to revive the “Old US 30 Lincoln Highway” to the original road, which in 1777 led Continental Congress – fleeing Philadelphia from the British occupation and safely 95 miles west to York Town (PA), where the Articles of Confederation were scribed and drafted. 2027 marks milestone year and hoped the famed Lincoln Highway will be rebranded here for this major event.

  6. Cindy Ainsworth

    Hello Sarah,
    Thanks for the nice article about the Lincoln Highway! Many times America’s first main street gets left out so I am so happy to see it right here on the Antique Archeology site. Cool! I the President of the Nevada Chapter of the LH and a board member of the national LH and live just a few miles from the historic LH 4th Street segment in Reno, NV. Stop on by Mike and Frank whenever you’re in this neck of the Northern Nevada woods!

    1. Sarah Buckholtz Post Author

      Wow. Thank you very much, Cindy! It was enjoyable to write and we’re happy to tell the store on I’ll send your invite to the boys! Take good care over there-

  7. nils anders erickson

    love your show …. love this blurb on my favorite highway …. LH ….. i have the oldest building on Highway 6 Highway 30 and The LIncoln Highway …. all three ….. John Sutters Mill (1847) …. i’ve been hoarding altec electrovoice western electric and jbl for years …. come visit anytime …. only three miles from Iowa … so you won’t get tired of driving …. i have the jackson families first recording console …. lady gaga’s mermaid tank and the first Kustom amplifier ever made … you might have fun

    nils anders erickson
    rainbow recording studios
    2322 s 64th ave
    402 554 0123

  8. Jerry Monroe

    Long time show fan. Used to drive on the Lincoln almost everyday in NW Ohio. Now retired in FL, I remember the mileage markers still in the ground in Perrysburg near Toledo.

  9. Joe Reichert

    Living in Southern Illinois there are several points of the Lincoln Highway here. It goes both North and South from our town.

    Really enjoy your adventures, makes my time with big corporations seem like what the Eagles called “Wasted Time”

  10. Deborah Hebert

    I love your show I love to watch you all dig in those old buildings it is like I get junk drunk every time you do. Since I can’t do what you all do watching you is the next best thing. I ride with you in the van I laugh with you at your jokes thanks for giving us something worth watching in this day and time of television. I love meeting the people you all get to meet. Thank you for the breath of fresh air you all bring to all your followers and fans. Plus I get a free price guide to things I like to collect. You all bring real America back to us the way it use to be. Thanks again Deborah.

  11. Traci L. Miller

    We love the show. We just spent 3 wks. On the road discovering the country, and had the best time. We came into LaClaire and stopped by to see the stores. Thanks for the drive to look beyond and go for the rusty gold.

    Traci and John Miller

    1. Sarah Buckholtz Post Author

      Sounds killer! Hope y’all took plenty of snapshots and embraced the open road ahead. Take good care- Traci and John

  12. Michael greaves.

    Hi lads and lady’s love your show hear in oldham.england uk love all the people you meet some of them are lets just say out this world i can remember the man who walked around with no food were on what a laugh he keep up the good picking all the best.

  13. erick egger

    My second X life (now on 3rd) of 15 years was spent with a nice lady from Iowa picking junk in Midwest and selling as antiques in Colorado.
    Was a great experience as it lead me to see the American heartland.
    Thanks for sharing that with more of our fellow country folks.
    Spent last weekend on motorcycle, stopped by Hana and Medicine Bow on Lincoln Highway in Wyoming. The Virginia Hotel (and bar!) in Medicine Bow is a must particularly on Wyo football afternoon.
    Keep trucking and thanks!

  14. Trisha

    What a very insightful post on the Lincoln Hwy. I have a good share of road trips along the area and I pretty much enjoyed the location and the view. 🙂

  15. Liz Bookheimer

    I grew up in the little town of McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania which was directly on Route 30. Any time we wanted to shop, we’d have to take Route 30 over the mountain to Chambersburg where the stores were. My grandparents took Route 30 allllllllllllll the way across the United States to California back in the day. I was mesmerized by stories and photos of things they saw. In another 20 years, I was able to experience those sights with my family! Don’t we live in a wonderful country?

      1. Liz Bookheimer

        Actually, in 1968 my family made our first trip West to Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. Our sons were two and four. Somehow we were bitten by the bug to see this great country of ours as a family……..and Route 30 was part of that. It took twenty years for us to actually visit all fifty states. What an accomplishment and what a blessing!

  16. Mary Sims

    Next Spring 2018 we will be driving from home in NE FL up to Kansas City Des Moines and over to LeClaire and will be driving part of the Lincoln Highway. Not sure if driving that is the natural route from Des Moines to LeClaire or not but it most assuradly is deliberate. I would love to drive it from start to finish sometime but not until we retire. Looking forward to my first venture on it. From LeClaire we are going to Galena and then over to the Chicago(born and raised in the northwest burbs of Chicago) area then driving back home. Cannot wait for this trip

    1. Sarah Buckholtz Post Author

      Mary you are going to have an incredible road trip! Galena is amazing and of course, we are partial to LeClaire. After you visit the shop, go get a sauerkraut sausage pizza at Happy Joes. Just trust us on this one. 🙂

  17. Carol

    The Lincoln Motor Court is only a few miles from our house. We pass it frequently. And don’t miss The Coffee Pot, which is exactly what it sounds like, and Dunkle’s Gulf Station, a vintage gas station at the western end of Bedford, both sights to see along the Lincoln Highway.

  18. patricia leonhardt

    Who needs to travel coast to coast? Not me. I live only an hour away from the Abraham Lincoln birthplace in Hodgenville, KY, and that is just a couple miles away from his father’s and uncle’s cabins in Springfield, KY. Also don’t miss the huge bronze statue of Honest Abe in downtown Springfield.

    Funny thing though, his major nemesis – Jefferson Davis – was born about 30 minutes away from him! It is closer to Tennessee than Hodgenville. Civil War battlefield sites abound in the area and there’s lakes, cabins to rent and many wonderful unique eateries in the area.

    Get lucky in Kentucky!

  19. Rick Powell

    I grew up on the Lincoln Highway (US 30) in Irwin, PA. Some of the old time places are still in operation today like the Pie Shop in Laughlintown, PA ……best bakery ever since 1947. Some of the sights are now gone like the Ship Hotel built into the side of the mountain where you could see all the way to MD on a clear day and the Maple Drive in in Irwin. Those were great days and gasoline wars broke out all the time in the 60’s…regular gas as low as $.13.9/gal. Your trip down Route 30 would not be complete without going across the George Westinghouse Bridge near East Pittsburgh and the Dairy Queen in Mckeesport. Thanks for bringing us to the back roads of America. Love your show and the store in Nashville.

  20. Elizabeth T

    I live on Lincoln Highway when people just come into Van Wert, Ohio. The welcome sign is right out my window and an old red, white, and blue metal sign with the big L with my house number is on my front porch. So many people stop to get out to take pictures of that welcome sign. Pretty cool to be part of two lane history.

  21. Carolyn Adams

    Hello Guys , Love your show , Love y’all . So glad you’re back on the road again . Hope you’re still gonna come see me in Eclectic Alabama . I really get excited at the thought of it . I’ll even fix y’all a good country supper . Y’all come see me now ……… Carolyn

  22. Karen

    My husband and I were working for the summer in Iowa in 2018. We love riding the backroads and ran across a two lane part of Rt 30. We decided to take it west and rode until we needed to stop for lunch. We found a tiny little restaurant in Colo.IA and stopped to eat. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that some form of the restaurant had been there for a very long time. It was a museum of sorts. There was a small motel and a non-functioning old gas station there as well, very well preserved. Turned out that this was sitting on the junction of the Lincoln Highway – first east west paved cross country highway and the Jefferson Highway, which was the first north south paved Highway! We were told that the menu was as close to the original as they could make it. Apparently when the roads were built and the land was taken from the local farmer for them, he decided that he could profit from the intersection and built the station, restaurant and motel. We loved the visit!

  23. David Hochstetler

    I lived next to US Hwy 6, which we called Ridge Road in NW Indiana. Ridge Road was the original beach front of Lake Michigan before the Ice Age. It is approximately 7 miles down hill to the current beach on the lake. The area was first inhibited over 8,000 years ago by ancestors of the Blackhawk, Salk and Potawatomi tribes. In the 1950s, we found an axe and arrowheads when we dug our barbecue pit in the backyard. The relics are now in the Indiana State Museum.
    Route 30 or The Lincoln Hwy was 10 miles south of our home. About 5 miles to our west was Hwy 41 which traveled from nearby Chicago down South to the west coast of Florida. It was the Crossroads of America.

  24. Thom Bogdan

    Mike, I grew up in Joliet, IL… actually New Lenox…so East of New Lenox on Lincoln Highway (Rte. 30) was what we all knew as the old Red Brick Tavern… which in the 1800’s was a tavern and rooming house where Abe Lincoln was known to have stayed. Unfortunately, time took it’s toll and the building was torn down… wish you could have been around to save that treasure….

    I imagine you have read about this, but here is an interesting article… Best regard, Thom Bogdan

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