On July 1, 1913, a group of automobile enthusiasts and industry officials established the Lincoln Highway Association
"to procure the establishment of a continuous improved highway from the Atlantic to the Pacific, open to lawful traffic of all description without toll charges
," and to be a lasting memorial to Abraham Lincoln
. The Lincoln Highway efforts started about three years before the first federal road act would provide funding to states
to improve the broad network of roads. Never officially finished, the first transcontinental highway eventually became renumbered as various interstate and US routes
. To celebrate its centennial, there was a cross-country tour in June
It all started with one man, Carl G. Fisher
, who was influential in the creation of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
. The speedway was initially designed a vehicle testing facility as there were few good roads in Indianapolis.
Fisher's first idea for a transcontinental road was called the Coast-to-Coast Rock Highway
, as it was to be a graveled road that would run from New York City to San Francisco. He wanted the route completed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition
, which would be held in San Francisco. The cost for materials alone would be $10 million, with labor and machinery to be paid for by towns and counties along the route
(Google books preview). The money would come from pledges of 1% gross revenues from manufacturers of automobiles and auto accessories, and members of the general public subscribing to an annual membership of $5. Fisher had big hopes that Henry Ford would help out in, but Ford declined. He had his Secretary respond to the LHA’s request for funds thusly
“Frankly the writer is not very favorably disposed to the plan, because as long as private interests are willing to build good roads for the general public, the general public will not be very interested in building good roads for itself. I believe in spending money to educate the public to the necessity of building good roads, and let everybody contribute their share in proper taxes.”
But another automobile company president did help out. Henry B. Joy
, president of Packard Motor Cars, was the one to name the transcontinental road
, and became its champion.
The Lincoln Highway Association began promoting the Lincoln Highway from its first day. A "Trail-Blazer" tour of 17 cars and 2 trucks left Indianapolis for San Francisco. The tour included a number of reporters from newspapers, and telegraph companies. It took 36 days to reach the coast of California, after days filled with boiling radiators, flat tires, broken axles and enthusiastic receptions in every community along the way that thought it had a chance of being included on the route
. (Google cache; original PDF
Joy pushed for a more direct route, not deviating for major cities. The Lincoln Highway would start in Times Square in New York City and would run through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California, where it would end in Lincoln Park in San Francisco
, not going through Kansas or Colorado, as Fisher and previously promised. But without significant funding, the major road project stalled before construction started.
With the limited funding, the efforts shifted from a complete gravel road to concrete "seedling" miles
, upgrading dirt roads to paved streets
to display the superiority of such modern roadways. To further extend the efforts of the Lincoln Highway, existing routes were brought under the umbrella of the highway. Over the next several years, some kinks in the highway were straightened out
. But in Utah, west of Salt Lake City, the Goodyear cutoff was never completed
, to keep people traveling through Utah (though through the desert), the Arrowhead Trail
was promoted by Utah, taking travelers south-west, through Las Vegas, Nevada on their way to Los Angeles, California.
The end of the Lincoln Highway came with the transition from named highways to numbered routes
. The last major act of the LHA was to coordinate with Boy Scout troops along the route to get small concrete markers installed along the route, at an average of about one per mile
, with a small bust of Lincoln and the inscription "This highway dedicated to Abraham Lincoln
You don't have to be part of any official tour to re-trace the Lincoln Highway. The LHA website has a marked up Google map with the route
, and there's a Wikipedia page on the route of the Lincoln Highway
that details the modern route and has some notes on past realignments. If you want to get proper old-timey, here is The Complete Official Road Guide of The Lincoln Highway
(second edition from 1916 on Google books; third edition from 1918 on Archive.org
You can visit (one of the) last seedling miles of concrete road in Grand Island, Nebraska
, near Seedling Mile Elementary School
Carl Fisher later creating the city of Miami Beach and the Montauk settlement on the eastern tip of Long Island, N.Y., but he lost everything and faded to historical footnote
For some context, here is Good Roads Magazine, Jan. 1907 - Progress of State Aid in the United States
The tax of bad roads, or, as it is sometimes called, the "mud tax," is levied on all alike, the rich man as well as the poor man, the man who lives in the country as well as the man who lives in the city, the producer as well as the consumer.
Another tangent from Good Roads Magazine, Sept. 1908: the other proposed Lincoln Highway
, an earlier effort to connect the City of Washington to Gettysburg, Pa.