ROAD TRIP: Historic Lincoln Highway, AKA; U.S. 1, 30, 530, 40, and 50
WASHINGTON: Most people driving down the country’s interstate highway system have no appreciation of how it all came to be. They mistakenly figure Uncle Sam, and our Washington, D.C. government must have taken the lead. However, the first interstate paved road was conceived in 1912 by Indiana entrepreneur Carl G. Fisher, formally dedicated on October 31, 1913.
Fisher was the owner of the Prest-O-Lite Company of Indianapolis, Indiana, which made automobile headlights to allow early autos to travel after dark. Fisher’s lights used compressed acetylene tanks of gas ignited by a sparking switch. Fisher was a founding father of the Indy 500 Raceway. The raceway was a test track for all the major automakers of that time.
The Lincoln Highway runs coast-to-coast from Times Square in New York City west to Lincoln Park in San Francisco.
The road was initially through 13 states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. Lincoln Highway was named after President Abraham Lincoln to honor him for the transcontinental railroad. The east met west by rail at Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10, 1869.
Unfortunately, President Lincoln, our 16th President, never got to see his dream come true as he was assassinated on April 14, 1865.
The Lincoln Highway will be 110 years old next year.
Fisher was not alone in his effort, though.
Two other automotive titans to envision transcontinental roadway systems were Frank Seiberling, president of Goodyear, and Henry Joy, president of the Packard Motor Car Company. They each contributed vast amounts of money to build the first “interstate” paved road system.
They appealed to Henry Ford and others in the auto industry to join them in their effort, but Ford declined as he felt it was the government’s job to provide paved roads.
On July 1st, 1913, The Lincoln Highway Association was founded with over one-million dollars in the bank.
The goal of The Lincoln Highway Association was to create a “rock road” for 3,389 miles from coast to coast across America.
Over the years, The Lincoln Highway’s course was altered for various reasons. This can be confusing for those trying to retrace the original route. For example, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa were then, as now, widely regarded as the breadbasket of America, with all of the farmers growing food for us. That also made these three states the mud bog of Lincoln Highway.
The Lincoln Highway Association came up with a plan to construct some seedling miles.
Across the United States, each state took responsibility for planting some “Seedling Miles” of concrete as both an experiment in road construction, as well as a public relations. A move to garner more donations from the private sector, both individuals and companies.
By 1914, the Lincoln Highway Association had gathered enough materials to start paving a muddy section of the Lincoln Highway. The goal was to show the public the future of improved roads for automobiles.
The Association chose a particularly muddy low lying section of the road to improve just in front of Kishwaukee College.
The Association paved a mile of the road in Malta, Illinois, which they named a Seedling Mile. DeKalb County of Illinois is said to have the second most fertile soil in the world, only after the Nile River Vallely in Egypt. For this reason, affluent DeKalb County farmers were asked to donate money for this Seedling Mile. The work began in September, with this first rural paved mile of Lincoln Highway completed in October of 1914.
Interestingly, as the Seedling Mile was being constructed in Malta, Illinois, another Seedling Mile began at Mooseheart north of Aurora, Illinois.
James J. Davis is duly honored as Mooseheart’s founder.
In 1912 Davis convinced the Moose organization to purchase a large farm west of the Fox River along the Lincoln Highway to establish a Child City home and school where dependent widows of Moose members could take their children. Davis is said to have tirelessly sold hundreds of thousands of men on the idea.
Back then, Americans took the passages in the Bible about taking care of widows very seriously.
An Illinois State Historical Society marker sits on the campus of Kishwaukee College commemorating the First Seedling Mile of the Lincoln Highway. Other markers, standing near gazebos, can be found along the path of the Lincoln Highway throughout Illinois.
Another big moment in the history of the Lincoln Highway happened in 1919 when a military convoy set out from Washington, D.C.
The convoy moved across the United States as an exercise of man, machine, and the burgeoning road system leading the government to budget and spend 75 million dollars on improving the interstate roadways of the country.
The Lincoln Highway Association had done much of the research and groundwork to determine how to make an American highway.
Through surveys with America’s civil engineers, they came up with some basics:
The roadway should be 10-inches thick and of concrete.
It should be reinforced with steel bars.
Bridges must be designed for the weight of heavy trucks.
Banked elevations should line the roadway.
Gutters that direct rain away from the roadway.
It should be crowned to the middle causing the raid to drain away.
Constructing an “Ideal Section” of a road in 1922 began according to 18 engineering design principles.
America’s first 4-lane undivided highway.
It was built in Indiana from the Illinois State line to Schererville, Indiana at a cost of $167,000, making the worldwide news. It was considered the Crown Jewel of the entire Lincoln Highway.
Henry C. Osterman was killed in an automobile accident on Lincoln Highway in Iowa in 1920.
Osterman, the ‘founding father’ of the Lincoln Highway “Ideal Section,” was on a road trip to promote the Lincoln Highway Association, Osterman was raising funds and promoting the association’s efforts. As a result, a memorial was erected to remember Osterman in 1921 on the south side of Lincoln Highway in Dyer, Indiana. In September of 2016, the monument was renovated.
The Lincoln Highway Association, made up of private volunteer citizens, disbanded in 1928 but not before having the Boy Scouts of America place 3,000 Lincoln Highway concrete markers along the highway route.
The Lincoln Highway Association came back to life in 1992 with a mission of preserving the highway in history.
Its national office is in a building in Franklin Grove, Illinois. A volunteer effort took hold to remember the highway in history and honor all those involved in its planning and construction.
Planning a road trip down the Lincoln Highway is about as difficult as planning a road trip down Route 66, the famous road that started at Lake Shore Drive in Chicago and concluded on the Sunset Strip of Los Angeles.
In some places, such as in Dyer, Indiana, the Old Lincoln Highway is named and still navigable as it once was, much as it is throughout Indiana along the Pennsylvania Railroad line. However, today the “Pennsy” Railroad is no more, and that same rail line is used by the Amtrak, Canadian National (CN) and Burlington Northern, and Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad companies.
In Illinois, Rt. 30 has moved south from Rt. 38. In Iowa, much of the old highway remains both in its old original locations abandoned and the newer sections still in use today.
The history connected with the Lincoln Highway should never be forgotten.
The American patriot volunteers who pioneered this infrastructure system for our country are credited with being the founders of highway safety in America. Adolph Hitler supervised the four-lane divided high-speed highway, known as the Autobahn. Hitler surely studied the Lincoln Highway Association before the construction of the Autobahn in the mid-1920s.
The Nazis took over the project between 1936 to 1942. In 1942, when the war turned against Nazi Germany, only 3,800 km (2,400 mi) out of a planned 20,000 km (12,000 mi) had been completed.
Still, what the Germans had accomplished was impressive and became the impetus for America’s future high-speed turnpikes and toll roads.
Mark Schwendau is a conservative Christian patriot and retired technology professor (CAD-CAM and web development). He prides himself on his critical thinking ability Schwendau has had a long sideline of newspaper editorial writing. He used the byline, “bringing little known facts to people who want to see the truth. Mark is on alternative free speech social media platforms after lifetime bans from Facebook and Twitter. And shadow bans from Instagram and Fox News commenting.
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