In 1910, the automobile was in its infancy, with approximately 180,000 vehicles registered in the United States. People traveled, but traveling was not easy. The roads that existed were in poor condition, and many were not even connected!
With this in mind, entrepreneur and promoter Carl G. Fisher proposed a road that would span the country from coast to coast. An Indiana native, Fisher enjoyed the motorized vehicle. He raced against the likes of Barney Oldfield, and he developed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as an automotive proving ground.
Carl Fisher also envisioned a system of roads for people to travel. In the early 1910s, he published a bulletin marketing his new idea for a coast-to-coast highway, and within 30 days, he had millions of dollars in pledges. Apparently, people wanted to travel. Fisher collaborated with many individuals to get the idea off the ground. One of particular significance was Henry Joy, president of Packard Motor Car Company. In December 1912, Joy gave Fisher a $150,000 pledge for the highway.
An excerpt from The Lehigh magazine published in November 1913 commented on the difference between the cost of new construction versus utilization of existing roads: To completely construct a transcontinental highway would cost approximately 25 million dollars, but there are now many roads in existence entirely suited to the purpose which need only be linked together to form a continuous highway. Two thousand miles of road must be built or permanently improved. Therefore, it is estimated that 10 million dollars would be sufficient to complete the work.
During the spring of 1913, a planning group gathered several times trying to forge the highways route, determining through which states it would pass. On July 1, 1913, the group met again and formed the Lincoln Highway Association.The Association decided upon three important factors for the highway: the directness of the route, its proximity to populations and scenic interest.
Roads in the early days of automobiles made travel an adventure.
The resulting Lincoln Highway began in Times Square, Broadway and 42nd, New York City, and ended in Lincoln Park, San Francisco, spanning the continental United States in 3,389 miles.
Those who took to the roads in the early part of the 20th century were not just exercising their automobiles. They wanted to see the country, take in its sights, connect with history and be entertained all the while creating family memories. Stopping for food and entertainment balanced out the hard work of traveling.
The Lincoln Highway spans the U.S. from San Francisco to New York City.
Early auto travel led to the tourist cabin business.
In the early days of the automobile, owning a car was considered a novelty. It was also a major expense. People bought cars outright with cash, and it wasnt surprising that owners wanted to protect their investments by parking their cars in garages. Garages and gas stations evolved to the point of offering repair services.
During the Lincoln Highways first years, gas and snacks were not as easy to find as they are today. Gas pumps were often placed on sidewalks in front of stores. Early travelers were warned to fill their tanks every time they stopped because availability was unpredictable.
By 1923, motor camping was the number-one national pastime. Affordable automobiles provided average Americans a new type of freedom and a way to escape their daily routines by touring the countryside on short weekend trips or cross-country treks. Those travelers required more conveniences, influencing the birth of tourist cabins. Individual cabins offered security, hot showers and radios. Eventually, national chain hotels and motels dominated the highways, replacing most of the tourist cabins.
(Photo: Alex Bellotti, Commonwealth Media Services)
New murals along the Lincoln Highway depict travel history.
Other roadside businesses sprang up as well. Most communities with major hotels had associated garages. The 1924 Official Road Guide to the Lincoln Highway lists 40 garages in the communities along the 200-mile museum corridor. (Today, these large garages make attractive conversions into stores and offices.) As automobile traffic increased in the 1920s and 1930s, so did the number of service stations.
The boom in the automobile industry led to an explosion in the restaurant industry. Americans were experiencing two new forces the urge to ride in the car and the urge to eat out.
The Coffee Pot is a restored lunch stand built near the Lincoln Highway in 1927 one of the new examples of programmatic architecture in the U.S.
Early road-building and maintenance was a challenge across the country. Like other northern states, Pennsylvania has a wide range of weather, including heat, freezing and thawing in addition to complications indicative of high elevations. According to the April 1918 issue of Motor Age, ... a real effort was made to maintain roads during touring season from April to December. Pennsylvania has done wonders in road building. The road from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh is practically a boulevard all the way, particularly the western portion which has been completely rebuilt.
The Pennsylvania State Highway Department fought the problems caused by rain and snow. Water breaks for drainage were eliminated, replaced by a modern system of culverts. Where all snow removal had been done by hand, snowplows were developed to clear the heavy snowfalls. These and other measures allowed the roads to remain open, ensuring deliveries by motorcars and trucks.
By the end of the 1920s, the federal highway system changed the names of early routes to a system of standardized numbering. In Pennsylvania, the Lincoln Highway was renamed U.S. Route 30.
With the opening of the countrys first superhighway, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, travel volume on the Lincoln Highway declined. It could not compete with the faster, less dangerous interstate highway system. Yet the Lincoln Highway remains. Over the years, some sections have been bypassed, realigned and resurfaced, while other sections are as pristine and unspoiled as they were more than 90 years ago.
(Photo: Alex Bellotti, Commonwealth Media Services)
Panoramic views along the Lincoln Highway confirm that getting there is more than half the fun.
Attracted by the romance of the Lincoln Highway era, many travelers are returning to noninterstate highways, appreciating what roads like the Lincoln Highway have to offer.
The highway crosses the state of Pennsylvania, which took specific measures to accommodate these travelers about a decade ago. Thats when a Feasibility Study and Management Action Plan was completed, and former Governor Tom Ridge designated several Pennsylvania counties from just east of Pittsburgh to beyond Gettysburg as the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor (LHHC). LHHCs 200-Mile Roadside Museum makes a uniquely historical presentation of the route with funky roadside attractions.
Pennsylvanias LHHC helps to make the history of U.S. highways interesting through its museum. Traveling that part of the Lincoln Highway provides experiences in nostalgic Americana and confirms that getting there can be more than half the fun.
Karen Fetter is the Marketing Manager for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor.
For more information on the LHHC, visit www.lhhc.org. Also, read an interesting biography of Carl G. Fisher through a keyword search at www.indianahistory.org.