Route 66 is probably the most famous road in America, even though it officially no longer exists!
The federal government commissioned the road in 1926. It was thought of as a super highway at the time. Route 66 stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles, ending at the Santa Monica Pier on the Pacific Ocean. It ran through eight states: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
Other east-west highways existed at the time; however, Route 66 was the first federal highway to connect small communities and rural farmland to major cities across the American West. By 1938 the entire length of the highway was paved, after the Great Depression halted progress for many years.
Because of Route 66, diners and motels became popular. Many motorists enjoyed traveling Route 66 because of the roadside attractions found in the small communities. These attractions included plastic, life-sized dinosaurs; statues of legendary characters like Paul Bunyan; the Wigwam Motel chain whose rooms were shaped like Native American teepees; the Cadillac Ranch in Texas; a giant ball of twine; a giant popcorn ball and a giant ketchup bottle. You can still see some of these attractions today, as well as similar attractions all over the country.
Route 66 is firmly entrenched in American culture. John Steinbeck called it the Mother Road in his novel The Grapes of Wrath published in 1939. In 1940 the book was made into a famous movie starring Henry Fonda. Hollywood has also paid homage to the famous highway many more times through the years. For example, in 2006 the animated film Cars depicts many of the roadside attractions and impressions of Route 66.
In 1946, singer Nat King Cole made the song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” famous. Many others have recorded the song since then.
In the 1960s there was a TV show named after the highway in which two young men drove across the country.
Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985 and replaced by interstate highways. Therefore, Route 66 no longer appears on official maps. However, many nonprofit and private organizations are devoted to preserving the spirit and path of the former highway. You can find many of these organizations online, along with maps, history and roadside attraction information. Many people even today spend their vacations driving various parts of the old Route 66.
A language note:
The word “route” can be pronounced to rhyme with “boot” or with “shout”, depending on where you are from. However, when referring to this highway, it is usually pronounced to rhyme with “boot”. And so I have done in this podcast.
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