Since the start of mass production of the automobile, purchasing cars became easier for many Americans. Because of the new freedom that automobiles gave Americans, people began looking for places to drive. And, in their travels, they started to explore different parts of the country. However, the lack of quality roadways was a deterrent to cross country travel.
In the late 1920’s, the United States Government first introduced the highway numbering system. The roads were mostly two lane highways which went through many towns and cities. It was a great way to connect the country, however, with the many towns you needed to go through, it was not the most effective way to travel, or to transport products by truck.
By the time World War II ended, the country began to enjoy a period of prosperity, and the need for a more efficient system of travel was realized. The government began the planning process for a system of interstate highways which would bypass the small towns and create a faster way to travel from point to point.
At the urging of the automobile makers and with the support of President Eisenhower, the Interstate Highway System was created through the Federal Highway Aid Act of 1956. The highways would connect the country from east to west and north to south, making consumer, commercial and military travel easier, saving hours of driving time.
To make identification of the highways easier, the interstate highways were identified with a two or three digit number, with the letter I preceding it. To ensure that all the highways in the interstate system were maintained, the government instituted minimum maintenance requirements for all highways in the system.
While the interstate highway system has had a positive impact on the ability of travelers and businesses to get from one point to another, it’s not all positive. The interstate system has seen the decline in use of secondary highways which go through towns. The decline in usage has meant that less people go through the towns, and businesses have folded.
However, the overall improvement in our transportation and travel systems far outweigh any negatives in the system. While the infrastructure is in place, the government is continuing to make improvements in the highway system, by improving roads and support services. Through these improvements, consumers and businesses will continue to travel efficiently.
To help understand the history of the interstate highway system, and its effect on the travel industry, we have accumulated a collection of resources:
- National Highway System
- Interstate System 50th Anniversary
- Interstate Highway Documents and Photographs
- Interstate Highway System
- Origins of the Interstate System
- Origins of the Interstate
- Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956
- Interstate Highway System (pdf)
- Federal Aid Highway System
- Interstate Highway Numbering
- Federal Aid Highway Act
- Eisenhower Interstate Highway System
- Interstate Highway Act Transcript
- National Highway System Maps
- Highway Route Log