America's First Transcontinental Highway Centennial
Cars are such a central part of modern American life, we have to remind ourselves that we are only about a century away from horse and buggy days. In fact, this year marks the 100th birthday of the first transcontinental highway - from New York City all the way to San Francisco, California. The first fully paved highway, that is. Known to historians as the "Lincoln Highway," this original coast-to-coast roadway was the essential infrastructure that the new automakers, especially Ford Motor Company, needed to sell their newly minted motor cars to the American masses. The relatively affordable Ford Model T had gone into production in 1907 and a ribbon of asphalt was all that was needed to tie a knot in the American love affair with cars.
Imagine! A road trip all the way from New York to California. It was a far cry from the interconnected federal and state highway systems that spider throughout the country today, giving college students, newlyweds and retirees a once-in-a-lifetime experience with the convenience of gas stations, rest stops, and coffee shops along the way. But, at least the Lincoln Highway was continuous and sufficiently paved to protect puncture-prone vehicle tires from the ruts and rocks of the more common dirt roads.
To put this event in perspective, the 1913 Lincoln Highway was finally connected more than 40 years after that moment on May 10, 1869, in Utah Territory, when Leland Stanford drove the ceremonial "Golden Spike" to complete the first transcontinental railway. The year 1913 also marked the completion of the Panama Canal, although it was not dedicated for shipping traffic for another few months. Even a plane had flown cross country by that time -- in 1911 -- although not, of course, in a non-stop trip.
As we navigate commute traffic and school carpool lanes, or search for a parking space on crowded city streets, it is worth pausing to note that the pervasive American car culture is more recent than we realize. You can access a map of the Lincoln Highway here.