This article has been compiled from excerpts of The
Lincoln Highway, published in 1935 by the Lincoln
Highway Association, and located at the DeKalb Public
Mainstreet in Iowa prior to Lincoln Highway.
arl Fisher had an idea .. out of which has grown thousands of miles of modern highways, whole new systems of highway administration, vast changes in American social and economic life. Revolutionary in character, it was nevertheless so simple that a few words sufficed to describe it. It was in his own phrasing:
"A road across the United States; Let's build it before we're too old to enjoy it.."
Today, when hard-surfaced highways are a commonplace and a man may pick and choose among routes to almost any destination, the exceeding boldness of such a proposal is obscured; but in 1912, when Mr. Fisher presented it to the astonished leaders of an infant automobile industry, there were plenty to term him visionary and his idea impossible of accomplishment.
.. At that time there were almost no roads, as roads are known today, in the United States. There was no system of connecting roads covering even so large an area as a state, probably none which even covered a county.
.. Nobody knew or cared where any road went except that which led to his home: and rarely did a farmer close to town know the farther terminus of the route that passed his front gate.
[Carl Fisher founded The Lincoln Highway Association in 1912, and sold his idea to the automobile magnates of that time: The Lincoln Highway would create a need for automobiles, providing a superior road for people to drive their vehicles on.]
.. A map was prepared [September 10th, 1913] showing the route [of the proposed highway]:
1. NEW YORK-New York.
2. NEW JERSEY-Jersey City, Newark, Trenton, Camden.
3. PENNSYLVANIA-Philadelphia, Lancaster, York, Gettisburg, Chambersburg, Bedford, Ligonier, Greensburg, Pittsburgh, Beaver Falls.
4. OHIO-Canton, Mansfield, Marion, Kenton, Lima, Van Wert, known as Market Route No. 3.
5. INDIANA-Fort Wayne, Ligonier, Elkhart, South Bend, Laporte, Valparaiso.
6. ILLINOIS-Chicago Heights, Joliet, Geneva, DeKalb, Rochelle, Ashton, Dixon, Sterling, Morrison, Fulton.
7. IOWA-Clinton, DeWitt, Cedar Rapids, Tama, Marshalltown, State Centre, Ames, Grand Junction, Jefferson, Dennison, Logan, Council Bluffs.
8. NEBRASKA-Omaha, Fremont, Columbus, Central City, Grand Island, Kearney, Lexington, Gothenburg, North Platte, Ogallala, Big Springs, Chappell, Sidney, Kimball.
9. COLORADO-Julesburg, Sterling, Fort Morgan, Denver, Longmont, Loveland, Fort Collins.
10. WYOMING-Pine Bluff, Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins, Wamsutter, Point of Rocks, Rock Springs, Green River, Granger, Fort Bridger, Evanston.
11. UTAH-Echo, Parley's Canyon, Salt Lake City, Garfield, Grantsville, Timpie, Kanaka Ranch, Fish Springs, Kearney's Ranch, Ibapha.
12. NEVADA-Tippet's Ranch, Schellburne Pass, Ely, Eureka, Austin, Fallon Wadsworth, Reno, Carson City.
13. CALIFORNIA-Truckee, Auburn, Tallac, Placerville, Sacramento, Stockton, Oakland, San Francisco.
.. The dramatic manner of the route's presentation, the patriotic appeal of the name Lincoln and the thorough manner in which press material was distributed obtained publication of the story at length almost everywhere.
The public response was tremendous and immediate. Letters, promises of support, checks, poured in with every mail from all sections of classes. .. Ministers, lawyers, bankers, motorists, notables of all kinds, even President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, sent in checks and asked to be enrolled as members [of The Lincoln Highway Association].
.. In the short space of fourteen months, the Lincoln Highway Association had converted communities from Pennsylvania to Wyoming to the belief that improved roads were a necessity and that concrete was the best and most economical material for construction.
.. By any standards, it was a remarkable accomplishment. It was rendered more remarkable by the fact that the Association also convinced individual cement companies that it would be to their interest to donate their product for use in demonstration miles. It was with such cement that construction work was begun early in October, 1914, on the first "Seedling Mile," near Malta, Illinois.
The first Seedling Mile, right outside DeKalb.
.. The Association's objective was to obtain as much concrete construction as possible in return for cement sufficient to build one mile of highway and to have this road built on the open highway where mud had been the rule, so local traffic would have opportunity to note the striking difference between the demonstration section and the unimproved road at either end.
For the first mile, Mr. Pardington [secretary of the LHW Association] called together all the county and local consuls of Illinois in a meeting at De Kalb, under the chairmanship of State Consul J.W. Corkings. He had 8,000 barrels of cement available for use in Illinois, enough for four miles of highway.
He had therefore proposed that the route of the Lincoln Highway across Illinois be divided into four equal sections and that the townships in each section compete for enough cement to build one mile. .. Consul Corkings, a real giant in highway promotion, led the struggle in his home town of De Kalb and surrounding territory, and not only distanced all competitors in his section but did it so quickly that his community won the first allotment of cement.
He raised $2,000 in cash from public subscriptions and induced the county supervisors to appropriate another $3,000. With free cement this was just enough to build one mile of road on a grade which the state had partially prepared west of De Kalb. The state donated the use of its road machinery and assigned engineers to supervise construction.
.. So was built the first of the Lincoln Highway Seedling Miles. It lies between 6.2 and 7.2 miles west of the De Kalb post office and the builders did a good job, for 20 years afterward it was still part of the state highway.
.. The Lincoln Highway traffic [was likened] to a vast river, flowing westward in a single great increasing stream until it reached Wyoming and Utah and then dividing into smaller streams as though it were passing through a delta, some north to the national parks, some south through the wonders of southern Utah, some northwest to Portland or Seattle and some southwest toward Los Angeles.
That stream was a river of gold to the country through which it passestourist goldfor the hotelkeeper, the garage operator, the sellers of gasoline and oil and food."
he Lincoln Highway was the first hardsurfaced road across the United States. Its benefits were exponential in that it boosted trade, the economy, travel and tourism around the nation. Building Lincoln Highway was an object lesson in proving the need for improved roads in other parts of the nation, and the world. Canada soon thereafter built its Trans-Canada Highway with the technical know-how gained from the Lincoln Highway project. Businesses boomed when they discovered that fresh produce could now be trucked thousands of miles from where it was grown, and sold in distant makets. For example, oranges and grapes from California could be enjoyed in DeKalb any time of year, and DeKalb corn could now be puchased fresh at stores in San Francisco and New York.
Previously, braving the mud ruts of the old Overland Trail from New York to San Francisco would take a brave adventurer anywhere from 60 to 90 days, if they made it across at all. With the opening of Lincoln Highway, this once arduous and treacherous journey was now possible in seven days, on smooth roads and at high speeds of [then] 35 mph, with hotels, gas stations and garages conveniently located along the way.
The Lincoln Highway project led to the establishment of government federal aid money for highway construction, and to the formation of state highway departments.
The Unites States Armed Forces took advantage of Lincoln Highway to transport a steady flow of ammunition and supplies for shipping to troops in Europe during the First World War.
In the years that followed, hundreds of highways were built to connect cities and communities with the first "Main Street of America": Lincoln Highway, the first "Seedling Mile" of which was built 6.2 miles west of the old DeKalb Post Office, near Malta.
Left: Makeshift road sign near Laramie, prior to Lincoln Highway. Right: Standard Lincoln Highway Signpost.
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Book excerpts copyright ©1935 The Lincoln Highway Association.
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