U. S. Highways North-South Routes East West Routes Sequential Table 1926 Map U. S. Route Proposals

United States Numbered Highway System
Around the turn of the 20th century, American life was changing rapidly.  Automobiles were becoming more readily available and Americans were discovering a new and wonderful pastime: road trips. The only problem was that good highways were almost non-existent and poorly-marked. Horatio Neslon Jackson, on a $50 wager, undertook the first ever cross-country trip in an automobile during the summer of 1903. He departed San Francisco, California on May 23 in his slightly used, two-cylinder, 20 hp Winton, an early brand of automobile, which he named The Vermont, after his home state. What ensued was an incredible 64-day odyssey that took him through mountains, across rivers, and even paying tolls to cross people's fields. Jackson finally arrived in New York City on July 26, his 3,500 mile adventure costing him a total of $8,000, including $800 in fuel.

Over the next two decades, auto trails were established privately by various associations geared towards getting Americans to travel through their own towns and cities, and thus the tourism industry was born. The Lincoln Highway was established in 1913, becoming the first such highway to travel from coast to coast, originating in New York City and terminating in San Francisco. The Dixie Highway, running from the upper midwest to exciting new tourist destinations in Florida, was established in 1915. Other auto trails included the Meridian Highway, Lee Highway, Dixie Overland Highway, and Old Spanish Trail. Maintenance of these highways was largely undertaken privately either by the individual trail associations or by local communities served by the highway, and was rather sporadic in nature. Furthermore, marking of routes was also not uniform; it was mostly left up to trail associations and local communities.

Interest in road trips was curtailed once America entered World War I in 1917, as the U. S. government began instituting rationing of fuel and food, as well as a civilian draft into the U. S. military. After the war ended, the U. S. economy floundered in a postwar recession and influenza ravaged the globe, and thus, Americans were still largely unable to engage in leisurely travel. However, America's fortunes began to change in the early 1920s. Our economy came back to life and Americans were suddenly flush with cash and eager for good times. There was also a growing "Good Roads Movement," which was being actively promoted by the States. Included in this movement was a more uniform improvement of highways and better marking for travelers. In 1918, Wisconsin was the first State to institute the practice of numering highways rather than naming them, and very quickly other States followed suit.

In April of 1922, the six New England States of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, approved a plan for an interstate highway marking system among themselves. They established a list of 32 regional highways and marked them with common numbers across New England, rather than having these highways change numbers at State lines, as was the case in the rest of the country. This system was designed for expansion into the rest of the country, with one and two-digit routes being major transcontinental routes and three digit routes being used for single-State routes. In general, odd numbers were to run east-west and even numbers north-south. The main exception was Route 1, which was to run along the Atlantic coast from Florida to Calais, Maine. A few of the major auto trails were not to be assigned numbers, instead being marked with letters—for instance, L for the Lincoln Highway and R for the Roosevelt International Highway.

The American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO), which had been formed in 1914 to help establish roadway standards, began to plan a system of marked and numbered "interstate highways" at its 1924 meeting. AASHO recommended that the Secretary of Agriculture work with the states to designate these routes under the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR). This plan was greatly opposed by auto trail associations who feared the elimination of named highways. These concerns were alleviated by an assurance that marked auto trails would be included in the system. In 1925, AASHO adopted a shield to mark routes, as well as agreeing to numbered rather than named routes. A preliminary numbering system, with eight major east–west and ten major north–south routes, was deferred to a numbering committee "without instructions". These highways were basically to be a system of State-funded and maintained highways sharing both a common number designation and shield across State lines.

The 1925 BPR plan was both praised and criticized by local newspapers, depending on whether or not that city connected to a major route. It was also criticized by some who lamented the obsolescence of most of the various auto trails around the country. The most heated argument was concerning US Route 60, which was initially slated to run from Chicago to Los Angeles. This plan was mostly opposed by Virginia and mostly Kentucky, who favored the Theodore Roosevelt Midland Trail for the US 60 routing. In order to resolve this conflict, the committee assigned US 60 to US 52 from Newport News, VA to Huntington, WV and US 62 from Huntington, WV to Springfield, MO. Then, they reassigned US 62 to the Chicago to Los Angeles route. This was rejected by Missouri and Oklahoma due to the fact that Missouri had already printed maps, and Oklahoma had prepared signs. A compromise was proposed, in which US 60 would split at Springfield, Missouri, into US 60E and US 60N, but both sides objected. The final solution resulted in the assignment of US 66 to the Chicago-Los Angeles portion of the US highway, which did not end in zero, but was still seen as a satisfyingly round number. Route 66 came to have a prominent place in popular culture, being featured in song and films.

With 32 states already marking their routes, the plan was approved by AASHO on November 11, 1926. It was established that east-west routes would receive even numbers, while north-south routes would receive odd numbers. Major east-west transcontiental routes would end in zero, e.g. 10, 20, 30, etc., while major north-south transcontinental routes would end in one, e.g., 1, 11, 21, etc. Even numbered routes increse from north to south, with US 2 being in the extreme north and US 98 being in the extreme south. Odd numbered routes increase from east to west, with US 1 being in the extreme east and US 101 being in the extreme west. All other two-digit routes were used to fill in the rest of the grid. Three-digit routes were established as shorter connecting branches and were numbered based on their parent routes. For example, US 66 had six branch routes, numbered as US 166, US 266, US 366, US 466, US 566 and US 666. As a rule, branch routes were numbered from north to south and east to west, such as US 201 occurring in Maine and US 601 being in South Carolina.

Additionally, divided routes were also included in the system due to the numerous competing trail associations advocating for routes through their towns. For example, both Marion, Ohio and Upper Sandusky, Ohio fought to be included along the route of US 30. In order to accomodate both requests, a split route was established with a northern and southern branch being routed through each town, numered with the suffix of -N or -S. Thus, U. S. Route 30N ran through Upper Sandusky and U. S. Route 30S ran through Marion. Both routes were considered to equally be U. S. Route 30. Divided north-south routes were assigned with the suffixes -E and -W, for example U. S. Route 11E running through Johnson City, Tennessee while U. S. Route 11W runs through Kingsport, Tennessee. Divided routes were later deemed to be confusing and ordered to be eliminated, as were single-state routes shorter than 300 miles. However, because participation in the U. S. Highway System is entirely voluntary, the States cannot be compelled or mandated to either establish or eliminate routes. That is why there are still a few scattered split routes, mostly in Kentucky and Tennessee.



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