Background

“More than any single action by the government since the end of the war, this one would change the face of America with straightaways, cloverleaf turns, bridges, and elongated parkways. Its impact on the American economy—the jobs it would produce in manufacturing and construction, the rural areas it would open up—was beyond calculation.”

-President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Mandate for Change, 1963


The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highway (Interstate Highway System) was America’s resolution to the need for transcontinental connections and a general system of travel.  The Interstate Highway System was created under President Dwight D. Eisenhower with his Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956.  The Act was “the largest public works project ever” to be undertaken by the federal government.1 

While serving in the United States Army, the 19 year old future-President Eisenhower was on a military assignment, to test the inadequacy of the nation’s motor roads.  This test was the first transcontinental motor convoy excursion by the military.  His company experienced many unexpected road trouble, ranging from failing bridges, streams, and to sinking in mud and sand.  This excursion resulted in then President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to put a large amount of money in his New Deal plan towards building new roads and highways.  The New Deal called for building the roads and highways with tolls, to help support the building and maintenance. 

Starting the 1890s in New England, highway commissions were created as an “effort to get the farmers out of the mud.”2   Stating funding for highways began with mostly eastern states, but by 1916, all except eight states had some type of funding put towards highway construction.  After World War II the automobile’s industrial growth began to dominate the American industries.  Millions of jobs were in great relation to the automobile.  The traffic levels on the highways increase so dramatically that better conditions became a necessity.  The American Automobile Association (AAA) lobbied for the adjustments. Federal-Aid Highway Acts were first created in 1921, and continued with major failures and changes to each following Act, until the 1956 Act, with minor improvements for over 20 years.     

 

 

 

 

 

 


1 Mark H. Rose, Interstate: Express Highway Politics, 1941-1956, (New York: University of Kansas Press, 1979) 54.

 

 

 

 

2 I.B. Holley, The Highway Revolution, 1895-1925: How the United States Got Out of the Mud (New York: Carolina Academic, 2007) 9.

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Images (in order from which they appear)

 TAHPDX: Great Decisions in US History. “The Mixing Bowl,” March 17, 2009, <http://www.upa.pdx.edu/IMS>.

John S. Julien, Mike StaggInterstate, “The Designated Sign,” Lafayette Pro FIber. March 17, 2009, <http://lafayetteprofiber.com/Blog/2007/03/>.

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