Kingman is at the Heart of Historic Route 66, so when Route 66 turned its 90th year on November 11, (Veteran’s Day) it was a big deal for us! Here are five fun historic facts you may not have known about American and Route 66.
Five things you probably didn’t know about Route 66 history...
1. Route 66 was promoted from the beginning. Even the number ‘66’ was selected by Cyrus Avery, the Father of Route 66, because it had a nice ring to it. Commissioned in 1926, it was just a collection of mostly dirt roads. The U.S. Highway 66 Association was formed in 1927 in an effort to increase traffic on the highway and get it paved from Chicago to L.A., which was finally completed in 1938.
2. Its nickname ‘The Mother Road’ has its roots in an American classic. Because the new highway was promoted so well from the beginning, desperate people heading to California in search of a better life knew about Route 66 and took it. John Steinbeck wrote about it in the Grape of Wrath, in which he coined ‘The Mother Road’:
66 is the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership, from the desert's slow northward invasion, from the twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from the floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there. From all of these the people are in flight, and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road, the road of flight. - The Grape of Wrath, Chapter 12
Today, you can visit the Arizona Route 66 Museum for an interesting look into how Route 66 developed into the American icon (adult admission is $4, children under 12 are free with a paying adult). Inside the Museum is a full sized diorama Grapes of Wrath display.
3. When Route 66 was commissioned, 80% of all registered cars worldwide were in the United Sates, which had a car population of over 20 million (source). The onset of good roads was actually started by bicycle enthusiasts in the 1890’s and early 1900’s, when roads were really only suitable for travel by horse and wagon. In 1914, there were merely 1.7 million cars. By 1919, after the First World War ended, automobile usage was already sharply on the rise with 7.558 million registered cars (source).
At that time, there were just about as many electric cars on the road as there were petroleum fueled cars. Kingman boasts the only world's only Electric Vehicle Museum, with over 20 vehicles on display, including a 1930 Detroit Electric and the Buckey Bullet 3.5, which is the fastest electric vehicle on the planet, clocked at over 320 mph.
4. Disney’s Cars didn’t bring Route 66 back, the comeback is thanks to a small town barber. Until Disney’s Cars hit the screen in 2006, Route 66 was nearly a forgotten piece of American history. Though Cars was brought Route 66 back in vogue, it didn’t launch the comeback. That designation is owed to barber Angel Delgadillo from the really small town of Seligman, Arizona (pop of 445) which is now known as the Birthplace of Route 66. Angel, internationally known as The Barber on Route 66, has been the voice of the famous highway since co-founding the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona in 1987, and still serves as President Emeritus at 89 years young… yes, he is one year younger than the famous road he helped to preserve!
5. Route 66 is as timeless as Marilyn Monroe. What else was going on when U.S. Highway was commissioned in 1926? Well, Marilyn Monroe and Andy Griffith were born, Al Capone was at the height of his ‘career’, and Annie Oakley and Harry Houdini died. In that year the Kelly Blue Book and the Children’s book Winnie-the-Pooh were first published, television was first demonstrated to the public, high school students first sat for the dreaded SAT, and it was also the year that Ford announced a 40 hour work week. Today, you can stay in the Marilyn Monroe Room at the El Trovatore Motel, built in 1939.