The Role of Route 66 in the Great Depression [A Critical Analysis]

During the Great Depression, Route 66 played a significant role in the economic and social aspects of American life. Often called the “Mother Road” or “Main Street of America,” this iconic highway connected Chicago to Los Angeles, stretching across eight states.

It provided a critical transportation route for families fleeing the Dust Bowl and those seeking better opportunities out West. As we explore the role of Route 66 in this difficult period, its significance in American history becomes even more evident.

Cyrus Avery, also known as the “Father of Route 66”, was instrumental in establishing this legendary roadway. He tirelessly promoted the idea of a national highway system and nurtured the development of Route 66.

The highway played a vital role in providing relief during the Great Depression, facilitating the movement of goods and services across the country. The route became synonymous with the renowned song “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66”, reflecting the spirit of adventure and hope that the road inspired in countless Americans.

Throughout the Great Depression, as thousands of families embarked on the challenging journey along Route 66, the road symbolized the American people’s struggle, perseverance, and resilience.

Although times were tough, hoping for a better life was a powerful driving force for those daring to traverse this enduring path.

Route 66 and The Great Depression

Route 66 and Migrants

During the Great Depression, many people were forced to leave their homes due to economic hardships, drought, and the devastating Dust Bowl. Route 66, also known as the “Mother Road,” became a vital path for these migrants, mostly from Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and other parts of the Midwest.

They traveled to California in search of better opportunities. This migration was poignantly captured in John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. As migrants traveled Route 66, they faced various challenges, such as car breakdowns and limited resources.

Economic Impact on U.S

The Great Depression profoundly impacted the United States, both in urban and rural communities. Route 66 played a significant economic role, connecting major cities and smaller towns nationwide. During this time, many businesses along Route 66 struggled to survive.

The New Deal programs introduced by the U.S. government, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Project Administration (WPA), helped to create jobs and stimulate local businesses along the highway.

Cultural Implications

Route 66 holds an important place in American cultural history. It has inspired numerous books and songs, such as Bobby Troup’s “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” and Woody Guthrie’s “Dust Bowl Ballads.”

These works capture the spirit of the times, portraying the struggles and dreams of those who traveled the road searching for a better life during the Great Depression. Additionally, the highway symbolized migration from the Midwest to the West Coast, leaving a lasting legacy on the nation’s collective memory.

Infrastructure Development and Decay

Route 66 was crucial in expanding the United States highway system during the Great Depression. As part of the U.S. Highway 66, the road connected the heartland to the West Coast and enabled the movement of goods, people, and services.

However, the massive influx of people and vehicles put a significant strain on the highway infrastructure, leading to the development of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s. This new network of highways eventually contributed to the decline and decommissioning of Route 66.

Post-Depression Evolution and Legacy of Route 66

Route 66 and WWII

During World War II, Route 66 significantly transported troops and supplies between military bases. When the war started, we witnessed a rapid increase in traffic volume and a need for improved roadways.

Route 66 connected key locations such as Chicago, St. Louis, Tulsa, and Los Angeles. This connection allowed for easier and more efficient movement of military resources throughout the United States.

Post-WWII saw a boom in automobile production and consumer culture; Route 66 earned the nickname “The Mother Road.” It became a symbol of American freedom and opportunity, particularly for those looking to escape the hardships of the Dust Bowl.

Our journey along Route 66 provided travelers with adventure and excitement, roadside attractions, and unique sights. This iconic road has also been immortalized in popular culture through various mediums, such as the song “Route 66,” the Corvette-driving duo in the television series Route 66, and Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road.

Preservation and Commemoration

In the mid-20th century, Route 66’s prominence began to decline with the rise of the Federal Highway System. Eventually, it was decommissioned in 1985, but its impact on American popular culture and history has endured.

We see various efforts, such as those led by the National Historic Route 66 Federation, to preserve and maintain its historic structures and landmarks. Many Route 66 enthusiasts continue to visit these locations and explore the road for its nostalgic appeal, contributing to the establishment of museums and memorials capturing its storied past.

Route 66 and Civil Rights

While Route 66 symbolized hope and opportunity for many, it also held an unfortunate legacy regarding civil rights. During the Jim Crow era, African American travelers along Route 66 faced discrimination and racial segregation in the form of “sundown towns” forbidding their presence after dark.

To counter these challenges, Victor H. Green, an African-American USPS employee, created the Negro Motorist Green Book, which listed establishments along Route 66, among other highways, that were welcoming to African Americans. This guidebook and Route 66 played a crucial role in facilitating safer travel for African Americans during a difficult period in US history.