In 1912, roads were dirt, bumpy and dusty in dry weather; impassable in wet weather. Asphalt and concrete roads were yet to come. To get from coast-to-coast, it was much easier to take the train. The Lincoln Highway Association conceived the first improved automobile road across the United States of America. Inspired by the Good Roads Movement, the Lincoln Highway ran from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco, traversing 14 states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California. This paved the way for the development of a nationwide highway network that is now unsurpassed. As the first automobile road across America, the Lincoln Highway brought great prosperity to hundreds of cities, towns, and villages along the way. The first officially recorded mileage in 1913 was 3,389 miles; by 1924 the road was improved and realigned, covering only 3,142 miles. A road was “improved” if it was just graded; few even had gravel in the early years of the association. One of the hardest fought realignments took place in the deserts of Utah, west of Salt Lake City. A new route, the Goodyear Cutoff, was surveyed, and prepared for construction by the Lincoln Highway Association. The Utah State government promoted a route directly west of Salt Lake City to Wendover, Nevada, as the route to San Francisco. This course crossed miles of salt desert, which was often submerged under water. The Wendover road, favored by Utah, was part of another named highway, the Victory Highway. Like the Lincoln, it claimed New York and San Francisco as its endpoints. Northern Californians favored the Victory for economic reasons; travelers along the Victory would almost certainly end their trips in San Francisco.

Lincoln Highway Markers

The association ceased activity at the end of 1927. Its last major activity was to mark the highway not as a route from one destination to another, but as a memorial to President Abraham Lincoln, the roads namesake. On September 1, 1928, thousands of Boy Scouts fanned out along the highway. At an average of about one monument per mile, 3,000 concrete markers were installed with a small bust of Lincoln and the inscription, “This highway dedicated to Abraham Lincoln,” were placed along the road from New York City to San Francisco. (see the markers I’ve documented here.)

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