Eisenhower’s National Interstate and Defense Highway

Eisenhower’s development of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways created an infrastructure for military transportation and economic growth that ultimately led to a major innovation in American history.

1919-07-07 00:00:00

1919 Motor Transport Corps convoy

In the summer of 1919, a young Lieutenant Colonel named Dwight D. Eisenhower participated in the first Army transcontinental motor convoy. The expedition consisted of eighty-one motorized Army vehicles that crossed the United States from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, a venture covering a distance of 3,251 miles in 62 days. The expedition was manned by 24 officers and 258 enlisted men. The convoy was to test the mobility of the military during wartime conditions.

1933-03-04 00:00:00

Franklin D. Roosevelt Becomes President

By the time Roosevelt was inaugurated on March 4, 1933, the Depression had reached desperate levels, including 13 million unemployed. In the first inaugural address to be widely broadcast on the radio, Roosevelt boldly declared that “This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and prosper…The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

1933-09-10 03:46:33

Hitler's Autobahn

Just days after the 1933 Nazi takeover, Adolf Hitler enthusiastically embraced an ambitious autobahn construction project and appointed Fritz Todt, the Inspector General of German Road Construction, to lead the project. By 1936, 130,000 workers were directly employed in construction, as well as an additional 270,000 in the supply chain for construction equipment, steel, concrete, signage, maintenance equipment, etc.

1938-01-01 00:00:00

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1938

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1938 was the first serious attempt to develop a national roadway system. The legislation directed the Bureau of Public Roads to study the feasibility of a toll-financed system of three east-west and three north-south superhighways. From this study officials determined that the amount of transcontinental traffic was insufficient to support a network of toll highways. Instead they recommended a 26,700 mile network of nontoll highways.

1944-12-20 00:00:00

Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944

The highway bill was among the first pieces of legislation Roosevelt submitted to Congress in January 1944. The Senate Committee on Roads amended the Roosevelt bill substantially. It reduced total federal funding for highways to $450 million a year from $650 million a year; required a 50 percent funding match from states, instead of the proposed 40 percent; and set funding for urban roads and secondary/feeder roads at $125 million a year each.

1953-01-20 13:03:45

Dwight D. Eisenhower Becomes President

Eisenhower entered the 1952 presidential race as a Republican. He won by a landslide, defeating Democrat Adlai Stevenson.

1956-06-29 00:00:00

Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956

Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 into law. With an original authorization of 51 billion dollars for the construction of 41,000 miles of the Interstate Highway System, proposed to be completed over a 10-year period.

1956-08-13 00:00:00

Start of Construction

Cameron Joyce and Company of Keokuk, Iowa, won the contract with a bid of $1,866,015, and began construction on August 13. The Missouri State Highway was to be the first project on which "actual construction" was begun under the 1956 Act. The Missouri River bridge, the State's largest divided four-lane bridge to that date, would be completed with ceremonies on August 16, 1958.

1959-01-27 10:28:31

Trouble in San Francisco

The Board of Supervisors of the city and county of San Francisco held a meeting to discuss the proposed Western Freeway (I-80) through the Sunset District. The board adopted a resolution opposing construction of all freeways in the San Francisco Master Plan, including the remainder of the Embarcadero Freeway and the Junipero Serra and the Park-Presidio Freeway.

1960-01-01 00:00:00

10,000 Miles Completed

As time passed, it became clear that the goal of system completion by 1975 would not be achieved. But by 1960, more than 10,000 miles were opened.

1961-01-20 00:00:00

John F. Kennedy Becomes President

On November 8, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy defeated Vice President Richard M. Nixon in the presidential election. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his successor were from different generations and political parties, but Kennedy-the first President born in the 20th century-shared Eisenhower's concern about the future of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.

1961-01-20 00:00:00

Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1961

The new law made the 4-cent gas tax permanent and adjusted other excise taxes to support completion of the Interstate System. It also adjusted remaining authorizations for the system to a total of $25.2 billion over 9 years. With State matching funds, the legislation accounted for $27 billion in funding for the remainder of the program through fiscal year 1971, the same amount Congress had thought in 1956 would be the total cost of the program.

1963-11-22 00:00:00

Lyndon B. Johnson Becomes President

Johnson was sworn in as President on Air Force One at Dallas Love Field in Dallas on November 22, 1963, two hours and eight minutes after President Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza in Dallas.

1965-01-01 00:00:00

20,000 Miles Completed

1965-10-22 00:00:00

Highway Beautification Act of 1965

On October 22, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Highway Beautification Act, which attempts to limit billboards and other forms of outdoor advertising, as well as with junkyards and other unsightly roadside messes, along America's interstate highways. The act also encouraged "scenic enhancement" by funding local efforts to clean up and landscape the green spaces on either side of the roadways.

1966-08-18 00:00:00

The Highway Safety Act of 1966

In 1966, passage of the Highway Safety Act authorized the federal government to set and regulate standards for motor vehicles and highways, a mechanism necessary for effective prevention. The Highway Safety Act resulted in the national adoption of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices

1968-01-31 00:00:00

Nation Highway Needs Report

The first National Highway Needs Report, submitted on January 31, 1968, questioned expansion of the Interstate System. The report stated that the Federal Government should help the States build an intermediate, supplementary system of about 66,000 miles.

1968-08-23 00:00:00

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968

This Act authorized a 1,500-mile extension of the Interstate System, bringing the statutory length to 42,500 miles. On December 13, 1968, Secretary of Transportation Alan S. Boyd announced the routes added under the extension. He explained that Congress authorized the extension "to fill missing critical links which have developed since the system was first laid out in 1946."

1980-01-01 00:00:00

40,000 Miles Completed

By 1980, 40,000 miles were complete. While some segments remain to be completed, more than 42,700 miles of interstate highways are now opened to traffic. The interstate highway system serves virtually all of the nation's large urban areas and serves 49 states (all but Alaska).

Eisenhower’s National Interstate and Defense Highway

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