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The History of Route 66  

Stephen Mandrgoc and David Dunaway

During its existence from 1926 to its formal decommissioning in 1985, US Highway 66, or Route 66, came to occupy a special place in the American imagination. For a half-century and more, it symbolized American individualism, travel, and the freedom of the open road with the transformative rise of America’s automobile culture. Route 66 was an essential connection between the Midwest and the West for American commercial, military, and civilian transportation. It chained together small towns and cities across the nation as America’s “Main Street.” Following the path of older trails and railroads, Route 66 hosted travelers in many different eras: the adventurous motorist in his Ford Model A in the 1920s, the Arkies and Okies desperate for a new start in California in the 1930s, trucks carrying wartime soldiers and supplies in the 1940s, and postwar tourists and travelers from the 1950s onward. By its nature, it brought together diverse cultures of different regions, introducing Americans to the “others” that were their regional neighbors, and exposing travelers to new arts, music, foods, and traditions. It became firmly embedded in pop culture through songs, books, television, and advertisements for its attractions as America’s most famous road. Travel on Highway 66 steadily declined with the development of controlled-access interstate highways in the 1960s and 1970s. The towns and cities it connected and the many businesses and attractions dependent on its traffic and tourism protested the removal of the highway designation by the US Transportation Department in 1985, but their efforts failed. Nonetheless, revivalists who treasured the old road worked to preserve the road sections and attractions that remained, as well as founding a wide variety of organizations and donating to museums and libraries to preserve Route 66 ephemera. In the early 21st century, Route 66 is an international icon of America, traveled by fans from all over the world.

Article

Japanese Immigrants and the History of Rice in California  

Yu Tokunaga

The cultivation of California rice began in 1909 when a Japanese agricultural engineer succeeded in growing short-grain Japonica rice varieties in Butte County. With commercial cultivation starting in 1912, rice fields rapidly expanded across Northern California. Japanese immigrants, however, continued to eat short-grain rice imported from Japan with a strong sense of affection. This situation dramatically changed in 1918, at around the end of World War I. The war led to an expansion of demand for food worldwide and a serious shortage of rice in Japan, resulting in the steep rise of rice prices and the Kome Sōdō (Rice Riots). The Japanese government decided to ban Japanese rice exports to prevent further inflation and solve the food shortage problem in Japan. This policy marked a turning point from which Japanese immigrants in the mainland United States began to mainly eat California rice. It also sparked serious debates among the Japanese who had heavily relied on Japanese-grown rice for their daily diet, forcing them to redefine their permanent residence in the United States not simply as a place to live but also as the land that provided them with their major source of nutrients. In the 1920s, California rice became a staple for ethnic Japanese residents and an export item to their homeland. This series of changes marked an important period in a history in which the Japanese immigrant experience intersected with the development of US agriculture and the circulation of food around the Pacific Ocean. The history of California rice from the 1900s to the 1930s reveals the shifting US-Japan trade relations as well as the transnational process in which food kept Japanese immigrants culturally connected to the homeland while further rooting them to life in the United States as permanent residents and consumers of California rice.

Article

The National Parks  

Donald Worster

The national parks of the United States have been one of the country’s most popular federal initiatives, and popular not only within the nation but across the globe. The first park was Yellowstone, established in 1872, and since then almost sixty national parks have been added, along with hundreds of monuments, protected rivers and seashores, and important historical sites as well as natural preserves. In 1916 the parks were put under the National Park Service, which has managed them primarily as scenic treasures for growing numbers of tourists. Ecologically minded scientists, however, have challenged that stewardship and called for restoration of parks to their natural conditions, defined as their ecological integrity before white Europeans intervened. The most influential voice in the history of park philosophy remains John Muir, the California naturalist and Yosemite enthusiast and himself a proto-ecologist, who saw the parks as sacred places for a modern nation, where reverence for nature and respect for science might coexist and where tourists could be educated in environmental values. As other nations have created their own park systems, similar debates have occurred. While parks may seem like a great modern idea, this idea has always been embedded in cultural and social change—and subject to struggles over what that “idea” should be.

Article

Phoenix  

Elizabeth Tandy Shermer

Phoenix, the capital of the state of Arizona, exemplifies the ways Sun Belt cities dramatically grew after World War II. Phoenix was best described as a small trading town in 1912, when Arizona became the last territory to achieve statehood in the continental United States. Although Phoenix was a capital city located in an area with little rainfall and high summer temperatures, its economy depended heavily on the sale of cotton and copper as well as tourists attracted to the Salt River valley’s warm winters. But members of the local Chamber of Commerce, like many small-town boosters across the US South and West, wanted to attract manufacturers by the 1930s, when the Great Depression upended the agricultural, mining, and tourism markets. The Chamber’s White male leaders (including future Senator Barry Goldwater) succeeded during World War II. They lobbied for wartime investment that transformed Phoenix into one of the many boom towns that dotted the South and West. That success fueled postwar efforts to attract industry by building a favorable “business climate.” Local leaders, business executives, and industry experts used that seemingly benign phrase to describe cities that guaranteed investors low taxes, weak unions, few government regulations, and other policies that maximized profits and undermined 1930s reforms. Phoenix stood out in what reporters called the “Second War between the States” for industry. General Electric, Motorola, and Sperry Rand had all opened branch plants by 1960, when Phoenix was already one of the largest US cities. It also stood out in 1969, when Republican strategist Kevin Phillips drew attention to the “Sun Belt phenomenon” that seemed to be the metropolitan core of a new conservative politics dedicated to free enterprise and poised to spread across the rapidly deindustrializing Northeast and Midwest. But growth undermined the Chamber’s power. By the 1970s, citizens questioned putting business first, and investors began shifting manufacturing overseas, which left residents to deal with the environmental, fiscal, and political damage the business climate ideal had wrought.

Article

San Francisco  

Ocean Howell

San Francisco has a reputation as a liberal city. But history shows that San Francisco’s liberalism must be regarded as evolving, contested, and often internally contradictory. The land that became the city was originally home to the Yelamu people, a small tribe in the Ohlone language group. Spanish missionaries arrived in 1776, but the Spanish empire only had a tenuous hold on the place—it was the furthest outpost of empire. By 1821, when the Mexican government took the land, most of the Native population had perished from disease. Immediately after the Americans took the place, in 1848, gold was discovered in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and the world rushed in. The population increased 2,400 percent in one year, and fewer than half of the new residents had been born anywhere in the United States. Well into the 20th century, elite San Franciscans worried that the rest of the country viewed their city as a barbarous place, full of foreign libertines seeking fortune and pleasure. These narratives masked the extent to which San Francisco’s economy was corporatized from the early days of the Gold Rush. They also present an image of racial liberalism that ultimately must be regarded as a myth. However, there is some truth in the view that the city has been a comparatively tolerant place, where various subcultures could thrive. San Francisco’s status as a bohemian place, a wide-open town, has always sat in tension with its role as a headquarters of global, corporate capital.

Article

US Imperialism, 1898–1914  

Robert McGreevey

U.S. imperialism took a variety of forms in the early 20th century, ranging from colonies in Puerto Rico and the Philippines to protectorates in Cuba, Panama, and other countries in Latin America, and open door policies such as that in China. Formal colonies would be ruled with U.S.-appointed colonial governors and supported by U.S. troops. Protectorates and open door policies promoted business expansion overseas through American oversight of foreign governments and, in the case of threats to economic and strategic interests, the deployment of U.S. marines. In all of these imperial forms, U.S. empire-building both reflected and shaped complex social, cultural, and political histories with ramifications for both foreign nations and America itself.