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date: 17 June 2024

The History of Route 66free

The History of Route 66free

  • Stephen MandrgocStephen MandrgocUniversity of New Mexico - Albuquerque, Center for Southwest Research
  •  and David DunawayDavid DunawayUniversity of New Mexico - Albuquerque, Department of English


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.


  • 20th Century: Pre-1945
  • 20th Century: Post-1945
  • Economic History
  • Cultural History
  • Western History

The Origins of Route 66

US Highway 66, created in 1926 and better known as Route 66 or “the Mother Road,” became one of the most culturally influential roads in the United States—“Main Street” for many small communities that had never been connected by a highway to the wider nation. Route 66 was built on centuries of travel, following Native American and Spanish trails, then the iron and steel grooves of railroad tracks as they cut across the American landscape, passing through the major bioregions of the North American continent. Starting in Chicago and heading south into the glaciated outwash and moraine country of the Midwest, it passed through licorice-colored, fertile valleys: Prairie 66. From there, it forged through the vast, blowing, wide-open spaces of the Great Plains beginning in Oklahoma and stretching through to the Llano Estacado of New Mexico: Plains 66. Still heading westward, it entered the high ridges and plateaus of Central and Western New Mexico, over the Continental Divide, and across Arizona to the Colorado River: Mountain 66. It braved the vast Mojave Desert, high plains, and San Gabriel Valley leading to the Los Angeles basin: Desert 66. Finally, it reached the lush California coast, where Route 66 ends (or begins): Coastal 66. Route 66 was a road that introduced diversity in American culture by bringing people and their cultures together. These meetings were not always well received on both sides; Native Americans, Hispanics, and African Americans are often overlooked and had poorer experiences than most Anglo Americans. During its lifetime and for years later, Route 66 represented the ideals of America—the freedom of the open road, to choose one’s own path, to see something new and interesting during a trip. It was essential to commerce during its lifespan, allowing shipping and travel from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California (or vice versa). Even after its decommissioning, it remains a powerful cultural symbol.

Source: Jamiecat, Wikimedia Commons, 2013.
Source: National Park Service, c. 1920s.

Route 66 would follow many ancient trails that had been created centuries prior. Its foundation was built on Native American trails used for hunting animals or trading with neighboring tribes, such as the Mojave Trail across California. When the Spanish came to the Southwest, they built their roads along these older pathways, such as the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the royal highway from Mexico City up to the northernmost reaches of New Spain near Santa Fe. In fact, traffic in the Southwest traveled primarily along this north-south axis for the Spanish Colonial period until well into the 19th century. Meanwhile many pioneer settlers, as well as miners and entrepreneurs traveling to California during its Gold Rush in 1849, followed trails westward blazed by trappers, traders, and explorers. Many journeyed down the Fort Smith Wagon Road, itself an offshoot of Native American trails leading from the ancient city of Cahokia across the Mississippi River near modern-day St. Louis. From an early period, the corridor of what would become Route 66 served as a means for cultures to meet and exchange ideas and goods existing alongside established Native American and Spanish/Mexican towns until the arrival of Americans.

American expeditions by Amiel Whipple (1853) and Edward Beale (1857) blazed new trails from Fort Defiance, Arizona, to the Colorado River on the border with California, following closely along the 35th parallel. Whipple conducted the Pacific Railroads Survey, searching for the best paths for future railroads, while Beale’s road soon became a well-traveled wagon trail for immigrants to California.1 These new trails began to change the traditional axis of travel in the Southwest from east to west, instead of south to north. Shining steel railroad tracks would soon follow their paths.

The railroads altered the landscape for what would become the Route 66 corridor. Thehe Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroads carried passengers from Chicago to Cicero in Illinois, where the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio railroads headed south toward St. Louis. From there, the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railroads headed to Bloomington, Illinois, and the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio to Springfield, Missouri, where the Illinois Central Railroad followed along with the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy lines resuming. The Frisco (St. Louis–San Francisco Railroad) line pointed west to where the Missouri Pacific (MoPac) railroad headed into the Southwest, alongside the Rock Island ine to Oklahoma City. From there the Santa Fe, which swallowed up the Atlantic and Pacific lines, eventually joined with the Rock Island, stretching into California. The final section, the Pacific Electric Trolleys and Henry Huntington’s Red Cars, ended right in the middle of Los Angeles.2 These railroads were graded into higher ground to avoid flooding and tended to be on flat, stable terrain, making their path perfect for US Highway 66 to parallel. Many early highways that would become part of Route 66 followed the railways, making use of their superior terrain, grading, and linkages between established transportation hubs.

Likewise, many towns important as stops along Route 66 first developed as railroad towns, including Bloomington, Springfield, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Gallup, Albuquerque, and Kingman. The railroads created a need for restaurants, hotels, repair shops, and growing business districts that catered to railroad travelers. Many early businesses and their signs were constructed to be easily visible from the train tracks, as would later Route 66 businesses for the highway.3

But the railroads also disrupted the lives of some. Many Native American tribes had already been forced westward to resettle in Indian Country in Oklahoma, or farther still into New Mexico and Arizona. The Cherokee, Navajo, Pueblo, Hopi, and many other peoples had experienced disruption of their culture and communities during their displacement into Indian Country and the West. By 1921, 284,853 were listed by census as living in the United States and only in 1924 had all Native Americans been confirmed as American citizens. In a country of 106 million people, most had never met a Native American face-to-face.4 The railroads changed that, as they cut through Native American lands and right up by their reservations and towns in some cases.

Source: Chicago: Newman-Monroe Co., c. 1925.

The arrival of the railroads brought opportunities to Native Americans, but also intrusions. Advertising by railroad lines such as the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway to residents in the East conveyed a sense of romance and mystery to prospective travelers heading West, while hotel and food service companies like the Fred Harvey Company sold the West as a place to experience “disappearing” Native American and Spanish culture.5 These images often reflected the inauthentic Hollywood views of Native Americans and Hispanics that were the only way many Anglo American travelers had ever encountered them. Native Americans were portrayed as always wearing the feathered headdresses of Plains Indians; Hispanic were always portrayed as part of old Spanish culture with its Moorish castles and flamenco dancing. This obscured the real lives and history of Native Americans and Hispanics and the hardships they faced, turning them into an attraction rather than a people.6 While the Fred Harvey Company was better than most in its treatment of Native American culture, it also sponsored Indian Detours to bring tourists into the lives of Native American residents and their sacred rituals. The main benefit to Native Americans was that the railroads also created a tourist market for Native American art and goods, or jobs paid by the Fred Harvey Company to be a stop on one of its Indian Tours, at a time when 75 percent unemployment was common for native settlements.7 This marketing of the “authentic” Native American was a running theme for later Route 66 attractions and advertisements.

Figure 4. Entrance to Fred Harvey Indian Building, Albuquerque, New Mexico.”

Source: Wittemann Collection, Library of Congress, c. 1890–1910.

In comparison to railroads, traveling across the continent in 1900 by automobile was very difficult, as the needed support system of gas stations and repair garages did not yet exist.8 As the 19th century ended, however, American road building was transformed by mass bicycling, the “Good Roads” movement, and rural free mail deliveries. By 1910, US citizens began to demand the expansion and improvement of existing roads and the creation of transcontinental highways. As more drivers took to the roads, more pressure was placed on the federal government to build new and better roads, and by 1916 Congress passed the Federal Aid Road Act (Shackleford Bill) to plan and fund a national highway system.

Early highways were created from previously existing roadways, which often were not well planned. Travelers frequently had to take long loops and detours to their destination rather than a straight path. Sometimes, early roads even bent to accommodate local communities, such as mining towns in Arizona or northeast Oklahoma. These old roads tended to be of poor quality—poorly graded, usually not paved, and prone to wheel ruts and potholes. The many private roads created over the years had left a dizzying confusion of unmarked routes. These were finally organized after a national highway sign system was enacted by the Federal Highway Act of 1921, which with the Post Office Appropriations Act of 1922 provided multiyear funding for improvements to existing highways and roads.9 In 1926, the US Bureau of Public Roads created the first federal highway system that would lead to US Highway 66. Among other things, this established the numerical system for interstate highways. Highways traveling primarily east-west would be even-numbered, while highways traveling primarily north-south would have odd numbers.

Early Use of Route 66

American car ownership had grown extraordinarily rapidly in the early 20th century. In 1905, Americans had owned around seventy-eight thousand automobiles; by the late 1920s, that number had risen to over twenty-three million cars.10 In 1927, Henry Ford created a cheap and accessible vehicle with gear and clutch pedals in the Model A, following his previous success in 1908 with the Model T. This allowed many more new drivers to take to the highways.11 As motorists increased, service industries shifted focus from the railroads to automobile travelers, resulting in more service stations and auto camps springing up along the new highways.12

In the first decades of the 20th century, railroad use was rapidly overtaken by travelers using personal vehicles. With better roads and cheaper automobiles, workers could commute to cities for their jobs, providing new opportunities. The automobile gave people a sense of freedom, the ability to travel unrestrained by a fixed rail, and the ability to schedule or stop wherever they wanted. Many traveled to see the exoticized West and Southwest for themselves as tourists, seeking out the different cultures and people portrayed in tourism advertisements. Others sought new economic freedom and opportunity on the West Coast, or simply enjoyed the newfound connection to important services such as hospitals in larger towns. More and better-quality highways were increasingly necessary, which led directly to the creation of US Highway 66.

Route 66 itself began through the efforts of an Oklahoma businessman named Cyrus Avery, who wanted a highway to come to his hometown of Tulsa. Known as the “Father of Route 66,” Avery, along with John T. Woodruff, organized the US 66 Highway Association, which included representatives from five of the eight states along its proposed route.13 Originally, Avery had pushed for the new road to be designated US Highway 60. Due to a dispute with the governor of Kentucky, William J. Fields—who was already planning a Highway 60—Highway 66 was chosen instead.14 Avery envisioned Route 66 linking together small towns that lacked a railroad to larger cities and joining rural communities to the wider United States, while promoting the new road as an all-weather alternative to northern highways.15 He believed this would provide economic benefit to local merchants serving travelers and tourists along the road.

Figure 5. Untitled Highways.”

Source: James R. Powell Route 66 Collection, Newberry Library, c. 1950s.

US Highway 66 was inaugurated as an official Chicago-to-Los Angeles route on April 30, 1926 in Springfield, Missouri. Like many early highways, Route 66 was cobbled together from existing roads, such as a large section of the older National Old Trails Highway. As a result, 66 had a meandering path. For example, in New Mexico, where the old Camino Real de Tierra Adentro had passed south to north to Santa Fe, Route 66 was initially forced to follow the same path, looping north toward Santa Fe before traveling back south through Albuquerque to Los Lunas before turning westward again. In addition, dead man’s curves and hairpin turns such as areas near the Black Mountains in Arizona or La Bajada Hill near Santa Fe, or the “Devil’s Elbow” in Missouri gave areas of Route 66 a reputation as “Bloody 66” due to frequent accidents.

Despite this, Route 66 proved very popular with trucking companies. It followed a route that was on more level terrain and was more passable in winter for heavy trucks.16 In 1931, 1,500 trucks passed through St. Louis daily; a decade later, that number had increased to 7,500 a day.17 But few motorists traveled west of Missouri during its early years, due to Route 66 being poorly paved or not yet paved at all.18

Despite these drawbacks, Route 66 quickly became a well-traveled route tying together rural communities with urban centers. In response to increasingly younger travelers accompanying their families on road trips, some amusement parks opened along 66, such as Fairyland Park (1923) in Lyons, Illinois with its “Whoopee Coaster,” a planked roadway like an early rollercoaster with dips and dives. Sapulpa, Oklahoma had Dixieland (1927), with its miniature golf course and roller-skating rink alongside its rides. To promote the new route in 1928, a grueling cross-country footrace was held from Los Angeles to New York, the transcontinental footrace nicknamed the “Bunion Derby.” Of the 155 who left Los Angeles, only fifty-five made it to New York over the eighty-four-day run from coast to coast. The winner, Andy Payne, was a Native American of the Cherokee people who had grown up in Foyil, Oklahoma and run eight miles to school and back every day.19 Many Native Americans like Payne, as well as Hispanics, benefited from Route 66 linking their towns and villages into a wider economy in the Southwest, as well as giving them better access to medicine and jobs.

Not all were as welcome on the new road, however. This was a period when African Americans were often excluded from public spaces. In an editorial in the Chicago Tribute in 1929 about the presence of African Americans on public beaches, the author stated that “the presence of a Negro, however well behaved . . . is an irritation. This may be a regrettable fact to the Negroes, but it is nevertheless a fact, and must be reckoned with. . . . Negroes could make a definite contribution to good race relationships by remaining away from the beaches where their presence is resented.”20 In 1930, forty-four out of eighty-nine counties along Route 66 were “sundown” towns, where African Americans were banned from being in the city limits after nightfall; some even went so far, like Edmond, Oklahoma, to post on their sign “A Good Place to Live. 6000 Live Citizens. No Negroes.”21 African Americans quickly learned survival tips like bringing their own food and tents for long trips, or bringing chauffeur hats so they could claim to be driving an employer’s car if questioned.22 Despite this, over six million African Americans traveled along highways like 66 as part of a vast Southern diaspora, seeking escape from the repression of Southern Jim Crow laws but often finding no relief from segregation or prejudice on a road becoming known for its freedom of movement.

Source: Darryl F. Zanuck Productions, WikiCommons, 1940.

Route 66 and the Depression

In the 1930s and into the early 1940s, the Great Depression displaced hundreds of thousands of Americans. Route 66 became the road that an estimated 210,000 “Okies” and “Arkies” traveled down to escape the ruin of the Dust Bowl. Entire families traveled Route 66, desperate for jobs in California or the Midwest. John Steinbeck famously created a fictional Okie family, the Joads, who traveled along 66 in his book The Grapes of Wrath. There, he gave Route 66 one of its most famous epithets: “The Mother Road.”23 But by the mid-20th century, many hopeful travelers found the tales of land and jobs on the West Coast to be only legends.

From 1933 to 1938, Roosevelt’s New Deal and its Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) projects provided desperately needed jobs by employing many in the expansion and improvement of highways, including Route 66. The National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, for example, provided six million dollars for road construction in New Mexico, allowing the state to improve and finally pave all its sections of Route 66 by 1937.24 Many dangerous segments and looping detours on Route 66 were realigned by CCC workers to create a more direct East-West route. Examples include the section from Springfield to East St. Louis in Missouri (1930), El Reno to Bridgeport, Oklahoma (1933), or the Santa Rosa to Albuquerque realignment in New Mexico (1937).

By 1937, the American Automobile Association listed around forty-two million Americans taking trips by car.25 Roadside amenities were added by New Deal projects for these travelers, providing picnic areas, parks, swimming pools, and bridges that remained in use into the 21st century.26 Many businesses relocated to Route 66 from old alignments to stay solvent by providing services to travelers and workers, making Route 66 an essential part of the economy of many small towns.27 Auto camping had been the dominant form of lodging along 66 in the 1910s and 1920s; with increased traffic by the 1930s auto courts had expanded, some turning into motels with diners and laundries, or growing into “cabin camps” (cottages).28 Simple service stations evolved from single buildings with a gas pump to full-service repair facilities that often included restaurants. To attract motorists, advertisements became larger, with neon signs springing up on the roadside. Highway billboards famously became a major advertising tactic, attempting to coax travelers into stopping at services and attractions with clever prose or cartoony images, such as the Burma-Shave ads. Many promoted Western themes, with images of Native Americans, teepees, cowboys, sombreros, cacti, and Spanish revival designs.29 Many businesses likewise appropriated elements of Spanish and Native American construction in their own building designs.

The coming of war in 1941 changed Route 66’s use. Prior to World War II, the American West was still seen as a backwater, rich with resources but limited in industry and population. The American entry into World War II changed that, as the Pacific Theater required resources, industry, and logistics in vast quantities from ports in California.30 The United States government poured over seventy billion dollars into war-related projects along the West Coast to increase port capacity and various defense industries.31 Route 66 became an essential link between the port of Los Angeles and Midwest and Eastern industry supplying the military. Workers moving toward the new western industries created a massive population boom in the West, along with a corresponding boom in service industries along Route 66.32 While fewer civilians drove down Route 66 due to wartime gas rationing, it became the primary route for over half of all military supplies and personnel headed to the West Coast, primarily transported by truck.33

The strain of so many vehicles traveling on Route 66 degraded its roadbed. Quickly and thinly laid pavement cracked under the constant traffic, while rationed gasoline sales limited the gas taxes normally used to maintain roads. It was not until World War II ended in 1945 that the Mother Road had the funding and materials to be repaired and could spring to life again as a tourist highway and central artery linking the country together.34

The Postwar Era

Following World War II, the United States seemed a country on a pendulum swinging West once more, a century after similar migration during the California Gold Rush of 1849. Limited wartime access to tires and gasoline had depressed tourism along Route 66. Once those restrictions were lifted, Americans were not shy about expressing their delight at their newfound freedom of travel. From 1946 to 1949, over eight million Americans headed west, with 3.5 million of those travelers settling in California.35 One historian recalled. “Immediately after WWII was over, and the boys came home . . . the traffic became faster and thicker; the stores had more traffic.”36 The commercial trucking industry also changed, with those companies who had held on during the lean years of the war swallowing smaller trucking companies that had depended on short-term government war contracts.37 These larger companies stimulated a surge of American commerce with the goods they transported across the country via Route 66.

Source: Carol H. Highsmith, Library of Congress, 2004.

Almost immediately, Route 66 entered American popular culture and imagination. Tourists wanted “that California trip” sung about in Bobby Troup’s well-known 1946 song, “Get Your Kicks on Route 66.” A returning soldier himself, Troup quickly passed the rhyming song in twelve-bar blues format to the famous performer Nat King Cole, where it became the most famous American song ever promoting a specific highway. The year 1946 also saw Route 66’s first guidebook written by Jack Rittenhouse, with detailed descriptions of many towns, businesses, and attractions along 66. “One of life’s biggest thrills is the realization that ‘we’re on the way,’” Rittenhouse wrote, “which the motorist feels as he eases the car away from the curb and heads out of town.”38 In his book The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945), author Henry Miller wrote of his dreams of traveling: “My one thought is to get out of New York to experience something genuinely American.”39 Between Troup, Rittenhouse, and Miller, Route 66 became a part of American literary culture as well as radio noir, like Orson Welles’s national broadcast of “The Hitchhiker” (1947), which includes him sitting “in an autocamp on Route 66 just west of Gallup, New Mexico.”40 This new ideal of the open road as something fundamentally American was also central to Jack Kerouac’s opus On the Road (1957), which mentions 66 specifically. The book inspired a generation to travel wherever they wished, to see sights strange, fantastic, and different.

Figure 9. Greetings from America’s Highway Route 66, Scenic Missouri.”

Source: Newberry Library, 1945.

The postwar era saw a surge in family vacations on Route 66, with children stuffed between parents on the wide, upholstered front seat, sometimes with a Junior Steering Wheel attached to the dashboard by suction cups.41 “See America First” became a slogan along the automotive river flowing to and from California and the Southwest.42 Travelers were diverse, with truckloads of rural workers following seasonal jobs, or the diaspora of Hispanics, African Americans, and Native Americans into the expanding industry of the West alongside tourists. Many former soldiers were part of this surge in travel, as they sought to find a place to reintegrate into a normal life. Whether it was a Latin band playing Tex-Mex at a barn dance in Amarillo or blues guitarist Muddy Waters on the Chitlin’ Circuit out of Chicago, Route 66 not only crossed but joined diverse communities by introducing many people to new experiences, foods, and cultures.

The road may have been “a rainbow road” as 66 revivalist Michael Wallis put it, but not everyone’s drive was a smooth one. Many minorities found it difficult to travel when so many businesses refused them basic service, or communities made their presence after dark illegal. Most minority travelers (African American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian American, etc.) were more likely to use Route 66 to reach jobs or services than for tourism, with many minority agricultural workers following seasonal work back and forth across the country, often packed together in a single vehicle as not every worker could afford their own. Some rural villages generally had only one or two cars that people asked to use when they needed them, rather than everyone owning their own. Sometimes money was an issue. Choctaw novelist Louis Owens remembers driving Route 66 to California in the 1950s and being stopped at the Mississippi River: “My father didn’t have enough money—I think it was 25 cents to pay the fare to get across the bridge. . . . It’s not a hipster’s jaunt, as Kerouac saw it, or a cruise in a Corvette [in Route 66], or the road of myth. It was a necessary and difficult path.”43 In many places, these travelers were anything but welcome.

For example, minorities arriving in Central Illinois often met attitudes from people like Ernie Edwards at his Pig Hip BBQ Café on 66: “The Mexicans were pretty rough sometimes. They’d come in and if you’ve seen them coming you’d lock the doors. Really, if they stole two tires and a quarter of oil that you had out front—well, I was lucky this time. . . . And then, of course, you had the blacks. You couldn’t serve them inside. They had to go around back. That wasn’t law—that was just people.”44 Many Anglo Americans traveling Route 66 had not really encountered minorities frequently. One African American family vividly remembered stopping at one of the few places that would sell them a Coke and sandwiches, and a little girl innocently asking her mother “Mom, is that a n*****?” before the mother, very embarrassed, grabbed the girl and rushed out of the store.45 African Americans required written guides like the famous Green Book to travel safely, which contained phrases such as “Carry your Green Book with you, you may need it” and “Now we can travel without embarrassment!” The book, written by Victor H. Green, listed businesses that catered to African American travelers, including stores, gas stations, garages, and motels. It also warned of sundown towns to avoid.46 As one writer put it, “What makes Route 66 different is that the open-road branding associated with it celebrated a time when blacks had to navigate racial violence and the Jim Crow policies that shut them out of businesses and recreational sites.”47 African American businesses existed along Route 66, notably the Threatt Filling Station in Luther, Oklahoma, but much like Native American or Hispanic businesses were rare to see.

Figure 11. Wigwam Village No. 6.”

Source: Curt Teich Collection, Newberry Library, 1940–1949.

Cultural appropriation also continued to be an issue for Native Americans along Route 66. “Motorists on Route 66 in western Oklahoma pass signs for the Cherokee Trading Post depicting (presumably) a Cherokee . . . [who] wears a Plains Indian-style war bonnet . . . a ‘Navajo’ trading post boasts the ‘World’s Largest Teepee’ [but] Navajos traditional dwellings are hooghans . . . ‘Wigwam Villages’ [are] built between 1933 and 1950 . . . the problem is a traditional wigwam is not a teepee.”48 Many Native Americans traveled along Route 66 to new homes as part of the Indian Relocation Act of 1956, leaving them isolated from their tribes. Otis Halfmoon of the Nez Pierce recalled: “This [Route 66] was actually a second Trail of Tears for many tribes. Some of our tribal people were sent to Indian boarding schools. Many of them never came back, as we know. This is the route too, that many of our young people went during the Indian Relocation Act. Again, many of them never came back.”49 Those who stayed behind were sometimes mistreated by their employers. Debra Haaland (later the first Native American Secretary of the Interior), a member of the Laguna people in New Mexico, recalled the Native American workers who maintained the railroad from New Mexico through Winslow being housed in boxcars and locked in at night with their families to ensure they couldn’t leave.50

Notably, the nostalgic portrait of Route 66 from this period featured in many advertisements for Route 66 are made of typically Anglo American images of “Bobby-Soxers” (teenage girls known for white half-socks and dancing the Lindy), soda fountains and vintage Coke bottles, and soaring tail fins on cars, all representative of white Anglo American culture in the 1950s. During the Revival years of Route 66 from 1985 onward, these images became a fountain of kitsch and nostalgia while glossing over the grittier reality of 66 for minorities. Route 66 did not create these prejudices but was not immune to the darker side of American society and culture in which it existed.

The Height of 66

By the mid-1950s, Route 66 had entered the imagination of American drivers. By 1958, fifty-seven million cars were registered in the United States, over twice the number in 1950.51 Car ownership was no longer only for a well-off family driving an expensive Packard; many Americans were now driving a more affordable Chevy to drive-ins for a family evening, for a date night, tourism, or simply to enjoy the open road.

Figure 12. The Big Texan Steak Ranch sign in Amarillo, TX, is typical of many of the neon signs along Route 66 in its heyday.

Source: Carol H. Highsmith, Library of Congress, 2006.

Route 66 powerfully drove the dawn and expansion of entertainment and heritage tourism. To attract this new stream of travelers, establishments on 66 “seemed to wave their arms, whistle, blow bubbles, sing, dance, flash their lights, and make outrageous promises,” whatever it took to attract the attention of drivers.52 Many natural Southwestern attractions were destinations on or near Route 66; in Arizona alone, sites included the Meteor Crater, the Grand Canyon, or the Painted Desert. Amid growing Cold War fears, Meramec Caverns in Missouri was aggressively marketed as “the World’s First Atomic Refuge,” where buying a ticket assured travelers cavern space in the event of nuclear warfare. More travelers meant more cultural encounters as they bounced along; slowed by lines of traffic, they would tune in the radio to a variety of musical styles, such as border-blaster XER in Vicuña, Mexico playing traditional or pop Latin music, listening to jazz or blues while traveling through St. Louis, or Country and Western passing through the Midwest and Texas.

Source: Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress, 2006.

So many drivers were traveling west that the architect Frank Lloyd Wright supposedly called US Highway 66 a “giant chute down which everything loose in this country is sliding into southern California.”53 In 1941, American gas stations had sold only three and a half billion gallons of gasoline per year; by 1951, that amount rose to eight billion gallons per year.54 This created immense growth and consolidation of roadside services along Route 66 as service stations expanded well beyond local needs to meet demand. For example, the small town of McLean, Texas on Route 66 had sixteen gas stations, far more than needed for its modest population.55

Local mom-and-pop diners that had served early 66 motorists were steadily replaced by large, standardized chains of fast-food restaurants, hotels, and gas stations, such as the Howard Johnsons chain of hotels and restaurants. Amateur roadside attractions and amusement parks were displaced in the minds of tourists by large professional theme parks like Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farms in southern California. These destinations had the resources to advertise nationally in magazines and on television. All this attention was focused on getting as much economic revenue from travelers and tourists as possible before their return home. As one resident remembered: “They spent all their money. They’re three days late getting back to Ohio, and they wouldn’t stop for the Last Supper with the original cast.”56 This interstate period marked the nationalization of commerce along Route 66, and the ascendency of fast-food restaurants, chain stores, and shopping malls becoming a staple of American culture.

The Decline and Decommission of US Highway 66

Despite its popularity, however, the cracks were showing in Route 66, both literally and figuratively. While much of the wear and tear on the road from military transport was fixed in the late 1940s, the beginning of the Korean War in 1950 led to steel shortages that made it difficult to maintain.57 By the 1960s and into the 1970s, this had left the road’s infrastructure in many states marred by potholes and crumbling pavement. Motorists worried about the challenge of driving on a narrow two-lane road, with shoulders and bridges too narrow for trucks to easily pass safely, which often led to traffic jams and accidents. During the 1950s and 1960s, as traffic peaked along 66, the number of automobile accidents rose significantly, giving the road a reputation as “Bloody 66.”58 In many ways Route 66 had become a victim of its own success.

State initiatives realigned or bypassed sections of Route 66 in the name of efficiency and safety. This process began as early as 1932, with a beltway around St. Louis and the construction of the Arroyo Seco Freeway between Pasadena and Los Angeles in 1940 (one of the first suburban freeways). Illinois and other states rolled out four-lane segments, while additional bypasses appeared around Route 66’s most twisted sections, such as crossing the Sitgreaves Pass in the Black Mountains down to the Colorado River. But a more permanent solution was needed for America’s growing transportation needs, one that had been proposed decades before.

Even before World War II, a network of major toll roads had been proposed in the Bureau of Public Roads’ 1939 planning report Toll Roads and Free Roads, to be modeled after the Pennsylvania Turnpike. At the end of the war, the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1944 had called for a “national system of interstate highways,” but this proposal was not seriously acted on until the election of President Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. His experiences in the army with German autobahns and his admiration for their efficient construction made better and safer highways a priority for his administration, which led to the idea of the interstates system.

When it was finally passed in 1954, the Federal Highway Act planned for a forty-thousand-mile system of limited-access freeways with on- and off-ramps and dedicated lanes. The federal government would pay for 90 percent of its cost through a federal gasoline tax. The interstate design was very different from how Route 66 was originally constructed. Old highways like 66 had businesses and attractions built right next to the highway, each with their own turns for cars to enter and exit the road. This caused numerous traffic issues since Route 66 was heavily trafficked as both a farm-to-market road and a through road. Towns like Williams, Arizona had so many trucks rolling through its main street that it created a constant traffic jam for locals. Congestion relief was one of the great selling points of an interstate, where “anything that slowed down traffic was an obstacle to be removed.”59 The proposed interstates would speed up travel, with ramps allowing local motorists to enter and exit for nearby towns. These ramps would be standardized, unlike the wide variety that existed on highways like 66. Without cars constantly entering and leaving the highway, there would be less chance of accidents and less need to slow down constantly. The list of those promoting an interstate bypass of 66 was long and varied: oil and gasoline companies, restaurant chains, large-scale farming operations, truckers, tiremakers, automakers, even restaurant and hotel chains that wanted standardized planning for their outlets.

Figure 14. Cool Springs, Arizona.”

Source: Victor Solanoy, Wiki Commons, 2014.

However, the new interstates were often built away from existing towns entirely for the sake of efficiency, which turned many town main streets into deserted asphalt. “It was like a death or something,” said John Holst of Williams, Arizona, owner of a bed and breakfast. “One day the trucks were all rolling down Main Street, with all that clatter, stopping at the lights. The next day they were gone, all gone.” Angel Delgadillo, the barber of Seligman, Arizona: “September 22, 1978 between 1 and 2 o’clock. Every 24 hours nine thousand automobiles passed through town. And suddenly, you could lay on the street and nobody would run over you because there wasn’t any traffic.” Many residents of Route 66 remembered when their piece of Route 66 was bypassed as a defining moment in their communities.

While traffic roared by on the interstate, small businesses cursed its “controlled access” policy, which separated traffic from roadside businesses. In many states, small cities whose economies depended on Route 66 threatened to sue the federal government to block the bypasses but had to settle for off-ramps and business loops. By the 1960s, there was a “freeway revolt” across the country by groups located on 66 and other roads, pushing back against the loss of tourist dollars. The 66 bypasses became emblematic of an entire bypass culture, which promoted progress over heritage, speed over community, and an end to the Route 66 lifestyle many small towns had been built to support.

Figure 15. Harry Raab Photo.” Postcard showing street view of US Route 66 Eastbound.

Source: James R. Powell Route 66 Collection, Newberry Library, c. 1950–1959.

But starting in the mid-1950s, segment by segment, piece by piece, the new interstate highways bypassed Route 66. The interstates were lauded by travelers for safety and speed but hated by those feeling the economic pain of losing access to travelers and tourists. In many places, as the history columnist for the Amarillo Globe put it, “Route 66 just evolved out.”60

Route 66: America’s Legendary Highway

Even as Route 66 became increasingly irrelevant to travelers, the road reached its peak in pop culture from the 1960s to the early 1980s. Nostalgia took over the small screen with Route 66 on television (1960 to 1964) and later shown worldwide through reruns. Starring George Maharis and Martin Milner (and later Glenn Corbit), the series was about two guys in their twenties driving those famous classic Corvette convertibles, taking life as it came while having adventures across the country. Though rarely shot on Route 66 itself, the series leveraged the central themes now strongly associated with Route 66: the freedom of the open road, the open spaces of the American West, and the promise of the California dream. Other moments of pop culture solidified Route 66’s place in the American imagination in the 1960s and 1970s. Bobby Troup’s song “Get Your Kicks” was revived by both rocker Chuck Berry (1961) and the Rolling Stones (1964). In 1974, the Ant Farm art collective created the Cadillac Ranch, a world-famous installation consisting of ten vintage Cadillacs with their fins pointing toward the sky, buried in a field near Route 66. While Route 66 was steadily heading to its end as America’s preeminent highway, it was in no danger of being forgotten.

Source: Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress, 2006.

The actual decommissioning of Route 66 began in 1974, when the California Highway Commission took down all its US Highway 66 signs, turning them into State Route 66. On January 17, 1977, the Illinois Department of Transportation pulled down the last of its 66 signs, though small groups traveled behind them putting up handmade signs in a moment of rebellion.61 By 1979, the Main Street Association and the Historic Route 66 Association quietly dissolved. The interstates were a fact of life.

On October 3, 1984, the last six miles of Route 66 were closed in Williams, Arizona. Bobby Troup was there, leading people in singing his “Get Your Kicks on Route 66.” The New York Times noted “the silence of 66.” A correspondent for NBC’s Today Show hailed the Mother Road as “a thoroughfare for freedom, beat across the wilderness.”62 On June 27, 1985, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials officially decertified the road and voted to remove all its signage, marking the end of US Highway 66 as an official highway. On a road that crossed eight states and three time zones, that had changed the lives of millions for fifty-nine years, traffic drove no more. Sections of Route 66 remained, but only as state highways or local roads. Yet to the implied surprise of highway departments, Route 66 was “The Road That Wouldn’t Die.”

Source: John Margolies, Library of Congress, 1987.

The Revival of Route 66

Even as the road officially ended, a desire for a revival of Route 66 grew from concerned citizens, business organizations, and institutions like the National Park Service and local and state governments. The first historic Route 66 state association formed in Arizona in November 1987 led by Angel Delgadillo, who started posting historic Route 66 signs along its Arizona section. By 1988, books looking back at Route 66 began to be published, but it was Michael Wallis’s classic large-format work complete with glossy photographs, Route 66: The Mother Road (1990), which helped put the revival movement fully in gear.63 Route 66 supporters organized eight state associations, one for each Route 66 state—actually ten, as California and Kansas each had two. These groups put out bulletins for their members, organized social events, and promoted the value of Route 66 both historically and economically for local businesses to attract tourism. Some Route 66 revivalists formed national groupings, including the National Historic Route 66 Federation (1994) in California, or the Route 66 Alliance (2010). As the old road was progressively retired, resistance to the interstate bypasses was led by these national federations along with individual state Route 66 associations.

Efforts to stimulate historic preservation there prompted studies of the roadbeds of early 66 by the National Park Service, which in turn began historic Route 66 surveys, state by state. In 1999, the National Park Service established the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, which assisted in funding historic preservation and research of the road until 2018 when the program ended. The program collaborated with private, nonprofit, and government partners to identify and prioritize the historic preservation needs of Route 66, and offered federal cost-share grants to help preserve the most significant and representative historic sites along the road. It provided assistance in preservation planning, research, and education initiatives, as well as serving as a resource for preservation information and technical assistance. The program also offered grants which helped fund national Route 66 organizations such as the Archives and Research Collaboration, later Research Route 66. Eventually, interest in the preservation of Route 66 grew enough that the National Park Service proposed federal protection for the roadway.64 In 2016, in cooperation with the National Park Service, a new national organization was formed named Route 66: The Road Ahead Partnership, which was dedicated to promoting, preserving, and boosting the economy of Route 66 and its stakeholders. The mandate of The Road Ahead was to stimulate interest in Route 66 for a new generation in the 21st century, alongside efforts by Congress to declare Route 66 a National Historic Trail, the first modern road so nominated. State legislatures joined in this focus with commissions and bills submitted to celebrate Route 66’s official centenary in 2026. In 2020, over 85 percent of 66 was still drivable for the driver willing to meander its often-crumbling surface.

Source: Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress, 2009.

The Route 66 revival period has extended beyond state and national organizations; while those are apt to be the most influential, they are outnumbered by Route 66 associations now found all over the world. Despite the end of Route 66 as an official roadway, thousands of Americans and foreign tourists annually visit Route 66 and its many festivals celebrating “America’s Main Street.” They bring home T-shirts, maps and books, beer openers, novelty ashtrays—all adorned with the familiar Route 66 shield as the symbol of something quintessentially American. For some, Route 66 was a road that tied America together, uniting cultures, art, music, and people in a common experience of traveling by car on the open road. As the Mother Road it countered the physical isolation of many small towns and villages, linking them to the wider US economy, essential services, and even other cultures. Others have argued the opposite: that Route 66 separated the “poor from rich, migrants from residents, merchant from farmer, villager from city-dweller, or the ‘amateur’ motel operator from the ‘professional’. . . . The road divided society instead of uniting it.”65 But either way, it is undeniable that Route 66 brought great changes to the social, cultural, and economic landscape of the United States wherever it ran—changes that eventually led to its decommissioning.66 For a score of years, Route 66 was in the old-age home and pronounced dead in 1984, buried by the interstate. But even as it waned, Route 66 still symbolized American individualism, travel, and adventure. In the 21st century, Route 66 drivers still return to Route 66 to see the Mother Road still embodies the freedom of the road—today, they mother her.

Discussion of Literature

In their research on Route 66, historians face thorny challenges in defining what they study. For example, details are unclear on Route 66’s actual length, alignments, and origins and thus what history should be included. Arguably, one of the most famous roads in the world has no official length, as it depends which alignments are used in the measurement, while all of 66’s alignments have not been fully documented. Also, does Route 66 extend only to the edge of its roadway? Is it, as Michael Wallis claims, “the road and just a skoouch off”?67 Or is it how the National Park Service defines it, as its original alignments and what can be seen from there? Are the trails that make up the ancestors of Route 66 also important? People trying to delineate Route 66 loosely use terms like “near” Route 66, “off” 66, and “formerly on” 66 as a result.

Another critical question is the misidentification of Route 66. It is a fact that there are sometimes no signs declaring a road or street as part of the old highway on town streets and country roads. Thus, a section of Route 66 might just be Main Street for locals who casually shop and go to the gym, but simultaneously a prized destination for travelers from Brazil, Switzerland, and Germany. Many residents along Route 66 don’t associate their main street as part of a legendary highway, and thus local libraries and museums often fail to cross-reference Route 66 with their town’s thoroughfare. The Texas State Library, for example, had no separate listing for Route 66 or US Highway 66 except among its vast Texas Roads collection—difficult to easily locate with thirty-two boxes to sort through!

For these reasons, Route 66 is best studied as a corridor associated with the highway rather than just the roadway itself, especially when considering its trail and railroad predecessors. When looking at the route’s origins and how 66 was assembled from older roads, for example, works by Bertha S. Dodge, Ralph Moody, and D. W. Meinig, are critical.68 Also useful is Oscar Winther’s book on transportation corridors in the West, which discusses how early roads were built.69 There are a wide variety of secondary works on the Fred Harvey Company, which provide a context from where Route 66’s place in advertising and pop culture grew, such as Stephen Fried’s Appetite for America or Inventing the Southwest by Kathleen Howard and Diana Pardue.70 A Guide Book to Highway 66 by Jack Rittenhouse is the first and most famous guidebook for Route 66 and provides a valuable literary snapshot of the highway just as it was beginning to rise in importance.71

Few purely scholarly works have been written on Route 66. Patricia Buckley’s Route 66: Remnants was one of the first to use a historical perspective for the whole road, rather than focusing on nostalgia and local histories.72 Most books published following its revival in the late 1980s have focused on its place in American pop culture or on its unique advertisements and architecture. Only more recently in the 21st century have more in-depth discussions of Route 66’s history and importance begun to appear. Other early books such as Susan Croce Kelly and Quinta Scott’s Route 66: The Highway and its People and Michael Wallis’s Route 66: The Mother Road examined historical sites, the contemporary people met along the road, and their recollections of Route 66 at its height.73 Peter Dedek’s Hip to the Trip: A Cultural History of Route 66 focuses on Route 66’s effects on popular culture directly with a strong historical element.74 Many secondary source books include visual imagery and ephemera, such as Michael Wallis’s Route 66 Postcards: Greetings from Route 66 or Russell Olsen’s contrasting of historic photographs against contemporary scenes in The Complete Route 66 Lost and Found.75 Scholarship can also focus on strict local or state studies of Route 66, such as Skip Curtis’s Birthplace of Route 66 or Terry Ryburn-Lamont’s Route 66: Going Somewhere on Route 66 in McLean County, Illinois.76 These studies provide valuable looks at how Route 66 affects the culture and economy of the local town and people. A handful of scholarly theses exist as well, such as Donatella Davanzo’s “Tangibility and Symbolism along Historic Highway 66 in Albuquerque” at the University of New Mexico or Anne Christine Brandt’s “Return to Main Street: Space and Place on Route 66” at the University of Southern Denmark.77 More can be found searching university thesis lists for Route 66 as a topic.

Deep historical scholarship on Route 66 is rarer. The US National Park Service has commissioned two studies on Route 66, the “Special Resource Study: Route 66” that focused on historical preservation, and a more in-depth report on the history and significance of Route 66 by Michael Cassity, the “Route 66 National Historic Context Survey.”78 Cassity’s work was one of the first scholarly discussions of the cultural and historical effects of Route 66. Arthur Krim’s Route 66: Iconography of the American Highway was deeply engaged with the prehistory of Route 66.79 Krim presented the corridor along Route 66 as a highway across time as well as space and added a material-culture perspective in his text. Historic preservation resources can also be found, such as Dorothy Seratt and Terri Ryburn-Lamont’s “Historic and Architectural Resources of Route 66 through Illinois,” part of a report prepared for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.80

Early works that focused on nostalgia—the view of primarily middle-class whites recalling road trips—have also neglected the voices and experiences of minorities on 66. Only since 2015 have targeted studies begun to emerge on the experiences of African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Books such as American Indians and Route 66 by Cherokee author Lisa Hicks Snell; Route 66: Native Americans in New Mexico by Shawn Kelley and Kristen Reynolds; or Historic Route 66: A New Mexican Crossroads by Joseph P. Sánchez and Angelica Sánchez-Clark are emblematic of such new research directions.81 Victor Hugo Green’s authorship of The Green Book series detailing African American travels is invaluable for putting in context African American travelers on Route 66 in an era of Jim Crow and segregation, while recent videos on women on 66 have also appeared.82 But research into minority travel and experiences along Route 66 is still minimal. For example, research of the Asian American presence along Route 66 and their travel along it—including internment camps during World War II—has only just begun but is important for understanding the Asian American diaspora.

Route 66 is not a park. It is a living, breathing community of a road. It is not fixed in amber. The tension between the road as imagined and its physical reality challenges those documenting and referencing 66. Future generations of scholars will negotiate these historiographical challenges and make a more complete record of this historically important road.

Source: Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress, 2006.

Primary Sources

The best primary sources on Route 66 exist in local archives, museums, libraries, historical societies, and sometimes private collections along its former route. The Cline Library at Northern Arizona University (NAU) holds the Fred Harvey Company Collection, 1900–1986, detailing the company’s operations across the West; the United Indian Traders Association Records, 1931–2002, covering the histories of trading posts on Navajo and Hopi reservations; and two contemporary photographic collections created by Sean Evans, an archivist at NAU. Oklahoma State University in Tulsa, Oklahoma has the Cyrus S. Avery Collection, much of which has been digitized and put online. The Mohave Museum of History and Arts in Kingman, Arizona possesses a variety of material from the 1950s to 1980s, including promotional materials, maps, postcards, pictures, and other ephemera. The Pomona Public Library in Pomona, California holds the Frasher Foto Postcard Collection, containing the work of Burton Frasher, a prolific photographer of Route 66 in its heyday. Similarly, the Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda, Illinois holds the Curt Teich Collection, containing postcards and photos from the Curt Teich Company. Many of these organizations also possess research guides to assist scholars and visitors. More recently Russ Davidson’s book Route 66 in New Mexico provides a wealth of locations of primary source material held both in New Mexico and outside the state.83 While most of the material will be ephemera associated with Route 66, these examples mark some of the most valuable primary source collections available to scholars.

Other useful primary sources are oral history interviews of the people who grew up living, working, and traveling along Route 66. These interviews are often very subjective and focused on local history but still provide an essential window into Route 66’s history. For example, Northern Arizona University holds the Al Richman Collection, 1975–1985, which contains many oral histories of those who worked for the Fred Harvey Company. One of the largest collections available was created through a joint endeavor between the University of New Mexico’s Route 66 Oral History Office and the National Park Service. This collection contains over 200 audio interviews by Dr. David Dunaway over the course of twenty years and associated transcripts, as well as many additional donated transcripts from other sources. It’s not uncommon for local libraries to possess oral history interviews of people who lived in the same timeframe as Route 66; though their recorded recollections may not focus on it, they can still provide valuable insights into society and culture, as well as for preservation of Route 66 buildings and attractions.

Other archival sources belong to Route 66 associations and organizations, some of which maintain online websites and collections. Research Route 66 is a consortium of libraries and museums that maintains a website linking to Route 66 resources and research, as well as contact information for each of its members. Numerous histories by Route 66 state and national associations can also be located through Route 66: The Road Ahead Partnership. Government records are harder to find, but many state highway departments keep records dating back over Route 66’s lifetime—but not necessarily associated with Route 66 specifically. Many towns along Route 66 have done reports on its economic impact or on sites for historical preservation; these may exist in local government archives as well.

On a national level, the US Department of Transportation archives in Washington, DC maintains the National Transportation Library, which along with the Federal Highway Administration Research Library in the same city contains a wide variety of government documents dealing with national highways and interstates. Other primary source archives include the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the National Archives Digital Vaults, or local online archives such as New Mexico’s Digital Collections, NAU’s Colorado Plateau Archives, or the Online Archive of California.

Another useful type of primary source for Route 66 is memoirs. Their authenticity and accuracy are often unverifiable and anecdotal, but they can present a useful historical or nostalgic contemporary viewpoint. Frequently, memoirs focus on specific locales or communities along Route 66 or follow the author’s trips along the highway. Typical of these are Tom Teague’s Searching for 66; Billy Connolly’s Route 66; or Rick Antonson’s Route 66 Still Kicks.84 These include vignettes, anecdotes, and stories of people and places along the historical road. Such memoirs tend to be very subjective and not always accurate in every detail but can provide interesting details. These can also include oral history interviews, such as those collected in Across the Tracks: A Route 66 Story or A Route 66 Companion, though they are often more casual in style.85 In-depth histories of specific areas along Route 66 can likewise offer oral history information, such as Skip Curtis’s Birthplace of Route 66; Joe de Kehoe’s study of 66 in the Mojave, The Silence and the Sun; and Terry Ryburn-Lamont’s Route 66: Going Somewhere on Route 66 in McLean County, Illinois.86 These books can sometimes be difficult to find outside of a library, as many are self-published or had limited runs.

Finally, there are a wide variety of newspaper and magazine articles that were contemporary with Route 66, from its early days to its heyday as a legendary road. It would be difficult to list all of these, obviously, but newspaper archives can provide a wealth of articles relating to Route 66’s construction and expansion, as well as the reaction of local businesses and governments to the coming of the interstate, or contemporary pieces on Route 66 history. Two examples would be the Mother Road Journal in the 1990s published by John Millpony in Lakewood, Colorado, or Route 66 News, which in the early 21st century exists as both a website and magazine.

Further Reading

  • Antonson, Rick. Route 66 Still Kicks: Driving America’s Main Street. New York: Skyhorse, 2012.
  • Belasco, Warren James. Americans on the Road: From Autocamp to Motel, 1910–1945. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1979.
  • Brown, Dee. Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow. New York: Touchstone, 1977.
  • Cassity, Michael J. Route 66 Corridor National Historic Context Study. Santa Fe, NM: National Trails System Office-Intermountain Region, National Park Service, 2004.
  • Curtis, C. H. Birthplace of Route 66: Springfield, Mo. Springfield, MO: Curtis Enterprises, 2001.
  • Dedek, Peter B. Hip to the Trip: A Cultural History of Route 66. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007.
  • Dunaway, David King. Across the Tracks. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 2004.
  • Dunaway, David King. A Route 66 Companion. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012.
  • Hinckley, Jim. The Illustrated Route 66 Historical Atlas. Minneapolis, MN: Voyageur Press, 2014.
  • Kehoe, Joe de. The Silence and the Sun. Bakersfield, CA: Trails End, 2007.
  • Kelly, Susan Croce, and Quinta Scott. Route 66: The Highway and Its People. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988.
  • Krim, Arthur. Route 66: Iconography of the American Highway. Santa Fe, NM: Center for American Places, 2005.
  • Liebs, Chester. From Main Street to Miracle Mile. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.
  • Moore, Bob, Patrick Grauwels, and Yannis Argyropoulos. Route 66: The Illustrated Guidebook to the Mother Road. Williams, AZ: Roadbook International, 1998.
  • Olsen, Russell A. The Complete Route 66 Lost and Found. Minneapolis: Voyageur Press, 2008.
  • Reigel, Robert Edgar. The Story of the Western Railroads: From 1825 throughout the Reign of the Giants. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1926.
  • Sánchez, Joseph P., and Angelica Sánchez-Clark. Historic Route 66: A New Mexican Crossroads. Albuquerque, NM: Rio Grande Books, 2017.
  • Teague, Tom, Bob Waldmire, and Lon Haldeman. Searching for 66. 2nd ed. Springfield, IL: Samizdat, 1996.
  • US Department of the Interior. Special Resource Study: Route 66. Washington, DC: National Park Service, 1995.
  • Wallis, Michael. Route 66: The Mother Road. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.
  • Witzel, Michael Karl. Route 66 Remembered. Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International, 1996.