Cyrus Avery, the highway commissioner of Tulsa, Oklahoma, leads an effort to link Chicago, Illinois, and Los Angeles, California, through his hometown of Tulsa.
Cyrus Avery spends most of the year working with an appointed committee to stitch together hundreds of existing roads into the new system.
November 11, 1926 – Route 66 was officially commissioned for the Chicago-to-Los Angeles to include 2,448 miles of road. With that designation came its acknowledgment as one of the nation’s principal east-west arteries. Only 800 miles of Route 66 were paved by the end of the year.
Soulsby’s Station opens in Mt. Olive, Illinois.
The Old Log Cabin Restaurant opens for business in Pontiac, Illinois.
The National Highway System was formed. People from eight states established a Route 66 Highway Association to expedite the building of the highway. The theme name, “Main Street of America,” was adopted. Phillips 66 gasoline appropriates the magic numbers and logo as new gas stations sprout up along the highway.
Route 66 signs are posted in Illinois.
February 4, 1927 – The U.S. 66 Highway Association was formed in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the road’s lifetime name, “The Main Street of America,” was born.
September 19, 1927 – The popular Kimo Theatre opens on Route 66 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Riviera Roadhouse was established in Gardner, Illinois.
Dixie’s Trucker’s Home was established in McLean, Illinois.
The last piece of Route 66 is finally completed through Missouri, between Rolla and Lebanon, the most challenging piece in the Show-Me State.
March 4, 1928 – The “First Annual International -Trans-Continental Foot Race,” or the “Bunion Derby” as it came to be known, starts in Los Angeles. The race covered the entire length of Route 66 to Chicago and then went on to Madison Square Garden in New York. Andy Payne wins the race and the first prize of $25,000, a 20-year-old from Claremore, Oklahoma – a Route 66 town and the stomping ground of Will Rogers. He covers 3,422.3 miles in 84 days, with an actual running time of 573 hours, 4 minutes, and 34 seconds.
By this time, Illinois boasted approximately 7,500 miles of paved roads, including its portion of U.S. Highway 66. A Texaco road report published that same year noted the route was fully concreted in Kansas, 66% paved in Missouri, and 25% improved in Oklahoma. In contrast, the 1,200-mile western stretch (except for California’s metropolitan areas) never saw a cement mixer. Until the height of the Great Depression, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and the desert communities of southeast California collectively totaled only 64.1 miles of surfaced highway along Route 66.
Chicago is becoming dangerous, especially in the suburb of Cicero, which Route 66 runs through, and Al Capone makes his headquarters.
Ted Drewes Frozen Custard was established in St. Louis, Missouri.
The Old Mill Restaurant opened for business in Lincoln, Illinois, first called the Blue Mill.
The Ariston Café opens for business at its new location on Route 66 in Litchfield, Illinois.
July 29, 1929 – Taking 2 ½ years to build at the cost of some $2.5 million, the Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis, Missouri, opens to traffic. It closed in 1968.
By the 1930s, more than 250,000 vines produced grapes along Route 66 near Rosati, Missouri.
January 5, 1931 – Missouri was the third state to ultimately pave its portion of Route 66, following Illinois and Kansas. The last mile of the original Route 66 is paved in Phelps County, just east of the Pulaski County line near Arlington. The work crew tosses coins into the wet cement to celebrate the completion.
Odell Standard Oil Station was established in Odell, Illinois. It was closed in 1975 but still stands as a museum today.
Carr Phillips 66 Service Station was established in Cuba, Missouri.
The Totem Pole Trading Post was established in Rolla, Missouri.
Until 1933 the responsibility to improve existing highways fell almost exclusively to the individual states. The more assertive and financially prepared states met the challenge. Initial improvements cost state agencies an estimated $22,000 per mile.
The U.S. Government puts thousands of unemployed male youths from virtually every state to work as laborers on road gangs to pave the final stretches of Route 66.
The Wagon Wheel Motel was established in Cuba, Missouri.
In February 1934, the first Steak n Shake Drive-In was established in Normal, Illinois.
Meramec Caverns opened for tourists near Stanton, Missouri. Soon, barns and billboards dot the west, and Route 66 enticing visitors.
The Route 66 Cafe, first called the Belvidere Cafe, was established in Litchfield, Illinois.
June 17, 1935 – Route 66 is extended from downtown Los Angeles to its famous termination point overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, California.
June 17, 1935 – On the same date, 66 was rerouted over the Chain of Rocks Bridge in north St. Louis, Missouri.
The Mar Theatre opens in Wilmington, Illinois.
The Pig Hip Restaurant was established in Broadwell, Illinois. It closed in 1992 but then was opened as a museum until it was destroyed by fire in March 2007.
The Normal Theater opened in Normal, Illinois.
September 26, 1937 – The “route” that Route 66 followed changed over the years, particularly in New Mexico, where its original winding of 506 miles were shortened to 399 miles. On this date, it was officially rerouted directly west from Santa Rosa to Albuquerque, New Mexico, bypassing Santa Fe.
By mid-year, paving is completed on the last unpaved section of Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica in Oldham County, Texas, between Adrian and Glenrio.
John Steinbeck publishes The Grapes of Wrath, dubbing Route 66 “The Mother Road, the road of flight.”
Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, is made into a film that immortalized Route 66 in the American consciousness.
An old coffee and donut shop for railroad crews became the Eat-Rite Diner in St. Louis, Missouri.
The famous Coral Court Motel opens in Marlborough, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. It closed in 1993 and sadly, was demolished in 1995.
December 8, 1941 – The United States entered World War II.
As a result of the war, automobile production ceased, gasoline rationing began, and tires became scarce, affecting Route 66. The massive creation of war industry jobs, mainly in California, brought another wave of migrating people across Route 66. The highway was important for military traffic, transporting troops, supplies, and equipment. The road was inadequate for the traffic it carried, and the difficulty of maintaining it grew throughout the war.
World War II ended, and Americans began traveling for leisure, primarily an unknown pastime previously.
The Gardenway Motel was established in Villa Ridge, Missouri.
Jack D. Rittenhouse self publishes A Guide Book to Highway 66, selling it door-to-door at truck stops, motor courts, and cafes along the route. It lists every community from Chicago to Los Angeles that existed on the highway, along with attractions, lodgings, and services.
Robert (Bobby) William Troup, Jr., of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and former pianist with the Tommy Dorsey band and ex-Marine captain, penned a lyrical road map of the now-famous cross-country road in which the words, “Get your kicks on Route 66” became a catchphrase for countless motorists who moved back and forth between Chicago and the Pacific Coast. The famous recording was released in 1946 by Nat King Cole one week after Troup’s arrival in Los Angeles.
Ell Rhea’s Chicken Basket was first established as Kolarik’s Nationally Famous Chicken Basket in Willowbrook, Illinois. The name was changed in 1962.
The “Family Vacation” begins as a new American phenomenon in the 1950s. Route 66 became a destination unto itself. With its caverns and caves, scenic mountains, beautiful canyons, and sparkling deserts heavily promoted by the U.S. 66 Highway Association, Route 66 became the ultimate road trip. This spawned trading posts, alligator farms, full-service gas stations, grills with fried chicken, “blue plate specials” and homemade pie, “mom and pop” motor courts, Native American festivals, and every other type of tourist trap.
The Tropics Restaurant opens in Lincoln, Illinois.
The Cozy Dog Drive-In was established in Springfield, Illinois.
Henry’s Drive-In was established in Cicero, Illinois.
Spring, 1951 – The Skyview Drive-In opens in Litchfield, Illinois.
Oklahoma was the first state to deal the route an official death blow. In 1953, the Turner Turnpike (I-44) between Tulsa and Oklahoma City opened, bypassing 100 miles of the legendary Mother Road. Other states followed suit while the federal government’s new four-lane, straight-as-an-arrow interstate system gobbled up section after section.
The family-owned Circle Inn Malt Shop was established in Bourbon, Missouri.
The Polk-A-Dot Drive-In was established in Braidwood, Illinois.
President Eisenhower instituted the National Interstate Highway System (motivated by the German Autobahn system he had observed during the war.) Initially, the Interstate System was to be completed by 1972 but was not realized until 1982.
Zeno’s Motel and Steak House opens in Rolla, Missouri.
The Totem Pole Trading Post was established in Rolla, Missouri.
The LaunchPad Drive-In opens in Wilmington, Illinois. The drive-in is the home to the Gemini Giant Statue, which was added in 1965.
October 7, 1960 – Route 66 TV series starring Martin Milner and George Maharis begins. The show aired 116 episodes ending on September 18, 1964.
December 1962 – Missouri petitioned the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, on behalf of all the Route 66 states, to have the interstates renumbered as I-66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. The request was refused.
The Gateway Arch was built in downtown St. Louis, Missouri.
By 1970, nearly all segments of original Route 66 were bypassed by a modern four-lane highway.
January 17, 1977 – All signs came down along Route 66 in Illinois, replaced by the super-highway Interstate 55.
Route 66 Motors and Nostalgia Gift Shop are established in Rolla, Missouri.
December 23, 1982 – The city of Times Beach, Missouri, is found to be severely contaminated by dioxin
February 23, 1983 – The entire townsite of Times Beach, Missouri, was bought out by the Environmental Protection Agency. Two years later, every member of the former town has been evacuated, and Times Beach is closed to visitors.
October 13, 1984 – The outdated, poorly maintained vestiges of U.S. Highway 66 completely succumbed to the interstate system when the final section of the original road was bypassed by Interstate 40 at Williams, Arizona. The route was “replaced” by Interstates 55, 44, 40, 15, and 10.
Route 66 was officially decommissioned, and the familiar highway markers came down.
A small group of people formed the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona from the Arizona Route 66 communities, led by Angel Delgadillo of Seligman and Jerry Richard and David Wesson, both of Kingman.
New Historic Route 66 signs have been put up, documenting the different historic alignments in Illinois.
In response to the recognized need to preserve the rich resources of the historic highway, Congress passed an act to create the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. Administered by the National Park Service, the program collaborates with private property owners, non-profit organizations; and local, state, federal, and tribal governments to identify, prioritize, and address Route 66 preservation needs.
The historic Chain of Rocks Bridge reopens to pedestrian traffic in St. Louis, Missouri.
September 11, 1999 – The new Route 66 State Park opens on what was once the townsite of Times Beach, Missouri.
Cicero, Illinois’ famous 19′ Bunyon Hot Dog is moved to Atlanta, Illinois.
The Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame Museum was established in Pontiac, Illinois, in the restored Pontiac City Hall and Fire Station.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation includes Route 66 on its 11 most at-risk sites, highlighting architectural and cultural spots it deems in danger from development or neglect.
© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2022.
Route 66 Facts, Figures & Trivia
Route 66 History & Information