American Auto Trails > General Auto Trail Topics

Timeline of early highway history


This is a work in progress, but I'll post it nonetheless.

Early American Highway Timeline


January 1910 - The New Santa Fe Trail highway association forms in Hutchinson, Kansas.

September 18-19 - West coast motoring enthusiasts meet at the Arctic Club in Seattle, WA and form the Pacific Highway Association. The road will run from Vancouver, BC to Tijuana, Mexico. Judge J. R. Ronald of Seattle was elected the first interim president until a convention could be held the following summer.


Annual races from Los Angeles to Phoenix begin. They were called the "Desert Race" or "Cactus Derby."

January 15, 1911 - William Patterson Borland (U.S. Repr., Missouri) introduces the Daughters of the American Revolution Old Trails Road Act (H. R. 2864) to Congress.

June 1911 - Delegates meet in Salina, KS to form the Meridian Road along the Chisolm Trail. The road would later become the Meridian Highway.

October 28, 1911 - Dedication of the "Missouri Cross State Highway—Old Trails Road". This was the initial section of the National Old Trails Road.

November 1911 - The Old Santa Fe Trail highway association forms in Herington, Kansas.

November 1911 - A group of motorists, lead by National Highway Association and AAA pathfinder A.L. Westgard, arrive in San Diego. Westgard proposes an all-weather, national transcontinental highway through the southern states to San Diego.

December 19, 1911 - The Old Trails Road Association of Missouri forms at a meeting in the Commercial Club Rooms in Kansas City, MO. 50 delegates take part, and elect Profesor Walter Williams president of the association. The delegates resolve to take steps necessary to form a transcontinental highway association.

December 20-21, 1911 - Ocean to Ocean Highway Association meets in Phoenix at the Tri-State Road Convention to discuss the route of a future national transcontinental highway. The California delegation is split between advocates of an LA terminus and those who favor San Diego. With several key officers living in Los Angeles, the outcome was obvious. The eight San Diego delegates form the "San Diego-Imperial-Yuma Highway Association" after the convention.


April 17-18, 1912 - First National Old Trails Road convention held at the Commercial Club Rooms in Kansas City, Missouri. The delegates tentatively agree that the Ocean-to-Ocean route through Yuma would carry traffic to the western terminus in Los Angeles.

April 19, 1912 - Advocates for the building of the National Old Trails Road speak before the Committee on Agriculture of the U.S. House of Representatives regarding the National Old Trails Road Act (H.R. 17919). William Patterson Borland (U.S. Repr., Missouri), Elizabeth Gentry of the D.A.R., and several others speak.

September 10, 1912 - Carl Fisher holds a dinner party for auto industry friends in the Deutsches Haus in Indianapolis. He proposes a transcontinental highway that will become the Lincoln Highway.

September 19, 1912 - Construction begins on the first plank road east of Holtville, CA in the Imperial County sand dunes as part of the road from San Diego to Phoenix.

October 1912 - The Yellowstone Trail is organized at a planning meeting in Lemmon, South Dakota.

October 26, 1912 - The second annual Los Angeles to Phoenix race incorporates a simultaneous challenge race from San Diego to Phoenix. A pre-race competion between San Diego's Ed Fletcher and Mr. Lawrence from Los Angeles is sponsored by each city's newspaper. Ed Fletcher and a San Diego group drive his Franklin touring car across the Imperial sand dunes, cross the Colorado River and Hassayampa River on the train bridges, and arrive in Phoenix in 19-1/2 hours. The challenger from Los Angeles never made it to Phoenix. The official race on the 26th was won by Ralph Hamblin from Los Angeles, but only after Ed Fletcher helped him ford the Agua Fria River with the aid of a horse team and cable. Four out of 16 cars from Los Angeles, and 12 out of 22 cars from San Diego, finished the race.

November 2, 1912 - Construction begins on the Mountain Springs grade between San Diego and El Centro. It will be used by the early alignments of the  Southern National Highway, Broadway of America, the Bankhead Highway, the Dixie Overland Highway, the Old Spanish Trail,  the Lee Highway, and the Lone Star Trail.


January 20, 1913 - Over 100 delegates from Arizona and Southern California form the San Diego-Arizona auxiliary of the Southern National Highway Association with the purpose of building a highway bridge over the Colorado River at Yuma.

February 5, 1913 - The South Carolina House and Senate enact a concurrent resolution proposing the building of the Southern National Highway.

February 12, 1913 - Conference in Asheville, NC to chose the path of the Southern National Highway, the southern route from Washington, DC to southern California. Delegates were sent by the governors of 15 southern states. The meeting was organized by Colonel Dell M. Potter of Clifton, Arizona.

March 6-7, 1913 - Second National Good Roads Federal Aid Convention sponsored by AAA and held at the Raleigh Hotel in Washington, D.C.

April 10, 1913 - Dedication of the Mountain Springs grade between San Diego and El Centro.

April 24-25, 1913 - Organizing convention of the United States Good Roads Association in Birmingham, AL. John Hollis Bankhead, the "Father of Good Roads" was named president (a rather honorary appointment). Other officers included: First Vice-president Dell M. Potter of Clifton, AZ, president of the Southern National Highway Association; Second Vice-president E. J. Watson of Columbia, SC, commissioner of agriculture for the State of South Carolina; Third Vice-president John W. O'Neill of Birmingham, vice-president of the Alabama Good Roads Association; Secretary John Asa Rountree of Birmingham, secretary of the Alabama Good Roads Association (and future founder of the Bankhead Highway); Treasurer Judge W. I. Grubb of Birmingham, a U.S. District Judge; and Managing Director Thomas L. Cannon, secretary manager of the St. Louis convention bureau.

April 29-30, 1913 - Second convention of the National Old Trails Road Association. In this meeting delegates decided to drop the Ocean-to-Ocean route through Yuma in favor of a route through northern Arizona, the road that would later become U.S. Highway 66.

July 1, 1913 - Lincoln Highway Association officially incorporated in Detroit, Michigan.

October 31, 1913 - Lincoln Highway dedication ceremony.

Novermber, 1913 - Mrs. Alexander B. White of Tennessee, President-General of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), introduces the idea for a coast-to-coast Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway at the UDC national convention in New Orleans.


March 18, 1914 - The Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway Association is formed in St. Joseph, Missouri.

May 7-9, 1914 - Third annual conference of the National Old Trails Road Association in Indianapolis, Indiana.

July 17, 1914 - The Dixie Overland Highway Association is formed after a pathfinding trip is made across the state of Georgia from Savannah to Columbus by the Automobile Club of Savannah. The idea of an ocean to ocean transcontinental highway is quickly conceived at the first meeting in Columbus. Columbus would become the headquarters of the auto trail association.

August 20, 1914 - The Automobile Club of Southern California begins a project of signing the National Old Trails Road from Los Angeles to Kansas City. [Read a Touring Topics article on the project.]


February 13, 1915 - Building begins on a new six mile plank road across the Imperial County sand dunes as part of plans for a transcontinental route to San Diego. The road is built by Colonel Ed Fletcher of San Diego with funding assistance from the citizens of El Centro and Yuma.

April 3, 1915 - Dixie Highway Association forms and meets in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

May 24, 1915 - The Yuma "Ocean-to-Ocean" bridge across the Colorado River is completed.

September 3, 1915 - The project of the Automobile Club of Southern California to sign the National Old Trails Road from Los Angeles to Kansas City ends when the last sign is placed in Kansas City. The project continued east toward New York after this date.

November 2, 1915 - Southern National Highway motorcade departs from San Diego's Broadway Street heading to Washington, DC. Engineer B. H. Burrell represents Office of Public Roads and Rural Engineering on the 26-day trip.

November 15-16, 1915 - First organizational meeting of the national Jefferson Highway Association was held in New Orleans, Louisiana.

November 27, 1915 - Southern National Highway motorcade arrives in Washington, D.C., having driven 3590 miles.

December 11-12, 1915 - First conference of the Old Spanish Trail Association in Mobile, AL. The goal at that time was a road from Jacksonville, FL to New Orleans, LA.


February 15, 1916 - The Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway Association holds a conference in Indianapolis to decide the eastern route of the highway. A route along future US 40 and the William Penn Highway was chosen.

April 24-25 1916 - About one hundred delegates meet in Omaha, NE to organize the George Washington National Highway, which ran from Savannah, GA to Seattle, WA. Norman B. Abrams represented the Chamber of Commerce and the Seattle Automobile Club as the delegate from that city. Through his efforts Seattle was made the western terminus. Percy Albertson Wells, an Omaha attorney was elected president.

May, 1916 - National Parks Highway Association forms in Spokane, Washington.

July 11, 1916 - Federal Aid Road Act, sponsored by Senator John Hollis Bankhead of Alabama and signed by President Woodrow Wilson, provides millions of dollars of funds for states to build federal roads, with an emphasis on post roads.

October 6, 1916 - The Bankhead National Highway Association forms in Birmingham, AL.


February 9, 1917 - Delegates from the towns between Childress, Texas and Lamar, Colorado meet in Canadian, Oklahoma to form the Dallas-Canadian-Denver Highway. (source: Colorado Highway Bulletin, September 1918, page 15.)

February 14, 1917 - The Dixie Overland Highway Association is incorporated in the state of Georgia for a 20 year period. The association's motto is: "The Shortest and Only Year Round Ocean-to-Ocean Highway."

July 30, 1917 - A Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway conference meets in San Francisco to decide on the California routing of the highway. The Feather River route along future CA-70 and US 50 was chosen.

Aug. 14, 1917 - Dikinson County, Tennessee surveyors begin laying out the route of the future Broadway of America/US Highway 70.

October 26, 1917 - Formation of the Evergreen National Highway Association in Tacoma, WA by the Interstate Highway Association of Montana, Idaho, and Washington. Officers elected: Dr. Ben F. Hill of Walla Walla, pres.; D. D. A. Outcalt of Tacoma, vice pres.; and A. J. Elrod of Pasco, secr.


February 19, 1918 - The Burlington Way, the Orange and White auto trail, is incorporated.

August, 1918 - Fifth annual convention of the Dixie Overland Highway meets to discuss the western terminus of the route. The choice is between Los Angeles and San Diego. Stanley Hufflund of San Diego, the representative for California Governor Stephens, supports San Diego as the terminus. A letter from Ed Fletcher in support of a San Diego terminus is read.


February 22, 1919 - A group meets in Roanoke, VA and plans a road from Gettysburg to New Orleans to be named after General Robert E. Lee. The Lee Highway was conceived by Professor D. C. Humphreys of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, and Dr. S.M. Johnson of New Mexico.

March 12, 1919 - Convention in Quincy, Illinois to organize the Mississippi River Scenic Highway Association. Officers were elected and a constitution and by-laws adopted. Truman T. Pierson was elected president. [source: Mississippi Valley Magazine, July 1919, p.45.]

May, 1919 - The Dixie Overland Highway officially choses San Diego as the western terminus of the transcontinental highway. Ed Fletcher of San Diego is elected president of the Association.

July 7, 1919 - The Motor Transport Corps of the U.S. Army begins a transcontinental convoy from Washington D.C. to Gettysburg and from there to San Francisco along the Lincoln Highway to test the feasability of moving troops across country. Dr. S.M. Johnson is their official spokesman, and Lt. Colonel Dwight David Eisenhower was part of the convoy.

Summer 1919 - O. M. Eldridge, engineer for the Bureau of Public Roads, travels 2,600 miles to San Diego by automobile to inspect the route recommended by the Dixie Overland Highway Association.

October 15, 1919 - First Annual Meeting of the Mississippi River Scenic Highway Association in Memphis, TN.  F. T. Lincoln, Secretary. Source; The Road Maker, Excavator and Grader, Vol. 13, No. 10, p. 72. October 1919.

October 19, 1919 - The Board of Trustees of the Evergreen National Highway Association meets with the Trustees of the Pacific Northwest Tourist Association in Tacoma, Washington (the ENH headquarters). A map is distributed showing the full proposed route of the Evergreen National Highway going from Vancouver, BC south to the Mexican border at Douglas, Arizona, then east past El Paso all the way to the east coast, then north all the way to Augusta, Maine.

October 22, 1919 - The Mississippi River Scenic Highway Association is incorporated. [source]

December 3, 1919 - Lee Highway Association is officially formed.


February 9, 1920 - The Bankhead Highway Association finally decides on it western route from El Paso to San Diego. The route will largely follow what later became US 80.

April, 1920 - Dr. S.M. Johnson becomes General Director of the Lee Highway Association.

June 14, 1920 - The second U.S. Army Motor Convoy Expedition, lead by Colonel John F. Franklin, begins a transcontinental convoy from Washington, D.C. to San Diego along the Bankhead Highway. The convoy consisted of 32 officers and 160 enlisted men traveling in 50 trucks and automobiles. J.A. Rountree, secretary of the Bankhead Highway Association travels with the convoy to San Diego.

October 2, 1920 - The U.S. Army Motor Convoy Expedition enters San Diego, finishing its trip west along the Bankhead Highway.


February 28, 1921 - A decision is made by the Lee Highway Association to turn west from Chattanooga rather than heading to New Orleans. The Association chooses the Borderland/OST route for its alignment west of El Paso.The Directors of the Lee Highway Association approve the entire transcontinental route.

Federal Highway Act provides funds to states for interstate highways.



June 4, 1923 - The Zero Milestone on the Ellipse south of the White House, is dedicated with President Harding participating. The milestone was installed by Lee Highway co-founder Dr. S.M. Johnson on the route of the Lee Highway. The inscriptions on the Zero Milestone commorate the two U.S. Army transcontinental convoys down the Lincoln and Bankhead highways.

November 17, 1923 - Ed Fletcher reads a message from President Coolidge at the dedication of the Pacific (Zero) Milestone in San Diego's Horton Square (formerly Grant Park). This was on the route of the OST and the Lee Highway.


March 27, 1924 - Governor Pat Neff of Texas dedicates the Zero-mile marker of the OST on the grounds of the San Antonio City Hall.



May 12, 1926 - Dedication of the First Pacific Terminal plaque of the Jefferson Davis Highway in San Diego. The Jefferson Davis ran from Washington, D.C. to San Diego, then up the Pacific Highway to the Canadian border.

October 20-23, 1926 - Col. Ed Fletcher heads a time-race along the Dixie Overland Highway from San Diego to Savannah, GA in a Cadillac sedan. The group later travels south to St. Augustine to begin the return journey via the Old Spanish Trail. The team in the Cadillac made the run in 71 hours 15 minutes across a distance 2535 miles.

Return motorcade led by Ed Fletcher along the Old Spanish Trail from St. Augustine to San Diego.

November 11, 1926 - The U.S. numbered highway sysyem is finally approved, creating the first federally funded U.S. highways such as U.S. 1, 30, 40, 66, 80 and 101.



April (15), 1928 - The Broadway of America motorcade led by Ed Fletcher from San Diego travels to the Broadway of America Convention in Memphis, TN. Broadway of America was the successor organization to the Southern National Highway group. The road would stretch from Broadway in New York to Broadway in San Diego.


March 23, 1929 - OST motorcade leaves San Diego?
April 2-4, 1929 - Dedication and gala for the Zero Milestone in St. Augustine, FL at the beginning of the Old Spanish Trail.

October 1929 - Return motorcade to San Diego










June 8, 1938 - President Franklin Rooselvelt signs the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1938.

July 3, 1938 - 25th anniversary of the Lincoln Highway celebrated on NBC radio.





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