81st Anniversary of Federal Highway Numbering

“Windy City Road Warrior” Dave Clark (author of Exploring Route 66 in Chicagoland and Route 66 in Chicago) posted an interesting story about the 81st anniversary of the federal highway numbering system. Although the highway plan was finalized in November 1926, the public announcement was delayed until January 1, 1927. Clark references a Chicago Tribune article from January 2, “U.S. Marks Ten Main Roads With Route Numbers” that explains the system that has been used ever since for federal highways: east-west route have even numbers, north-south have odd, with lowest numbers in the north and east. The 10 main transcontinental route numbers ended in 0, and the main N-S route numbers ended in 1 or 5. A tentative plan had been submitted to the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) in November 1925, followed by a year of wrangling and revisions. Standardized signage was also adopted.

All this was in response to the growing tangle of named highways and their informal, inconsistent markings. It did not release funds for the highways; the focus was on standardized naming and marking, The only nod to financing upgrades was to “unimproved sections of which will be given priority in improvement,” if and when any were made.

US map
Above: A Gulf map of PA, late 1920s, shows the LH numbered as both US 30 and PA 1. The state numbers were discarded after just a few years. Seen here is from roughly Breezewood to Lancaster.

A map of the plan approved in November 1926 can be seen here. And more about the federal numbering system can be found in “From Names to Numbers: The Origins of the U.S. Numbered Highway System,” a thorough recounting by Richard F. Weingroff, Information Liaison Specialist, Federal Highway Administration.

Though named trails were not banned or eliminated, none of the multi-state ones got a single number, but rather were broken into several numbers. Named highway orgnizations could see that the plan would render their roads obsolete; the LHA grudgingly accepted the plan but asked for consideration of being designated route number 30. It got it for much of the way, originally from Philadelphia to Salt Lake City. Still, as Weingroff writes, LHA president Henry Joy

was so bitter that he wanted to send, but did not, a note to President Coolidge, his Cabinet, and all Members of Congress:

“The Lincoln Highway, a memorial to the martyred Lincoln, now known by the grace of God and the authority of the Government of the United States as Federal Route 1, Federal Route 30, Federal Route 30N, Federal Route 30S, Federal Route 530, Federal Route 40 and Federal Route 50”

The New York Times expressed similar sentiments: “The traveler may shed tears as he drives the Lincoln Highway or dream dreams as he speeds over the Jefferson Highway, but how can he get a ‘kick’ out of 46, 55 or 33 or 21?” Little did they know…!

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2 Responses to “81st Anniversary of Federal Highway Numbering”

  1. www.windycityroadwarrior.com/blog » Blog Archive » A Note of Thanks… Says:

    […] on my posts about the 81st Anniversary of the announcemnt of the U.S. Highway system on his Lincoln Highway News Blog. Mr. Butko also adds some interesting information on the subject and supplies a few links to […]

  2. rollin.southwell@pgrimes.com Says:


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