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The Dream: Ribbons of Concrete

Actual road sign from US Highway 30. Parts of this highway, completed in 1926, are laid along the route Eisenhower took across the country. It is the oldest known US Highway.
The interstate system began with the ideas of one man: General John Pershing. Pershing was the first person to be intrigued by a European system of interstate highways during his assignment as commander of American Forces in World War I. In 1919, he assigned Eisenhower to find out how fast troops could move all the way across the country in the event of a war. Eisenhower left Fort Meade outside of Washington, DC headed for the Presidio base in San Francisco armed with 81 vehicles. The only problem, however, was lack of road infrastructure. Though they took the then-famous Lincoln Highway (now U.S. 30), many of the over 3,000 miles remained unpaved, and it took the convoy 62 days to arrive at their destination. They averaged just 50 miles per day, or approximately 3.5 miles per hour. The men had to repair many of the bridges and roads while traveling on them, for fear that the convoy would break the bridges or get stuck in the mud. Upon returning to Washington, Eisenhower reported his findings to Pershing, who proceeded to draft a plan for an 8,000-mile interstate system, released in 1922. This plan, however, was all but ignored by the White House and Congress, who firmly believed that railways were the transportation method of choice, partially because of a very powerful railroad lobby. Pershing remained committed to this system, however, and is highly regarded as an inspiration for Eisenhower's later plan.


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