In the late 19th century many of America’s roads were ‘wholly unclassable, almost impassable, scarcely jackassable’. The rapid development of a comprehensive railway network had actually resulted in a deterioration, through neglect, in the standard of the nation’s roads. The progenitor of the movement for a Federal Highway system was General Roy Stone, a hero of Gettysburg, engineer, and bicycling enthusiast. His Office of Road Inquiry establish the ‘object lesson’ programme; paving short stretches of road so locals could appreciate the benefits of a general upgrade and vote funds for the undertaking. His small-scale operation would develop into the substantial Office of Public Roads, but the real catalyst was the motor car. President Wilson, a car buff, signed the Federal Aid Road Act in 1916. By 1921 10 million vehicles had been registered and the Federal Highway Act ushered in a highway expansion and improvement boom. The numbered highway system and international accord for a Pan-American Highway followed in 1925.
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