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National Highway System

On 7 July 1919, 79 Army vehicles departed Washington D.C. bound for San Francisco along the Lincoln Highway, a 3389-mile road that was one of the nation’s first transcontinental automobile routes. Called the Motor Transport Corps Convoy, the group included nearly 300 Soldiers, Officers, and War Department observers, among them Lieutenant Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower, who would play a vital role in the development of America’s highways to come. Their mission was to test the usefulness of existing roads in case of national emergency. Much of the Highway consisted of dirt and gravel tracks—in some locations the “pavement” was little more than loose sand. Bad weather and steep grades often made roads impassable. Numerous bridges were demolished and rebuilt to allow the heavy vehicles to proceed. By the time the Convoy reached the San Francisco Bay, the trip had taken 62 days at a 6.07 MPH average speed. The duration of the journey, the poor condition of the route, and the countless mechanical incidents endured along the way proved the nation’s cross-country roads were in extremely poor condition.

  • Constructed in 1914, the Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama County, Iowa is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

  • Wreck in Nebraska during the 1919 Motor Transport Corps Convoy.