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Americana and Route 66

America, its culture, values and the Mother Road

Americana

Route 66 is the essence of Americana: The Mother Road as America's Main Street, embodies the core small town values of America, with its Mom-and-Pop stores, its vintage service stations, motels and diners.
It is also a representation of freedom, a roaming, mobile and automobile-oriented society, where new horizons for personal growth and experiences can always be found.


Travelers arrive from far away to experience "Americana" along Route 66, hear America's music, savor its food and see the horizon of the Far-West...
Route 66 is a compendium of all those things, and more.

US Route 66

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Americana

Americana

Noun, plural. Amer-i-ca-na.

1. Things made in the United States of America, typical of the U.S. and ⁄ or its culture.
2. American culture
3. Products, materials, intangible elements that are characteristic of America, its society, values and civilization.

Route 66 America at its best

Route 66 cuts right across the heart of America, linking two of its most important cities: Chicago and Los Angeles. It allows you to wet your feet in Lake Michigan and the Pacific Ocean and also the Mississippi, Arkansas and Colorado rivers along the way.

It crosses the southern reaches of the Rocky Mountains, the hills of the Ozarks and the flat regions of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. It winds through the pine forests of Arizona and the deserts of eastern California. It is a transect of America.

But U.S. highway 66 is important not only for its geographic connotations, it is, itself, an icon of American Culture: the Mother Road.

Blue Swallow Motel
Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumcari, New Mexico
vintage car in Illinois Route 66

Route 66 Illinois

A Journey to Nostalgia...

Route 66 shows us the way America was before the Interstate highways appeared in the late 1950s. In those days road travel was not the monotony of endless miles of speeding cars and trucks dotted with the occasional service area. Instead it was a journey in itself, driving through towns with neon motel signs and kitsch eye-catching signs, diners, bars with odd names and Indian trading posts.

Route 66 still maintains that flavor of "Real America", with its regional distinctions, local foods, warm and open people.

Though it is no longer the fastest way to go west, it is the best way to catch a glimpse of a now lost world, when travel was exploration and an end in itself.

American Culture

No Vacancy Neon Sign

Ever since it was created back in 1926, it became a symbol of all things American:

  • It was the road to salvation for thousands seeking new horizons in California during the terrible years of the Dustbowl drought...
  • It helped thousands weather the Great Depression, as they worked in road-construction teams along Route 66, building and paving the highway...
  • Thousands of GIs, and workers road along it, during the years of World War II, getting their first glimpses of America outside of their hometowns...
  • Small towns flourished along this major link, feeding, lodging and servicing the vehicles of those who drove along Route 66...
  • After WW II it was the road used by soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors returning home or, relocating to the balmy lands of the Western Coast....
  • During the 1950s and 60s countless families travelled the route on their vacations experiencing an outdoor America that they had not yet known...
Vintage Car

Songwriters, musicians, writers would drive it, experience it and lay down their memories in unforgettable songs, movies and books. Even a TV show would bring it to the living rooms of America and the World during the 1960s.

Visitors flock from all over the world to visit it, eager to experience it, to sift through its flavors, and amaze themselves with its sights, attractions and landmarks, to "feel" America.

Route 66 is full of "Americana": fast food & hamburger eateries, motorcycles (especially Harley Davidsons), vintage cars, American music, small towns and Main Streets...

US 66 1950s Diner Recreation

1950s Diner recreation, McLean Texas. By Carol M. Highsmith

Arts and Route 66

Grapes of Wrath

The book by John Steinbeck and the movie it inspired, directed by John Ford (1940), portrayed the tragic story of an Oklahoma family, the Joads, who lost their farm during the Great Depression and migrated to California seeking new opportunities.

In this Pulitzer Prize-winning work, Steinbeck (who later won the Nobel Prize in Literature) depicts their tragic journey (along Route 66). He also coined the phrase "Mother Road", referring to U.S. 66.

Read More: Grapes of Wrath, full details on the book and the movie.

memorabilia
Route 66 mementos and memorabilia, Public Domain

Jack Kerouac's On the Road

amazon.com advertisement

Advertisement, Amazon.com: On The Road, J. Kerouac

Jack Kerouac's now classic novel explores the essence of "Americanness" in a way which was controversial when the book was first published (in 1957). Francis Ford Coppola produced a movie based on the book in 2012.

"On the Road" has moved generations of youngsters around the world, starting with the beat generation of the late 1950s, and continuing with hippies back in the 1960s and even today it influences them with the freewheeling notion of road travel and freedom.

Get Your Kicks...

The hit song "Route Sixty-six" written by Bobby Troup in 1946, and performed by Nat King Cole with its catchy lyrics popularized Route 66 and made it a household name.

The song reflects the optimism of a generation that had just come out, unscathed, from a terrible war and was seeking new horizons driving along US 66 and enjoying their trip on the way.

Read More: Get your Kicks on Route 66, full details on the song and its context.

Main Street in Williams, Route 66 in Arizona

US 66 is the Main Street in Williams, Arizona
Route 66 the Main Street, Williams, Arizona.

Billboards and Advertising

Burma Shave signs

Burma Shave Signs on Route 66 in Arizona

U.S. 66 was an ideal place to advertise as thousands drove down it. The diners and motels competed with colorful, garish and flashy signs, and some companies posted billboards.

Among them was Burma Shave of the Burma-Vita Co., whose signs appeared in the 1920s and were finally taken down in 1961. They used red signs with very catchy phrases:

  • Hardly a driver - Is now alive - Who passed - On hills - At 75 - Burma-Shave
  • Past - Schoolhouses - Take it slow - Let the little - Shavers grow - Burma-Shave
  • Big Mistake - Many Make - Rely on Horn - Instead of Brake - Burma Shave (shown in the image)

It was the second most-sold brand in the U.S. at its peak. You can still see their signage along U.S. 66 in Arizona.

"Americana" Highlights along the road

Some of the sights that you must see along the road:

Conoco Tower Station, Route 66, Shamrock

Conoco Tower Station, Shamrock Texas. By Clinton Steeds

Illinois

The Rialto Theater in Joliet; Abraham Lincoln's House and tomb in Springfield.

Missouri

The murals in Cuba, "Mural City"; the Boot Motel in Carthage and the top biker bar in the whole world, in Albatross.

Kansas

The shortest stretch of Route 66 in any state plus Crowell Bank in Baxter Springs; it was robbed by Jesse James.

Teepee souvenir shop, New Mexico
Souvenir Shop in Tucumcari, NM. by Carol M. Highsmith
Midpoint Cafe, Adrian TX

Midpoint Cafe on Route 66, Adrian, Texas. By Peer Lawther

Oklahoma

The ghost town at Texola, the Trade Winds motel in Clinton (Elvis Presley slept there), the Route 66 museums in Elk City and Clinton.

Texas

The oldest Phillips 66 service station on Route 66 in McLean, the CONOCO Tower station at Shamrock, and the leaning water tower at Groom, and do not forget the Sixth Street in Amarillo with its vintage buildings.

New Mexico

The oldest church in the U.S. in Santa Fe, Tucumcari with its neon light signs, Gallup with its vintage motels.

Abandoned cars in Arizona
Arizona, Route 66, abandoned cars by Carol M. Highsmith

Arizona

The Wigwam Motel in Holbrook with its Indian Teepee shaped rooms; the meteor crater in the desert; Oatman with its mining town ambiance. And, a short drive from Route 66: The Grand Canyon National Park.

California

The site where the first McDonald's stood in San Bernardino, Bagdad Café in Amboy and the Mojave Desert. Plus Santa Monica's pier and Hollywood.

Sources

Image by Robert Engmann adapted under its CC BY-2.0 License.

Image by Girlart39, Public Domain

Image by jp26jp, Public Domain

Image by Guerriernoir, Public domain

Public domain Image.

Image, Image, and Image by Highsmith, Carol M., Library of Congress, the Highsmith (Carol M.) Archive Collection; Public Domain

Image by Clinton Steeds adapted under its CC BY 2.0 License.

Image by Peer Lawther adapted under its CC SA 2.0 License.

IIP Digital, U.S. Department of State U.S. Route 66: A Journey for Travelers Seeking 'Americana'

Image by Vítězslav Válka adapted under its CC BY-SA 3.0 CZ License.