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Route 66 and American Culture

Last Updated: . By Austin Whittall

written by human, not by AI

Route 66 is almost mythical. 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.
It evokes nostalgia and yearning, and has left an indelible mark in America.

Travelers arrive from far away to experience the "American Way of Life" (Americana) along Route 66, hear America's music, savor its food and see the endless horizon of the Far-West and drive hundreds of miles across a vast nation...
Route 66 is a compendium of all those things, and more. It is part of American Heritage.

Get your Kicks on Route 66

Neon sign of Boots Court

vintage red neon sign with white letters and two more signs under it
Boots Court Motel neon sign, on Route 66 in Carthage, Missouri. . Click for street View.

The impact of Route 66 on American culture

The Legacy of U.S Hwy. 66

Route 66 America at its best

Gemini Giant muffler man close up in Wilmington Route 66

Gemini Giant, a Muffler Man on Route 66, Wilmington, Illinois

Route 66 cuts right across the heart of America, linking two of its most important cities: Chicago and Los Angeles and hundreds of tiny communities in between.
It allows you to wet your feet in Lake Michigan and in 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 prairies of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. It winds through the pine forests of Arizona, the Ozarks' woods, and the Mojave desert in eastern California.

Route 66 a transect of America.

Why was Route 66 so famous?

The American Dream and Route 66

U.S. highway 66 is important not only for its geographic connotations and the trade that flowed along it. It was, and still is, famous because it became an icon of American Culture, the "Mother Road", "America's Main Street".

The U.S. Congress recognized the deep impact Route 66 had on the lives of the American people and its place in the US heritage as a factor of social mobility and freedom.

(1) United States Route 66, the 2,000 mile highway from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California, played a significant role in the 20th-century history of our Nation, including the westward migration from the Dust Bowl and the increase intourist travel;
(2)Route 66 has become a symbol of the American people's heritage of travel and their legacy of seeking a better life and has been enshrined in American popular culture. (101st Congress, Public Law 101-400)

>> Read more about Why is Route 66 So Famous?

Old car, office and 1950s neon sign at the Blue Swallow Motel
Blue Swallow Motel, Route 66, Tucumcari New Mexico. Credits. Click for Street view

American Culture and Route 66

black and white still from Grapes of Wrath movie, the Joads truck crossing the Colorado River on the steel bridge on Route 66

Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, "Grapes of Wrath", US66 and the Colorado River Bridge

Ever since it was created back in 1926, the Mother Road 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 Great Depression and 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 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 catering to weary travelers, and servicing their vehicles.
  • And now, as it approaches its Cenntennial in 2026, it is reborn as the top road trip destination in the whole world.
blue and orange Rexall drugs neon sign on a brick corner

Brown Rexall Drugs neon sign. McLean TX
Click for St. view. credits

  • 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 to find new jobs.
  • During the 1950s and 60s countless families traveled the route on their vacations experiencing an new outdoors in America's southwest.
  • Route 66 had eye-catching stops, quirky roadside attractions, weird and wacky landmarks to lure travelers and tourists, that became a part of Americana!
Actors of 1960s Route 66 TV series and Route 66 shield

Martin Milner and George Maharis of the early 1960s TV series "Route 66".

The enduring appeal of Route 66

Songwriters, musicians, and writers drove along it, experienced it, and lay down their memories in unforgettable songs, movies, and books.

In the 1960s a TV show brought Route 66 into the living rooms of America and the World.

It became intertwined with the fabric of America, only Route 66 has this mythical allure, that has made it a legend.

Visitors flock from all over the world to visit Route 66, eager to experience "America", enjoy it and amaze themselves with its sights, attractions, and quirky landmarks.

It is a journey into nostalgia, and simpler times.

Route 66 is full of "Americana", from fast food & hamburger eateries, to vintage cars, motorcycles, American music, small towns and their Main streets, souvenirs and weird attractions.


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.

A flag of Texas painted on the wall of a gabled house
Texas flag mural, Adrian Texas, click for Street View. Source

Route 66, 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.

US 66 1950s Diner Recreation, counter, stools, fridge, vintage cola signs, tables

1950s Diner recreation, McLean Texas, Source

Front of a red 1950s Vintage Car

Arts and Route 66

Authors, movie directors and artists have framed some of their works with US Highway 66 as a backdrop, a witness of drama and American history. Let's look into some of these works.

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.

>> Learn more on our Grapes of Wrath page.

billboard with scene from Grapes of Wrath movie in gray tones, and Steinbeck in color
The Grapes of Wrath billboard on a California highway, credits

Jack Kerouac's On the Road

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, road trips, and freedom.

Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road
. . .
I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future. Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Historic Wigwam Motel on Route 66 in Holbrook Arizona
Historic Wigwam Motel Holbrook, AZ.

Get Your Kicks on Route 66

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.

>> Learn more on our Get your Kicks on Route 66 page.

brick wall with vintage enamel signs, photos and US 66 memorabilia
Route 66 mementos and memorabilia

The Unusual, weird and quirky attractions along Route 66

Route 66 had plenty of eye-catching roadside attractions that included giant (18 to 25 feet tall), Muffler Men on Route 66, oversized fiberglass animals, giant totems, a concrete blue whale, snake pits and other oddities and quirky sights.

The Largest Catsup Bottle in the whole World

enormous catsup bottle shaped water tank
World's largest Catsup Bottle Collinsville Il.

Below is a short list with just ten of these unusal landmarks that you should visit during your Route 66 road trip.

10 Quirky Stops on Route 66

giant red rocking chair and three vintage cars dwarfed by it

The Red Rocker in Fanning, Missouri. Credits

  1. Historic Largest Catsup Bottle in the World (Collinsville, IL)
  2. The World's (second) Largest Rocking Chair (Fanning, MO)
  3. The World's Largest Totem Pole (Foyil, OK)
  4. Cadillac Ranch (Amarillo, TX)
  5. Teepee Curio Shop (Tucumcari, NM)
  6. Twin Arrows Trading Post (Twin Arrows, AZ)
  7. Elmer's Bottle Tree Ranch (Helendale, CA)
  8. World's tallest Gas pump (Sapulpa, OK)
  9. Catoosa's Blue Whale (Catoosa, OK)
  10. Wigwam Motel (San Bernardino, CA)
close up of the two giant arrows, painted red and yellow, stuck in the ground
The gigantic "Twin Arrows" at Twin Arrows, AZ.

Enjoy the Road

Route 66 is worth driving, it is a safe road trip that will immerse you in American Culture, nature and give you a feel of the nation's history.

More Useful Information about Route 66

Have the road trip of your life!

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Banner image: Hackberry General Store, Hackberry, Arizona by Perla Eichenblat
U.S. Congress, (1990). Public Law 101-400, the Route 66 Study Act.
Jack DeVere Rittenhouse, (1946). A Guide Book to Highway 66

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