The title for today’s post was inspired by

the tag line from one of Ned Jordan’s most famous advertising campaigns. For those not familiar with Mr. Jordan, or the legendary automobile that he manufactured, suffice to say that he was a very talented salesman, a golden tongued wordsmith that transformed the business of automotive advertisement.

1923-06-23-jordan-playboyI often give thought to Mr. Jordan, William Crapo Durant, the genius beyond the founding of General Motors, and similar super salesmen when cruising along US 6, US 50, or any of the old two lane highways. How did Route 66 eclipse them in popularity, how was the highway signed with two sixes transformed into an icon, a symbol of freedom and of opportunity?

For most Route 66 enthusiasts the story is well known. However, before talking about the renaissance, the marketing behind the movement, and the people that are behind both, there is a need to provide a bit of background.

The most famous highway in the world is not America’s most historic or even its most scenic highway. However, US 66 was a favorite of Cyrus Avery‘s many, many projects. He even was instrumental in having the highway signed as US 66. 

Avery and a band of fellow visionaries established the US Highway 66 Association in early 1927,  and almost immediately launched a promotional campaign branding the highway as “The Main Street of America.” In the years that followed, there was marketing that linked Route 66 with the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, The Grapes of Wrath (the book as well as the movie) that presented US 66 as “the Mother Road”, a song about getting your kicks on Route 66 in 1946, and a television program in 1960.

Fast forward a few decades. Route 66 no longer exists, it has officially been relegated to historic footnote. A small town barber in the dusty town of Seligman, Arizona, and a few writers, historians, artists, and passionate business owners including Susan Croce Kelly, Michael Wallis, Jim Ross, Bob and Ramona Lehman, Jerry McClanahan, and Bob Waldmire kept the coals of interest glowing bright and soon a renaissance was born.

55006-reoEven though my association with Route 66 dates to 1959, I am a relative late comer to the party when it comes to the renaissance. In the late 1970’s and 1980’s, I drove the old road and frequented the surviving business because I liked them, they made me feel comfortable. In the 1990’s small contributions were made such as serving as the chairman for the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona Route 66 Fun committee, but my writing centered on the infancy of the American auto industry between 1885 and 1930.

Now, as we rush toward the Route 66 centennial, the highway is a destination in itself. Those who keep the spirit of the road alive through photography, books, presentations, tours, or just simply traveling it and sharing the adventures with friends, family, and neighbors often call Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, and Canada home. It is the last bastion of mom and pop enterprise, a place where passionate enthusiasts can take on the Goliath of big government and win (thank you Rich Dinkela, Jax Welborn, and everyone involved in the preservation of the Gasconade River Bridge).

Meanwhile, somewhere southwest of Laramie, I make my contributions as part of the international Route 66 community. The latest of these endeavors is involvement with the ambitious and visionary Promote Kingman initiative, a sort of chamber of commerce, and the Route 66: The Road Ahead Initiative, the modern incarnation of the US Highway 66 Association.

From its inception, Route 66 has had the best press and publicity. That continues to this day. Only the venues and means for developing that promotion have changed.

Take a look at the Promote Kingman website and Facebook page. You might just see the ghost of Christmas future when it comes to ensuring that the Route 66 passion survives into the centennial and beyond. And as I am involved, and as I am firmly grounded in the era of the Model A Ford, you might also get a glimpse of the highways past and its evolution.


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