The Route 66 Centennial

Pontiac in Illinois is a town where the lick and promise approach isn’t good enough, and it shows. Photo Jim Hinckley’s America

When it comes to utilizing tourism as a catalyst for economic development, and historic district revitalization, towns in the American southwest have a distinct advantage. And if those communities happen to be on Route 66, those opportunities are magnified exponentially, especially with the highways centennial fast approaching.

So, what do communities along this storied highwway need to do to capitalize on the Route 66 centennial?

After publication of The Grapes of Wrath in 1939, Route 66 was billed as the Mother Road. Prior to that, in 1927, the U.S. Highway 66 Association borrowed a slogan from a 1913 promotion for the National Old Trails Road, and began marketing Route 66 as the Main Street of America.

From its inception the highway signed with a double six has had tremendous promotion and publicity and as a result, Route 66 is one of the most iconic highways in America. Depending on which alignment is followed, the highway stretches for 2,448 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica. It cuts through the heartland of America as it passes through eight states.

Certified as a U.S. highway on November 11, 1926, Route 66 has morphed into a symbol of freedom, adventure and opportunity. For legions of international enthusiasts it has come to represent the quintessential American road trip.

As a result, in 2026, many states, communities, and organizations are already making plans to capitalize on the centennial. Promotion of special centennial events and activities, Facebook groups that are organizing centennial cruises, and an increasing focus of media on Route 66 indicate that this historic milestone will have a tremendous economic impact on communities along the highway corrdior.

Route 66 corridor signage in Illinois is an example that can be emulated all along the Route 66 corridor. ©Jim HInckley’s America

The Route 66 Centennial Commission Act, signed into law by President Biden on December 23, 2020, established a 15-member commission from each of the eight Route 66 states to coordinate and promote the centennial celebration. The commission will also be tasked with assisting in the production of various materials, films and documentaries to chronicle the history, the culture, and legacy of Route 66.

What can communities along Route 66 do to capitalize on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? How can they use the centennial to attract more visitors, generate more revenue, to revitalize blighted historic business districts, and as a catalyst for the creation of long term economic development initiatives? Here are some suggestions base on successful projects and initiatives:

Enhance and revitalize Route 66 signage

One of the first projects approved by the Oklahoma Route 66 Centennial Commission was to improve and update the historic Route 66 signage throughout the state.  Illinois has developed signage that clearly designates the course of Route 66, what years an alignment was in use, and what segments are designated bicycle corridors. Rich Dinkela, president of the Route 66 Association of Missouri pioneered the use of templates to paint the Route 66 shield directly on pavement, with the years of use.

Other states should follow suit and make sure their signs are visible, accurate and well-maintained. This will help drivers navigate the route more easily and safely, as well as create a more authentic and consistent experience.

Promote and participate, and develop, Route 66 events

Even though the centennial is still several years away, many events and activities are already being developed to celebrate the centennial. Other annual events, such as the AAA Route 66 Road Fest, have been developed to capitalize on the centennial.

Recognizing the economic potential of such events, in some communities tourism departments and organizers are creating festivals such as the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival in Springfield, Missouri that bolster historic district revitalization initiatives and support local businesses. Surprisingly some events, such as the Kingman 66 Fest, are being developed with plans to grow the festival into a major centennial celebration, but yet they are severed from existing events, and do not support historic district businesses.

A number of organizations are providing free event promotion to magnify marketing of these festivals. And at Jim Hinckley’s America, there is no charge for having an event promoted on our website. Communities should use events to foster development of a a sense of community. And to successfully market an event, promotion should commence at least 18 months in advance. Marketing should be developed using community tourism websites and social media network.

Author Jim Hinckley with a Dutch group traveling Route 66 at the Powerhouse Visitor Center in Kingman, Arizona. ©

These promotions should also be developed as a cooperative partnership linked with Route 66 associations and groups. And if a community has a personage with name recognition, their inclusion with personalize marketing initiatives. Marketing should also be developed as a collaboration with nearby communities and organizations to create regional or thematic events that showcase their unique area attractions and stories.

Preserve and showcase Route 66 landmarks

Route 66 is rich with historic landmarks, such as motels, diners, gas stations, museums, bridges, murals and sculptures. But there are also natural or scenic atractions, and historic sites that predate Route 66.

These landmarks not only tell the story of Route 66, but also reflect the unique culture and identity of each community. Communities should preserve and restore these landmarks as much as possible. These can be highlighted on maps, brochures and in projects such as the narrated self gudied tour in Kingman, Arizona developed by Kingman Main Street.

They should also seek recognition from national or state historic preservation programs or agencies, such as the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program or the National Historic Route 66 Federation.

Other Points to Consider

– Develop and diversify Route 66 attractions. While preserving the past is important, communities should also look to the future and develop new attractions that appeal to modern travelers. An example would be the Historic Electric Vehicle Association museum and conference center being developed in Kingman, Arizona.

These attractions could include outdoor recreation, arts and crafts, local cuisine, craft beer and wine, live music, sports or wellness. Communities should also diversify their offerings to cater to different segments of visitors, such as families, couples, seniors or international tourists. They should also leverage their existing assets and resources, such as natural scenery, cultural diversity or historical significance.

– Connect and network with Route 66 stakeholders. This is crucial.

Communities along Route 66 are not alone in their efforts to capitalize on the centennial. There are many other stakeholders who share their interests and goals, such as state travel and tourism offices, Route 66 associations, chambers of commerce, historical societies, museums, businesses and media outlets. Communities should connect and network with these stakeholders to exchange information, ideas and best practices. They should also join or support national or regional initiatives that aim to promote and preserve Route 66, such as the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership or the Oklahoma Route 66 Centennial Commission.

The Route 66 centennial is a great opportunity for communities along the Main Street of America to showcase their history, culture and charm to a wider audience. By enhancing their signage, promoting their events, preserving their landmarks, developing their attractions and connecting with their stakeholders, they can make the most of this occasion and ensure that Route 66 remains a vibrant and vital part of America for generations to come.

Legend of The Double Six

Legend of The Double Six

The National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma, a stop on our fall tour.

On June 27, 1985, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials decertified US 66 and voted to remove all its highway signs. So, officially Route 66 doesn’t exist. And yet an argument could easily be made that today that storied highway is more popular than at anytime in its history.

US 66 was a mere highway that connected Chicago, Illinois with downtown Los Angeles, California when it was certified in November 1926. But almost from inception, marketing and promotion ensured it was in a class all its own. It quickly evolved from highway into an icon that came to symbolize the quintessential American road trip.

In the spring of 1927 the US Highway 66 Association was formed to lobby for having the highway paved from end to end, and to market the highway. In essence it served as a sort of chamber of commerce for the linear Route 66 community.

One of the associations first initiatives that branded the highway as the Main Street of America. This tagline was borrowed from a marketing campaign for the National Old Trails Road, predecessor to Route 66 in the southwest, launched in 1913.

The Transcontinental Footrace along Route 66 that garnered international media coverage in 1928 gave he highway a promotional boost. Likewise with a promotioonal campaign that linked Route 66 with the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. And of course there was The Grapes of Wrath, the book and the movie, the song and the television program as well as movies such as Easy Rider.

As Jim Hinckley’s America has as its foundation the sharing of America’s story, and telling people where to go, it isn’t surprising that many of the adventures that we share are linked to Route 66, especially as we draw closer to the centennial in 2026. We inspire road trips and bring history ot life through podcasts and programs, social media network and YouTube channel videos, books and feature articles, tourism development work and educational programs.

A presentation about Route 66 in Arizona at the Perfroming Arts Center in Apache Junction, Arizona ©Jim Hinckley’s America

For 2023, aside from custom programs for events or organizations, we have created a fun filled, fast paced, trivia filled presentation about the dawning of the American road trip. We are currently booking for spring and summer, and are making plans for a Route tour this coming fall.

And we are taking the Car Talk From The Main Street of America podcast in a new direction. Yes, we will still be inspiring road trips and talking about, and with, interesting people. And we will be sharing fascinating stories about the dawning of the American auto industry.

But the emphasis will be placed on steam and electric automobiles. The goal being to counter myth with fact, and highlight these vehicles role in the past, the present and the future of the auto industry.

We are also making plans to take the Jim Hinckley’s America show on the road. In the first engagement for 2023, nearly every seat in the house at the Performing Arts Center in Apache Junction, Arizona was full for the Route 66 in Arizona program. This was my first program made on behalf of the Arizona Lecturer Series.

On the weekend of February 11 at the Route 66 Info Fair in Needles, California, I will be speaking about Edsel Ford’s epic journey along the National Old Trails Road in the summer of 1915. And,of course, I will also be telling people where to go as we give assistance with their Route 66 travel planning.

It is shaping up to be quite a year. We hope to see you on the road this year. In the meantime, get out there on the road and dsicover America.




Lessons Learned

The embryonic electric vehicle museum is the first and only museum dedicated to this style of vehicle. Credit Historic Electric Vehicle Foundation

Mention Porsche and visions of fast, sleek cars come to mind. But for the company’s namesake Ferdinand Porsche it was electricity, not gasoline, that first piqued his interest.

In 1893, at age 18, Porsche electrified his parents’ house. Before the turn of the century he was working for the Vereinigte Elektrizitäts-AG Béla Egger company in Vienna. It was that company that he first began designing and experimenting with automobiles. They were battery driven electric cars.

In 1900 he designed a highly advanced automobile. The ‘Semper Vivus’, his second car, was launched as the production-ready Lohner-Porsche ‘Mixte’. It had an internal gasoline engine powered by naptha. But rather than driving the car the engine was used to power a generator that sent a charge to the wheel hubs for propulsion.

The first decades of the 20th century, much like the first decades of the 21st century, were an era of innovation in the auto industry. But the innovators of the 21st century had a slight advantage as they were standing of the shoulders of pioneers.

Byron Carter capitalized on the bicycle mania of the 1890s and produced a quality two wheeld product in Jackson, Michigan. Still, there was little to differernate his bicycles from hundreds of others on the market at the time.

His, cars, however, were another matter. The Cartercar was friction drive, which eliminated the need for a transmission. The Carter Two Engine was even more radical in design. It was a four cylinder automobile, with conventional transmission. The selling point was reliability. Under the hood was a second four cyclinder engine, in case of mechanical failure with the first engine!

Before the introduction of the electric starter on the 1912 Cadillac, steam and electric powered cars were the industry leaders. These were the trend setters. A White steamer was the first automobile to replace carriages at the White House. A Stanley built steamer set a land speed record of nearly 150 miles an hour in 1906.

Rapid advancement of gasoline engine technology, and development of an electrical system that included starter and lights, proved the death knell for steeam powered cars. Electric cars fell out of favor, but as we see today, they still pique the interest of innovators who see a different future for the automobile.

Detroit Electric enjoyed strong brand loyalty. And they found a market in the growing number of female drivers as they were relatively clean and easy to operate, especially in comparison to cars such as the Model T Ford. Still, by 1914 the company reached its zenith when annual production topped 4,000 vehicles. The comapny continued producing vehicles into the 1930s, and even built a limited edition vehicle that used by the postal service.

The past, the present and the future of alternative energy vehicles, and supportive infrastructure are a regular topic of discussion on Car Talk From The Main Street of America, a podcast from Jim Hinckley’s America. We guarantee that the program will provide lots of fodder for trivia fueled discussions, be filled with surprising stories, and will have you looking at Tesla built cars in a whole new way.

A Shocking Story

On display at Ye Ole Carriage Shop in Spring Arbor, Michigan is the oldest existent vehicle manufactured by the Jackson Automobile Company of Jackson, Michigan

As with most people who become an historic milestone through an untimely demise, Mr. Henry Bliss never knew that unexpected death would bestow upon him a dubious form of immortality. He simply stepped from the New York City streetcar that September afternoon in 1899 and became the nation’s first pedestrian struck and killed by an automobile. That automobile was an electric taxicab.

That is how episode three of the new Jim Hinckley’s America audio podcast Car Talk From The Main Street of Americascheduled for publication on August 9th begins. It seemed a fitting opening to kick off a program about the long history of electric vehicles, and the equally long history of controversy. And, of course, as with everything that we do at Jim Hinckley’s America, the new program also has a road trip component as I will also be talking about the world’s only EV museum that happens to be located along Route 66.

At the dawning of the American auto industry steam and electric vehicles dominated. Steam was an understood technology as it had been powering trains and factories for decades. Compared to the first generation of gasoline powered vehicles an electric car was much easier to operate. And companies that manufactured electric vehicle were not constrained by the Selden patent that created a stranglehold on gasoline powered automobile manufacturing in the years bracketing the dawn of the 20th century. The story of that patent is an interesting tale for another day.

This new podcast will not be replacing Coffee With Jim, the Sunday morning program dedicated to road trips, to travel, to travel writing and photography, and to road trip inspiration. Both podcasts will be available on various platforms including Spotify and iHeart radio. However, the Sunday morning program will be the only one to be interactive with both call ins and typed comments. Afterwards, the Podbean based podcast will be made available on other platforms.

Long before Tesla and Rivian had people discussing electric vehicles, their shortcomings, their future and the conspiracy theories that seem to permeate every aspect of American society since alternative facts replaced truth and logic, I had a fascination for electric and steam powered vehicles. Did you know that the first automobile produced by Studeabker was an electric designed in part by Thomas Edison? Did you know that Studebaker didn’t produce a gasoline powered vehicle until 1904 or that the company continued producing electric vehicles until 1912?

J Walter Christie pioneered the use of front wheel drive in the development of his race cars. Who remembers Mr. Christie today.

The program about electric vehicles will illustrate the diversity of the podcast that Stan Hustad and I are creating. The first program, with a bit of audio issue, was about Edsel Ford, his many contributions to the develop of the auto industry, and his epic adventure with college buddies in 1915. The second program profiled the amazing Florence Lawrence and other female automotive pioneers. Did you know that Lawrence devised the first practical turn signal?

Plans are for the fourth program to be about the Desert Classic, better known as the Cactus Derby. Held between 1909 and 1914 this incredible series of automobile races was a test of endurance for man and machine. It was also a bit of a demolition derby. By 1914 the race had become an international media sensation, in part because counted among the drivers were Louis Chevrolet and Barney Oldfield.

Telling people where to go, sharing stories about inspirational people and fascinating places, and inspiring road trips, that is the foundation of Jim Hinckley’s America. And it is the cornerstone for Car Talk on The Main Street of America.



Nothing New Under The Sun

Nothing New Under The Sun

The fellows name was Bliss. As with most people who become an historic milestone, Mr. Henry Bliss never knew

The embryonic electric vehicle museum is the first and only museum dedicated to this style of vehicle. Credit Historic Electric Vehicle Foundation

that unexpected death would bestow a dubious form of immortality. He simply stepped from the New York City streetcar that September afternoon in 1899, and became the nations first pedestrian struck and killed by an automobile. Today’s editorial in the Kingman Daily Miner about the world’s first museum dedicated exclusively to the electric vehicle led me to reflect on Bliss, his demise, and how there is little new under the sun.

The electric vehicle museum in Kingman, Arizona was born of a limited partnership between the city and the Historic Electric Vehicle Foundation during the Route 66 International Festival in 2014, an event that was aptly themed Kingman: Crossroads of the Past & Future. For reasons not understood the museum has never progressed beyond the initial stage even though it garners international media attention and the collection continues to grow. The prestigious Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles recently donated 15 historically significant vehicles. (more…)