Paving the Way Behind The Wheel Full Speed Ahead The Kicks of Route66 Mappin It  

The Kicks of Route 66

From its beginnings, Route 66, as link to the West and a road winding through America's frontier, became embedded with cultural sanctity. This sacrilization, however, was by no means a coincidence. From the highways first construction, Associations were formed to promote the road and its surrounding regional landmarks. From billboards to restaurants to motels, America’s capitalist zeal found a consumer-ready haven in the country’s longest paved highway. More significantly, driving down the road in their newly purchased automobiles, Route 66 captured the frontier’s creative potential. Songwriters, musicians, writers, and photographers found inspiration in the road’s ability to mobilize and entire country.

Each of the eight states formed their own U.S. Highway 66 Associations in efforts to endorse their respective regions. Cyrus Avery ingeniously recommended that the road be nicknamed "The Main Street of America" for use on commercial brochures, postcards, and maps. Avery's National U.S. Highway Association developed an advertising campaign, in the years after the roads initiation, posting promotional ads in newspapers and magazines. The Association's public relations director, Lon Scott traveled back and forth along the highway promoting its use and its attractions. Public enthusiasm for the cross-country highway grew in the late 1920's as more and more people became motorized. America's "go-getters" were interested--if people could afford to travel the road, they could afford to spend money on and for its natural enticements.

Bunion Derby Program and its publicist Lon Scott
Bottom: Early Route 66 Publicist Lon Scott, 1940's.
Above: Bunion Derby Program, 1928

The Race

Besides posting ads in newspapers and magazines, Lon Scott, in 1928, thought of the single most imaginative idea to draw American motorists to the wonders of Route 66: The Race. Lon Scott envisioned a 3,422 mile foot race from Los Angeles to New York to gain publicity for the road. Charging entrants 100 dollars, Scott’s idea was by far the most original and fantastic way to market The Main Street of America.

C.C. "Cash and Carry" Pyle, a nationally known promoter, was put in charge of overseeing the race while Scott handled the publicity. Pyle planned on making a fortune through collecting entrance fees and selling programs along the route. He also foresaw shoe, foot ointment, and suntan lotion endorsements. Reporters hailed the event the "Bunion Derby." Pyle, to stir press receptacles declared that winning the race would undoubtedly be "the most stupendous athletic accomplishment in all history."

Thus, fulfilling all the hype, 275 runners took their marks on March 4, 1928. Five hundred thousand spectators flocked to the Los Angeles starting line to witness the much-anticipated event. Runners from across the country and around the world took their chances with the longest race ever held on the longest road ever paved. Some ran barefooted, others carried Bibles, one man had a cane while another played a ukulele. The serious runners however had their mind on one thing: the 25,000 dollar prize money.

The Young American Hero
Andrew Hartley Payne, winner of the 1928 Bunion Derby
Despite a few misgivings--one hit and run, more than a dozen drop-outs on the second day, relatively small crowds, and towns against the sponsorship fee, the Bunion Derby took America by storm. By the time the runners made it to the Texas Panhandle, the twenty-one year old Andrew Hartly Payne from Oklahoma, emerged as one of the race leaders. Payne, growing up in Foyil, Oklahoma as a part Cherokee Indian farm boy epitomized American ideals. Born in the heart of America, Payne's youth, endurance, and fearlessness embodied the American "go-getter" attitude. Thus, he quickly became an American hero on an American trail. When Payne reached Oklahoma, the governor met hom with a celebration. Payne took a breather to speak to the crowds: "Hello, home folks. I'm glad to be back. Hope to see you in New York." Schools were even dismissed to watch Payne conquer the longest race in history. After 573 hours, Payne crossed the New York finish line--hours ahead of the other runners. Payne, a "true American" used his 25,000 dollar prize money to pay off the mortage on his parents farm. C.C. Pyle on the other hand was largely in debt from the lack of town sponsorhip. Pyle's lack of profit, however, didn't stifle the newfound affection for America's latest hero and America's latest highway.

The Advertising

Although, the road race was a high point in the publicity of the road itself, the advertising of America's new consumer products along the road contributed just as much to Route 66's legendary status in American history. Burma shave signs were by far the most visual and frequent billboards along America's Main Street. As a campaign technique, the signs often had catchy jingles that would stick in the minds of American motorists:

"Are your whiskers when you wake tougher than a two-bit steak? Try Burma Shave."

"He played a Sax, had no B.O. but his whiskers scratched so she let him go. Try Burma Shave."

These billboards caught on like wildfire as jingle contests quickly followed their appearance on Route 66. Because of their popularity and success, these signs weren't taken down until 1961.

More Kicks . . .

Promotion of the road and along the road during its heyday certainly got the ball rolling for Route 66's future mythologized proportions. Yet, what transpired into the richest cultural reflection of MidWestern America was its capacity to strike the hearts and the abilities of America's artists. The sites below delve into the cultural texture of The Main Street of America and its surrounding regions.

Woody Gutherie and others brought the Dust Bowl and the American frontier into the homes across the nation.

John Steinbeck, in his novel Grapes of Wrath, led the way in revealing the harsh lifestyles of migrant farmers traveling Route 66 in hopes of a better life.

With the coming of the autombile and Route 66, roadside architecture reflected the newest type of consumer culture.

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