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13 Things You Probably DON’T Know About Route 66 🧐

The good old ‘Mother Road’, Route 66.

Probably the most iconic road in the USA, and perhaps even around the world.

Everyone knows what it is, but there are some surprising facts that you probably DON’T know about it.

Let’s uncover these nuggets of information so you can be the ‘Route 66 know-it-all’ at your next dinner party.

1. Time Zones 💡

Route 66 traverses three different time zones!

Starting in Chicago, Illinois, it begins in the Central Time Zone, then moves into the Mountain Time Zone in New Mexico, and finally enters the Pacific Time Zone in California.

This means it could be New Year’s Day at one end in Illinois, but still just 10 pm on December 31st at the other end in California!

2. Construction Duration 💡

The construction of Route 66 began in 1926. 

But how long do you think this monumental road took to be built?

Well, it wasn’t completed as a continuously paved route until 1938.

That means it took a whopping 12 years of hard work to construct this iconic road.

3. It’s NOT The Longest Road 💡

The longest road in American history in terms of continuous length is not Route 66 but U.S. Route 20. 

Stretching from Boston, Massachusetts, to Newport, Oregon, U.S. Route 20 holds the title of the longest road in the United States. 

U.S. Route 20 spans approximately 3,365 miles (5,415 kilometers), making it the longest road in the United States. 

The route traverses a total of 12 states from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coast. 

These states include Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, and a small part of Montana.

4. The Crazy Endurance Race of 1928 💡

Route 66 was home to one of the craziest endurance races you could think of in 1928.

As part of a 3,400-mile marathon from LA to New York, the ‘Bunion Derby’ passed through Route 66.

And this was a race on foot!

Only 55 of the 199 contestants finished the race.

5. Impact on American Food Culture 💡

drive in diner

It saw the rise of the first drive-in restaurants, and many diners along the route offered unique, home-cooked style meals. 

These establishments laid the groundwork for the fast-food culture that is everywhere in the U.S. today. 

The concept of drive-through restaurants, now a staple in fast food, was popularized along Route 66. 

For example, Red’s Giant Hamburg in Springfield, Missouri, is often credited as one of the first drive-through establishments.

The route is also known for popularizing certain foods, such as frozen custard, cheeseburgers, and the iconic Route 66 diner breakfast.

6. It Passes Through 8 States 💡

Route 66 stretches across eight states and covers a total of approximately 2,448 miles.

route 66 sign

At 2448 miles you could drive from San Francisco to Honolulu (if they had a straight road between them).

The mileage in each state is as follows:

  • Illinois: 301 miles
  • Missouri: 317 miles
  • Kansas: 13 miles (the shortest stretch)
  • Oklahoma: 432 miles
  • Texas: 178 miles
  • New Mexico: 487 miles (the longest stretch)
  • Arizona: 401 miles
  • California: 319 miles

7. Original Route Was Altered Multiple Times 💡

Initially established in 1926, Route 66 underwent several realignments and modifications over the years. 

In fact, the original route was longer because it had more turns and bends in it.

The route’s path changed due to various reasons, including the desire to connect more towns and cities as well as to make it safer for drivers.

8. It Played a Key Role During World War II 💡

Route 66 was crucial in transporting military equipment across the United States during World War II. 

route 66 sign

The road facilitated the movement of materials and troops, significantly contributing to the war effort.

At the time it was common to have mile-long convoys moving along the route to transport goods and personnel.

This was because it was one of the best ways to get from the military bases on the West Coast to the factories near the East Coast.

9. Inspiration Behind a Famous Novel and TV Show 💡

John Steinbeck’s classic novel “The Grapes of Wrath” was inspired by the Great Depression-era migration along Route 66. 

It was in this novel by Steinbeck that the term ‘The Mother Road’ (one of Route 66’s most popular nicknames) was coined.

Additionally, the popular 1960s television series “Route 66” showcased the road’s diverse landscapes and towns.

10. Get Your Kicks On? 💡

The hit song ‘(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66’ by Nat King Cole helped popularize the road.

But did you know it was actually written by a former marine?

The former marine Bobby Troup was the writer of this song and the song went on to be covered by the likes of The Rolling Stones too.

11. First Fully Paved Transcontinental Highway 💡

By 1938, Route 66 became the first completely paved highway under the U.S. Highway System, linking Chicago to Los Angeles over a distance of approximately 2,448 miles.

Some people say the Lincoln Highway was the first, but by its 25th anniversary in 1938, there was still a portion of the road that was unpaved.

12. It’s Not Officially Named Route 66 Anymore 💡

In 1985, Route 66 was officially decommissioned as a U.S. Highway. 

The route still exists in parts, but it’s now designated under different names like “Historic Route 66.”

13. Host to Quirky Attractions 💡

Along its stretch, Route 66 is famous for quirky and unusual attractions, including the world’s largest rocking chair, the Blue Whale of Catoosa, and the Cadillac Ranch art installation.

cadillac ranch

You can find them at the following places:

  • Blue Whale of Catoosa – Catoosa, Oklahoma
  • Cadillac Ranch – Amarillo, Texas, US.
  • World’s Largest Rocking Chair – Fanning Outpost just outside of Cuba, Missouri

Megan Jones is a travel expert and founder of Traveller's Elixir who has been travelling the world full time since 2021. Megan's travel tips been featured in numerous media outlets including Metro, Timeout, Thrillist and more.

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