The Good Roads Movement
Roads in the United States during the 19th century were mostly unpaved, filled with ruts, and nearly impossible to navigate. And with the popularity of railroads, little attention was paid to road conditions. But the inventions of the bicycle and the pneumatic tire during the last two decades of the 19th century changed everything. Roads were no longer only for commerce. Millions of bicyclists, known as wheelmen, were hitting the streets for sport and leisure.
Lobbying for Improvements
The cyclists formed national organizations, such as the League of American Wheelman, to lobby local, state, and federal officials for paved roads. These efforts came to be known as the Good Roads Movement. After 1900, the popularity of automobiles also became an increasingly powerful lobby for better roads. The weight of automobiles increased paving costs, making it essential to have government support to fund road improvements.
The Push for Paving
By the 1930s, many urban roads had been paved, but rural areas, especially throughout the Midwest, were still mostly unpaved. A cross-country trip would be possible, but it would be slow and treacherous. With minimal federal support for road construction during the first half of the 20th century, decisions to build and repair roads fell to local and state governments. In their various publications, proponents for good roads highlighted examples of quality construction and attempted to appeal to the public’s common sense.