development of roads for human transportation has a rather uneven history.
Historical records document several roads constructed by the Assyrians to aid
troop movements at approximately 700 B.C., and there have been other minor
accounts of paved city streets in Egypt and elsewhere. The system of roads built
during the Roman Empire is the first recorded account of the construction of a
network of roadways. Rome was the first major civilization to develop a system
of passable roads that would link even distant corners of the Empire. During its
peak, the Roman system consisted of 11,000 miles of 29 separate roads throughout
the Mediterranean region, some even reaching the Middle East and Great Britain.
One of Rome’s most vital links, the Appian Way “Via Appia” (named for
Appius Claudius Caecus, a Roman consul responsible for its construction), was
started in 312 B.C., and measured 350 miles between Rome and present-day
Brindisi in southern Italy. Road building was virtually abandoned after the fall
of the Roman Empire until approximately 1800, as travel by water remained the
most available and economical means of transportation.
of Roads in America
Europeans emigrated to North America, they found a vast, sparsely-populated
wilderness. From the Appalachians to the Rockies, the first roads were bison
paths, which were useful since they connected water sources and followed the
most level routes. Early settlers encountered a network of Indian trails, which
also used lines of least resistance, following mountain passes and shortcuts
when necessary. Early colonists referred to these trails as “trodden paths”.
Indians helped the American colonists blaze trails, which gradually were widened
to accommodate wagons.
oldest highway in America dates to 1673, when a post rider delivered mail from
New York City to Boston. The trip took two weeks, but the route was improved and
eventually became the Boston Post Road. Benjamin Franklin, the deputy postmaster,
established a system of postal roads, as mail service was an extremely important
means of communication in those days. Franklin personally toured the 500 miles
of the upper, middle and lower Boston Post Road to mark the route with
milestones. Eventually, a system of Post Roads connected the major cities in the
In 1775, the Ohio and Transylvania Company, with the help of Daniel Boone, built a wagon trail called the “Wilderness Road” through a pass at Cumberland Gap and across Kentucky to the Northwest Territories. In one month, Boone’s party of 30 ax men cleared a 209-mile path through Kentucky. Other roads were built during this period. Over 175 turnpike companies were formed, constructing approximately 3,000 miles of roads in the early 1800s. One notable main highway, the “National Road”, also known as the “Great National Turnpike”, was approved by an act of Congress providing for an east-west road from Cumberland, Maryland, through the Midwest, and ultimately to St. Louis. The road started prior to the Revolutionary War, and was later improved and lengthened from the original “Braddock’s Road” in southern Pennsylvania through Wheeling, West Virginia, then further west to Columbus, Indianapolis, and ending at Vandalia, Illinois.
to politics and other factors, progress was slow and construction halted in
1852. However, for almost 50 years, the National Road was the busiest
thoroughfare in America.
federal government acknowledged the necessity of road improvements as the 19th
century was about to end. The railroads had already reached most areas of the
country, but could only serve people living nearby the rail line. In 1892,
senator Charles R. Manderson of Nebraska introduced a bill calling for a
National Highway Commission to study future road improvements. The measure was
an idea proposed by General Roy Stone, who saw the need for construction of more
reliable roads for both military and civilian purposes. The final bill
ultimately became the Agriculture Appropriations Act of 1894, which President
Benjamin Harrison signed into law just prior to leading office in March 1893.
The Act appropriated only $ 10,000 and authorized the Department of Agriculture
to study the feasibility of better roads. In October 1893, Agriculture Secretary
J. Sterling Morton established the Office of Road Inquiry, the first federal
agency responsible for highway improvement. Secretary Morton appointed General
Roy Stone as its first special agent and engineer of road inquiry.
Office of Road Inquiry (ORI) began studying different types of road surfaces
early on, and established a road materials laboratory in 1900. After the turn of
the century, General Roy Stone left the ORI and was replaced by Martin Dodge.
More states were starting their own state aid road programs, while the US Post
Office was soliciting congressional support for better postal roads. The Office
of Public Road Inquiry (OPRI) continued despite the lack of federal support.
Roosevelt got his opportunity to make his permanent contribution to the American
highway when he signed the Agriculture Appropriations Act of 1905, which
terminated the OPRI and created the Office of Public Roads (OPR). On July 1st,
1905, the OPR became the first permanent federal road agency, with an annual
budget of $ 50,000.