The Interstate Highway System exists today because a young Dwight D. Eisenhower took a memorable transcontinental trip in 1919. He did it three years before someone snapped the photo (below) of another transcontinental trip before the interstate.
The photo of early snowbirds was taken on May 2, 1922, and the caption from the National Photo Archives reads:
Something new in Auto tops. George R. Wharff of Old Orchard Beach, Maine, and Joseph Fossard returning from Florida. When they lost their top, they thatched it with palm leaves which seem to answer every purpose. Gyp, their companion on the trip, has traveled 10,000 miles on the front fender as shown in the picture.
Before the Interstate
Eisenhower had driven east to west, from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco in the first Transcontinental Motor Convoy. He never forgot the trip. The convoy of Army trucks made 230 stops for adjustments, extrications, breakdowns and accidents. Few roadways were paved between Illinois and Nevada. The vehicles broke 88 wooden bridges that the men repaired. Of the 297 officers, staff and enlisted men who made the journey, 21 got injured.
The trip convinced Eisenhower the United States needed to improve its roads. His experience in Germany during World War II made him ‘see the wisdom of broader ribbons across the land.’ Eisenhower in 1954 announced a grand plan for highways, and on June 29, 1956 he signed into law the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. The Act created the Highway Trust Fund, which uses gasoline and diesel tax revenue to pay for highway infrastructure.
The Highway Trust Fund paid for 90 percent of the creation of Interstate 95, which goes from the Houlton–Woodstock Border Crossing in Maine to Miami, Fla. Many parts of I-95 started as toll roads. Those include the New England Thruway, the Connecticut Turnpike, the New Hampshire Turnpike and the Maine Turnpike.
Photo courtesy Library of Congress. This story updated in 2022,