By on August 25, 2015

98_3_70 Atlas Obscura has a fine, fine retelling of former President Dwight Eisenhower’s treacherous slog across the U.S. in 1919, presumably before Google Maps could tell him where to go.

His 62-day, transcontinental epoch may have served as inspiration for the creation of America’s interstate highway system — not the threat of a nuclear attack and evacuation of America’s major cities, apparently — later on during his presidency.

Among the highlights: 6 mph traveling speed, biblical salts in Utah and misery in Nebraska. Pack a lunch for the long read, because it’s entertaining.

86_19_190Eisenhower’s trip between Washington D.C. and San Fransisco wasn’t exactly a pleasure cruise. The convoy of 80 trucks was assembled to show the rest of the country its mechanical might after the Army returned from World War I.

The team traveled across the Lincoln Highway, which was America’s only real transcontinental route. The highway became much more of a suggestion west of Nebraska, and by Utah the route had disappeared altogether.

The team traveled the distance in 62 days, which was 6 days longer than anticipated.

Today, traveling between San Francisco and Washington D.C. via Interstate 80 would take roughly 42 hours, according to Google Maps.

The modern-day I-80 is the road that most closely traces the original Lincoln Highway, and was part of the initial Interstate Highway System approved by Eisenhower in 1956. The last portion of I-80 was finished in 1986 in Utah.

(H/T to TTAC reader David for sending this in.)

(Photos from the Eisenhower Archive)

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13 Comments on “Eisenhower Did Just About the Worst Damn Road Trip, Ever...”


  • avatar
    PeteRR

    I-80 is my favorite stretch of interstate. Once you’re west of the Missouri that is. Smooth sailing all the way west to Reno.

  • avatar
    twotone

    The “Great Race” 11 years prior was even more impressive:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1908_New_York_to_Paris_Race

  • avatar
    Zackman

    At least Ike had a convoy of vehicles with motors, which beats horse- or ox-drawn wagons any day, regardless of the fact there wasn’t a Slurpee or a Speedway available then!

    Wouldn’t it be nice to cross this or any other country without seeing any billboards?

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    Also, if you get the chance, check out Horatio’s Drive from PBS. San Francisco to New York to settle a $50 bet. Two men and a bulldog (because even in 1903 dogs loved car rides) trying to drive across the continent.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    My grandmother was a traveling saleswoman from the early 1920’s until about 1945, and her horror stories were very entertaining. I wish she had lived longer so I could have heard more of them. The best one I remember:

    She was in South Dakota in 1929. My mother would stay with her grandmother while my grandma was out on the road, by herself, and those roads were pretty bad back then, so she had to be pretty tough. Now my grandmother looked like a black haired Sam Kinison in drag, just so you know what she looked like. And how desperate the guy in the following story had to be…

    She had to go, so she pulls over into this little park area. Not knowing that over the hedges was some kind of campground. She finds a spot where she has some privacy, and gets undressed and does her business. Suddenly, there’s a young guy, about 25, on top of her and he’s trying to rape her. She took the ground down to a couple of inches icepick out of her girdle and proceeds to stick him in the eye with it. He screams and takes off, running through the hedges yelling, “My Eye!”, and then taking off in his car. My grandmother got dressed, drove to the next town and told the police. She never heard if they caught him or not. It wasn’t the first time, or the last, that little icepick got stuck in someone when they tried to “molest” her. Just thinking about her being “molested” makes me shake my head.

    All you need to do with this pic is make Sam’s hair solid black and curly, and put him in a long black dress:

    https://encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRyUsvw0_c1mWWUPsilQlKlamH6a5G9KxaBrSEW6fOX6AHrFQfR

    Yikes.

    Her car breakdown woes were endless. Engines tossing rods, driveshafts falling down, clutches going, and of course, the endless tire problems. Somehow, she did it for over 20 years, then coming to Toledo, and being the “Come see miss Naomi for the right size bra!” person until she retired in 1960.

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