Route 60: The Original Number of Route 66

US Route 66 was one of the original US Highways, being designated in 1926 along with the rest of the original routes. But before its designation, there was a tremendous controversy over its numbering, as there were over numerous highways early on in the system's creation. Because of this, you almost got your kicks on Route 60.

Missouri Highway Map, c.1926 showing the proposed US-60 through the state.

Like with any government project as vast and complex as the US Highway System, it is the product of numerous compromises and debates over numberings, routings, alignments, costs, and numerous other whims of those in Congress who ultimately approved the system. In the early 1920's, the named Auto Trails were giving way to a network of then-modern highways to connect the nation through automobiles as the railroads had done decades earlier.

1926 Illinois State Highway Map, showing US-66 as IL-4 still. By 1928, US-66 was added to the map.

The numbered system would have the longest and most important cross-country routes ending with a 0 for East-West highways and a 1 for North-South Highways. Numbers would increase as one traveled west, as US-1 was going to be located near the Atlantic, with US-91 in the Western US. The decision was made early on to number the road along the Pacific as US-101 so as not to lose at least five viable numbering options for highways, but they could have simply just called this road US-99, as they similarly did for US-2 in the northern US, but I'm getting off topic here. 

Each east-west road proposed in the 1925 plan than ended in zero was going to serve a cross country alignment except for one: US-60.

California map noting the proposed US-60 near the San Bernardino Area, 1926. (KCET)

The FHWA notes this in their numbering origins page, "The most flagrant example was the route designated U.S. 60. As a multiple of 10, the number should have been assigned to a transcontinental, east-west route between U.S. 50 (Annapolis, Maryland, to Wadsworth, Nevada) and U.S. 70 (Morehead City, North Carolina, to Holbrook, Arizona)." 

"However, the Committee of Five assigned the number to a crescent route from Chicago to Los Angeles, with only the routing through the Southwest in correct numerical sequence. Although this route, because it crossed most of the transcontinental highways, would inevitably be one of the most heavily traveled U.S. highways, the fact that three of the States through which it passed were represented on the Committee of Five (Avery, Piepmeier, and Sheets) made this exception to the numbering plan suspicious--and would result, as will be seen, in the most contentious battle over approval of the U.S. numbering system as well as creation of what would become one of America's best known highways." (FHWA)

The Chicago to Los Angeles route was originally going to be numbered US-60, with the reasoning behind the number being that it would cross three other transcontinental highways. This was a problem for two reasons. One, although the route was long, the rest of the US-X0 numbers ran coast-to-coast, or nearly so. The second was, with the original numbering, Kentucky would be shut out of having a US-X0 number, which was important, because the US Highways ending in zero were the longest and thus most traveled. While few might care today what numbered highway they are on, with (too many) numerous options for travel, this was the beginning of the skeletal road system that we know today, and Kentucky felt as though they were going to lose out on traffic as a result.

Kentucky eventually won the right to have US 60 run through the state, and US 60 would thus run from Virginia Beach, VA to Los Angeles, CA. As states could have simply opted out of the US Highway System, and since universal buy in of said system was key to having it be successful, the individual states wielded significant power with regard to numberings.

But now the numbering committee had to decide what the Chicago-Los Angeles route would be numbered. Early proposals suggested a split alignment of US-60 somewhere in Missouri, and a US-60N would serve as the road to St. Louis and eventually Chicago, with US-62 proposed along a similar routing. 

The below map shows how this routing would have played out, with 62 diverging from US-60 in Springfield, MO along the current US-66 to Chicago.

Good roads Everywhere: Four fold system of highways-national highways-state highways (1925)(David Rumsey Map Collection)

Cyrus Avery, a board member of the Federal Highway System, disagreed with this idea, and believed the Chicago-Los Angeles route should have one number, and initially did not care if this was 60 or 62. However, Avery noted that the 66 number was available, and preferred it to 62, feeling as though 66 was more phonetically pleasing. A telegraph from Avery and Woodruff (another committeeman) from Springfield, MO was sent: "Regarding Chicago Los Angeles road if California Arizona New Mexico and Illinois accept sixty six instead of sixty we are inclined to agree to this change. We prefer sixty six to sixty two."

Arizona 1926 Highway Map showing US-66 after Arizona accepted the change from 60.

Eventually, the 66 number was settled on amongst each state along its route. For Avery's role in changing the number of the road to 66, as well as keeping it entirely one number through its life, he is remembered as the "Father of Route 66". Clearly, as the legacy of the highway remains as vivid as ever over 30 years after it was decommissioned, Avery was right about the number. I just don't see how anyone could have gotten their kicks on Route 60, or 62 for that matter.

1920's era cars making the trip along the Mother Road.

Kentucky managed to get its X0 number that it was so adamant for, and the route with a pleasing sound became the most iconic American highway in the early 20th century. Sometimes compromise isn't a bad thing.

Thanks as always for reading!


  1. I always learn from your posts - thank you.

    Modest typo alert… you write "the individual states yielded significant power" when I think you mean wielded.


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