Lincoln Highway concrete markers
Lincoln Highway Association
“Lincoln Highway Marker,” 1928
Reinforced concrete, dyed concrete insets, bronze inset
18 inches by 18 inches at base, 8.5 inches by 8.5 inches at top
36 inches, height
220 pounds (approximate weight)
The Lincoln Highway was so named, by the Lincoln Highway Association on July 1, 1913, to honor the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. The LHA, headed by early automobile pioneers Carl Fisher, Frank Seiberling, and Henry Joy, had set out to create the nation’s first improved transcontinental highway.1 The LHA thought a patriotic name would help sell the project to potential backers.
In these early days of the automobile age in America, roads were mostly dirt, and most routes carried names, rather than numbers. The names were often associated to the beginning and ending points, important destinations, or given to routes by automobile associations or clubs. More than 100 of these auto trails crisscrossed Iowa from the early 1900s to 1925.2 Auto trail organizers marked their routes with blazings, or a symbol painted or nailed to telephone poles.
The Lincoln Highway was marked from New York’s Time Square to San Francisco’s Lincoln Park with its blazing: a red white and blue rectangle, with a large blue “L” and the words “Lincoln Highway” stenciled in the white portion.
In late 1925, the American Association of State Highway Officials and the Joint Board on Interstate Highways set out to make highway travel easier, by creating uniform highway signs and numbers. The final plan was approved by AASHO in November 1926.3
With the numbering system put into effect, the LHA embarked on a final promotional effort to mark the route and honor Abraham Lincoln. The association partnered with the Boy Scouts of America to place concrete markers at sites along the route from coast to coast. On Sept. 1, 1928, the Boy Scouts installed about 2,436 of these concrete markers along the Lincoln Highway, out of the 3,000 that were cast.4
The markers carried the distinctive red, white, and blue Lincoln Highway symbol. Also, each marker had a bronze medallion of Lincoln’s bust with the words: “This Highway Dedicated to Abraham Lincoln.”
As the Iowa Highway Commission (now the Iowa Department of Transportation) was headquartered along the Lincoln Highway (now Lincoln Way) as it ran through Ames, a marker was placed on the grounds. The marker has been moved indoors to protect it from the elements. Other Iowa towns with concrete Lincoln Highway markers include Clinton, Calamus, Carroll, and Missouri Valley, among others. Fewer than 1,000 are thought to still exist.
For some, this first transcontinental highway united the nation that Lincoln fought to save, and made the Lincoln Highway a fitting symbol to remember the 16th president.5
1. Iowa Department of Transportation “Lincoln Highway,” http://www.iowadot.gov/autotrails/lincolnhighway.html.
2. Iowa Department of Transportation “Historic Auto Trails,” http://www.iowadot.gov/autotrails/indexauto.htm.
3. U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. “From Names to Numbers: The Origins of the U.S. Numbered Highway System,” http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/numbers.cfm.
4. See J.R. Manning, “Those Marvelous Memorial Markers,” http://www.lincolnhighwayassoc.org/news_old/articles/markers/.; Richard J. Maturi, "Lincoln Highway," American History 29, no. 3 (August 1994): 48; Mount Mercy College, On the Lincoln Highway: Iowa’s Main Street. A Sesquicentennial Exhibit Featuring the Lincoln Highway in Iowa, 1913-1966 (Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Mount Mercy College, 1996), 20.
5. Iowa Department of Transportation “Lincoln Highway.”
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