Springfield, Missouri: The Birthplace of Route 66
If you’ve spent even a few hours in Springfield, you’re bound to see a sign declaring it “The Birthplace of Route 66”. This may sound like a bold claim, considering that the route begins and ends in Chicago and Los Angeles. While our city is not the start of the physical highway, it is where the name was finalized.
In September of 1925, a group of federal planners proposed “Route 60”, from Chicago to Los Angeles. William J. Fields, the governor of Kentucky at that time, was upset at Kentucky’s alienation from other states. He felt that a transcontinental highway through Kentucky would serve to end the alienation. In 1926, Fields won out and the new Route 60 would take drivers from Virginia, through Kentucky, and end in Springfield, Missouri. The Chicago – Los Angeles highway was then named “Route 62”.
John T. Woodruff, a Springfieldian entrepreneur, and Cyrus Avery, the Oklahoma Highway Chairman, led the group of federal planners, who disliked the name “62”. In April of 1926, the group met in Springfield, Missouri at the Colonial Hotel. They decided that “Route 66” was a catchy name, and sounded better than “62”, which made them think of a second rate road. They sent a telegram from the Colonial Hotel to Washington D.C., which said “Regarding Chicago-Los Angeles Road…if California, Arizona, New Mexico and Illinois will accept Sixty-Six instead of Sixty we are inclined to agree to this change. We prefer Sixty-Six to Sixty-Two.”
While Springfield isn’t the origin of the idea of The Mother Road, it is where the iconic name was declared. Travelers from all over the world flock to Route 66 for a fun road trip, and to experience the Americana, bringing them right to Springfield. We hope you enjoy the festivities of the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival, and stop by to see us at the museum and our new temporary exhibit, Order Up! Restaurants of Route 66, on display until November 6, 2022.
Written by Meg Pearson, 2022.