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Good Roads Movement

The Good Roads Movement occurred in the United States between the late 1870s and the 1920s. Advocates for improved roads led by bicyclists turned local agitation into a national political movement.

Outside cities, roads were dirt or gravel; mud in the winter and dust in the summer. Early organizers cited Europe where road construction and maintenance was supported by national and local governments. In its early years, the main goal of the movement was education for road building in rural areas between cities and to help rural populations gain the social and economic benefits enjoyed by cities where citizens benefited from railroads, trolleys and paved streets. Even more than traditional vehicles, the newly invented bicycles could benefit from good country roads.


File:Good Roads Magazine Vol1 No1 Jan 1892.PNG
Good Roads magazine was an early advocate for road improvements

The Good Roads Movement was officially founded in May 1880, when bicycle enthusiasts, riding clubs and manufacturers met in Newport, Rhode Island to form the League of American Wheelmen to support the burgeoning use of bicycles and to protect their interests from legislative discrimination. The League quickly went national and in 1892 began publishing Good Roads Magazine. In three years circulation reached a million. Early movement advocates enlisted the help of journalists, farmers, politicians and engineers in the project of improving the nation's roadways, but the movement took off when it was adopted by bicyclists.

Groups across the country held road conventions and public demonstrations, published material on the benefits of good roads and endeavoured to influence legislators on local, state and national levels. Good road advocates involved themselves in local politics. Support for candidates often became crucial factors in elections. Not only advocating road improvements for bicyclists, the League pressed the idea to farmers and rural communities, publishing literature such as the famous pamphlet, The Gospel of Good Roads.[1]

New Jersey became the first state to pass a law providing for a state to participate in road-building projects. In 1893, the U.S. Department of Agriculture initiated a systematic evaluation of existing highway systems. In that same year, Charles Duryea produced the first American gasoline-powered vehicle, and Rural Free Delivery began. By June 1894, "Many of the railway companies [had] made concessions in transporting road materials ranging from half rates to free carriage."[2]

File:Muddy Road Illinois 1903.PNG
Advocacy efforts frequently targeted farmers

At the turn of the twentieth century, interest in the bicycle began to wane in the face of increasing interest in automobiles. Other groups took the lead in the road lobby. As the automobile was developed and gained momentum, organizations developed such cross-county projects as the coast-to-coast east–west Lincoln Highway 1913, headed by auto parts and auto racing magnate Carl G. Fisher, and later his north–south Dixie Highway 1915, which extended from Canada to Miami, Florida.

File:Bushnell cartoon about roads.jpg
1904 editorial cartoon by E. A. Bushnell, urging that funds be appropriated for the goals of the Good Roads Movement

The movement gained national prominence when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 on July 11, 1916. In that year, the Buffalo Steam Roller Company of Buffalo, New York, and the Kelly-Springfield Company of Springfield, Ohio, merged to form the Buffalo-Springfield Company, which became the leader in the American compaction industry. Buffalo-Springfield enabled America to embark on a truly national highway construction campaign that continued into the 1920s.

Horatio Earle is known as the "Father of Good Roads." Quoting from Earle's 1929 autobiography: "I often hear now-a-days, the automobile instigated good roads; that the automobile is the parent of good roads. Well, the truth is, the bicycle is the father of the good roads movement in this country." "The League fought for the privilege of building bicycle paths along the side of public highways." "The League fought for equal privileges with horse-drawn vehicles. All these battles were won and the bicyclist was accorded equal rights with other users of highways and streets."

See also

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  1. ^ The Gospel of Good Roads
  2. ^ The Good Roads Crusade Cayuga Chief - Jun 2, 1894
  • Hilles, W.C. (1958). The Good Roads Movement in the United States: 1880-1916 (Thesis). Duke University. 
  • Wells, Christopher W. (Spring 2006). "The Changing Nature of Country Roads: Farmers, Reformers, and the Shifting Uses of Rural Space, 1880-1905". Agricultural History 80: 143–166. doi:10.1525/ah.2006.80.2.143. 
  • Mayo, Earl (July 1901). "The Good Roads Train". The World's Work (New York: Doubleday, Page & Co.) II (3): 956–960. Retrieved April 29, 2012. 

Further reading

Advocacy in Good Roads Magazine c. 1890-1920


Advocacy in popular national periodicals c. 1880-1920 (examples)


Advocacy in books and pamphlets c. 1880-1920 (examples)


Modern books about the Good Roads movement


External links