In 1907, the Oklahoma State Constitution made provision for the creation of a State Highway Department; however, four years passed before the Legislature authorized the appointment of personnel and a source of funding. In 1911, Governor Lee Cruce appointed Sidney Suggs Oklahoma's first Highway Commissioner. Revenue for the Department was generated by a registration fee of $1.00 for each automobile in the state. The total revenue for 1911 was $2,700.00.
Between 1911 and 1914, the Department was greatly handicapped by lack of funds and pursued the promotion of good highways assisted by the various counties and private Good Roads associations throughout the state. Local citizens, township, and county authorities banded together with commercial auto clubs and these private associations to create a network of roads for the traveling public. Almost overnight, long stretches of highways were improved by the energy and combined efforts of these individuals and organizations. This was due mostly to the untiring efforts of Commissioner Suggs, whose vision of the future brought together those Oklahomans interested in good roads, thus establishing the nucleus of Oklahoma's State Highway Department. Under Sugg's direction, Oklahoma was in the front rank of states demanding aid from the federal government for highway improvements. In 1914, a highway system of 2,400 miles was developed for submission to the Joint Committee of Congress on Federal Aid. The highways selected served as a foundation for Oklahoma's Federal Aid System.
From 1915 to 1923, additional state revenue and an increase in personnel allowed the Department to develop into an organization of centralized authority for road construction. The passage of the 1916 Federal Aid Road Act allowed for the building of roads and bridges with matching Federal monies. In Oklahoma, the first Federal-aid project (FAP 1) was the construction of the Newcastle Bridge across the Canadian River in Cleveland County. Located on the Ozark Trails, it was completed in 1922. Maintenance of the highway system was still entirely under the supervision of the various counties and local city governments. Farmers all along this network of trails and highways donated labor and equipment to keep the roads in shape. Signing of the various routes was accomplished by Good Roads associations and commercial auto trail booster groups. Trails bearing names like the Albert Pike Highway, Ozark Trails, Jefferson Highway, Meridian Highway, Kansas City-Tulsa Short Line, and the King of Trails were marked all across the state, guiding motorists from place to place. Some of the trails were actually regional routes that traversed several states, linking major cities and popular resort havens. Supported through private donations, markers for the auto trails varied from simple painted wooden signs on fence posts to elaborate concrete pyramids 22 feet tall, such as those erected along the Ozark Trails. Many of these early highways overlapped each other, resulting in multiple route markers on some stretches, which frequently caused havoc for the motoring public. Although many problems existed, the prime motive of these early highway boosters was the establishment and promotion of safe, passable roads moving people across America.
The year 1924 heralded the beginning of a new era in the evolution of Oklahoma's highways. Legislation was enacted to bring the state in line with the amended Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921, bringing additional funds and placing maintenance of the State Highway System under the State Highway Commission. A numerical system of uniform signing was also adopted to eliminate the descriptively named and sometimes confusingly marked auto trails. The State Highway Commission was changed from a one man to a three man commission, headed at that time by chairman Cyrus S. Avery of Tulsa, a former county commissioner and staunch supporter of the Good Roads movement. Avery had served as Vice-president of the Ozark Trails Association and President of the Albert Pike Highway Association.
By 1925, traffic demands on Oklahoma's roads were well ahead of the development of the highway system, prompting the legislature to again amend the existing laws in order to generate increased revenue for construction and maintenance. At last, Oklahomans were getting out of the mud and onto state numbered routes with paved and graveled surfaces. On the horizon, a national system of interstate highways was under development by the Federal Bureau of Public Roads and the American Association of State Highway Officials. Commissioner Avery was appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture as a key member of a Federal Joint Board charged with designing this new highway system. On November 11, 1926, at an American Association of State Highway Officials ceremony in Pinehurst, North Carolina, the Joint Board's network of new roads and a uniform system for marking them was formally adopted by all the states.
In 1925, the Oklahoma State Highway System totaled 5,156 miles, of which only 374 were paved. That same year, the first state highway tourist map was published for distribution to the motoring public. During the next fifteen years, Oklahoma's network of state and US numbered routes grew to 8,782 miles, with 5,118 being hard surfaced. Of all the highways crossing Oklahoma, one route, US 66, became the single most important artery for traffic between the heartland of the nation and the coast of Southern California. Crossing the state diagonally, Route 66 was created from a composite of earlier state roads (State Highways 3, 7 and 39), and auto trails (Ozark Trails, Kansas City-Tulsa Short Line and Postal Highway). Route 66 was commissioned by the Secretary of Agriculture as part of the national highway system in November 1926, and signing was erected across Oklahoma by April of 1927. In a letter to the Bureau of Public Roads, Commissioner Avery noted that Route 66 would be a highway "that the U.S. Government will be proud of."
The following pages detail the construction history of Oklahoma's Route 66 from the earliest project in 1919 through roadside improvements completed in 1940. In western Oklahoma, sections of the old highway were inspected in the field and compared to records used in the construction chronology tables. Sections of early roadway financed by local jurisdiction governments in Oklahoma City and Tulsa are not included in this report.