By Chris Lewis
The idea for the Lincoln Highway has been traced to 1912, when Carl G. Fisher, builder of the Indianapolis Speedway, proposed a coast-to-coast highway.
The widely published idea got the attention of Henry Joy, president of the Packard Motor Car Co., who suggested engraving the highway in the national consciousness by naming it after Abraham Lincoln, according to Drake Hokanson, author of "The Lincoln Highway -- Main Street Across America."
The Lincoln Highway Association -- with Joy at the helm -- was formed in 1913 to find the shortest, most direct route between coasts and promote its construction.
The nation's love affair with the car was just blooming, and drivers faced a jumbled disarray of country roads that often fanned out from railroad centers and stopped in the middle of nowhere.
The association faced a daunting task: stitching together as many roads as they could find into a continuous, marked route. It would cost $10 million.
The great driving goal was to open the highway in time for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. The assocation launched a promotional campaign in 1913 to coax pledges from car companies, suppliers and members of the association, starting with $5 certificates. Posters were sent en masse to businesses for display in storefronts.
Towns and cities across the United States -- hungry for commerce -- were clamoring for the highway to run through their community.
On Sept. 21, 1913, the San Francisco Examiner announced that highway promoters had finally decided on San Francisco as the official terminus of the Lincoln Highway following a long fight by commercial and civic organizations.
"The great importance of the proposed highway to the entire country is indicated by the rivalry between all of the cities through the middle of the West and on the Pacific Coast to have the highway pass through them," the article reported.
Oakland's Commercial Club had "thrown itself vigorously into the highway," the Oakland Observer noted in 1914. Their efforts paid off when one of the highway's main ambassadors, H.E. Frederickson, established residence at the Hotel Oakland, which would later become a "control point" on the highway. Control points were used to track mileage from one stop to another.
A full-page ad in a 1926 Lincoln Highway guidebook touted the 500-room Hotel Oakland as a stop on the Pacific end of the Lincoln Highway. Oakland was described as a "hub of the automobile roads of California, for the beautiful drives radiate in all directions from this city."
By 1914, the association started foundering financially, having raised only half of the pledges it sought. It turned to government funding to complete the road, and began encouraging communities to pave roads along the route and mark them as the Lincoln Highway. As an incentive, the group saw to it that "seedling miles" of concrete were built in areas where they would present stark contrast with a dirt road.
By February 1914, the route was being marked between Oakland and Sacramento. The following year, a party of Lincoln Highway officials headed west to the world exposition, charting a course that had not been completely paved.
The party came through Livermore in August 1915, in a hurry to get to the world's fair. But they paused to laud Livermore for spending $100,000 to pave and light two miles of road through town to connect with the Lincoln Highway.
The 1916 guidebook touted the Lincoln Highway as a means to cut a trip from coast-to-coast from 20 to 30 days, instead of 60 to 90 days, at an average cost of about $5 a day.
"A trip across the Lincoln Highway in 1916 should be with fair weather, a tour of great interest and pleasure in which the element of danger is completely lacking," Joy said in the guidebook.
The named highways were beginning to disappear with the signing of the Federal Highway Act in 1921. Through two-thirds of the country, Lincoln Highway became U.S. 30, and through the Bay Area, it became Highway 50.
By the end of 1927, the association had become inactive. As a last hurrah, Gael Hoag, its last paid representative, arranged to have thousands of Boy Scouts fan out to install concrete markers with a bust of Lincoln along the highway on Sept. 1, 1928.
As secretary of an inactive association, Hoag wrote the Oakland Public Library on Feb. 11, 1939, when the second world's fair was in San Francisco.
He urged Oakland highway supporters to carry on the memory of the road as the association became inactive.
"You know that your efforts helped to connect these two terminals (San Francisco and New York) by a completely paved road, and that our Lincoln Highway `seedling miles' are swallowed up in a national network of pavement. The Lincoln Highway Association literally laid the foundation for a highway system which is the envy of the world," Hoag wrote.
There are many people who don't want to see the highway forgotten.
A Lincoln Highway Association resumed a few years ago to preserve the old route wherever it can.
Originally published in the Oakland Tribune, Sunday, October 19, 1997. Also published in the Tri-Valley Herald and The Argus. Reproduced with permission.
Last modified on October 7, 1998 by James Lin
Copyright © 1997 by ANG Newspapers