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The First Paved Transcontinental Highway -- The Broadway of America!

Rare early advertising and promotional map, showing the rout of the Bankhead National Highway from Washington DC and Norfolk,VA  to San Diego.

The Bankhead National highway was America's first Transcontinental Highway.  Open to passenger traffic in or about 1920, the road spurred tremendous growth along the route, becoming known as the Broadway of America.  As noted on the map, different regions were given regional names, such a Roosevelt Division, Four States Division, White Mountain Division, Naval Division etc.  In many cases, the towns on along the route turned into mini-tourism boom towns, much in the way that the more famous U.S. Route 66 is known to have impacted cities between Chicago and  Los Angeles.

The present map illustrates America's first transcontinental highway, shortly after it was established.  The present example was published in Phoenix by Tillman Stout Rush, utilizing a base map supplied by the Pathway Commission of Birmingham, Alabama, the National Heaquarters of the Bankhead National Highway Association.  The full large format master map, created by the Bankhead National Highway Association can be can be found in the Arizona State Library.

The advertising on the map is reflective of the course of the map through Arizona and California, with Arizona based advertisers in Tombstone, Gila Bend, Tuscson, Phoenix, Florence, Buckeye,Yuma, Wellton, Mohawk, Sentinel,  Benson, Douglas, and Agua Prieta.  California advertisers from equally remote desert cities (and San Diego), including Dixieland, Holtville, La Guna Junction, Buckman Springs, Jacumba Hot Springs, La Mesa and El Cajon.

In addition to the route, the map also illustrates the BH logo for road signs and pole markers.

Early maps road maps covering single routes are extremely rare. With the exception of the Arizona State Library map referenced above, we are not aware of any other surviving maps of the Bankhead National Highway.  The only earlier map listed in OCLC which references the highway is a circa 1918 General Map of the Trancontinental Routes with principal connections, which shows the Bankhead Highway from Norfolk to Paris, Texas, with nothing further west.

The Bankhead National Highway

In the early 20th century, the United States saw a growing need to develop a comprehensive road network. Amid this context emerged the Bankhead National Highway, an initiative aimed at connecting the East and West Coasts. Named after John Hollis Bankhead, a U.S. Senator from Alabama and a significant figure in road infrastructure development, the highway marked a milestone in America's transportation history.

The inception of the Bankhead National Highway can be traced back to the 1910s, during the Good Roads Movement, which emphasized road improvements across the country. The primary goal was to create a transcontinental route starting from Washington, D.C., and terminating in San Diego, California.

Senator Bankhead's contributions to the U.S. road infrastructure were substantial. Serving as the chairman of the Senate Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads, Bankhead was instrumental in the passage of the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916. This legislation marked a significant federal commitment to assist state highway construction efforts.  Over the next few years, routes were investigated, roads paved, and existing roads connected, in an effort to piece together a transcontinental route.

In 1919, the Bankhead Highway Association was formed to promote and oversee the development of the highway. This body was essential in lobbying for funds, planning the route, and coordinating with local authorities. 

In 1920, the first official route of the Bankhead Highway was delineated. A newspaperman from New Mexico and a good road enthusiast, T.A. Dunn, is thought to have participated in the early exploration efforts for the road throughout the Southwest. In 1921, he authored an early guide, the Authentic Road Map and Motor Tourist Guide of the Bankhead Highway which included illustrated maps of the highway route and information for tourists about the communities it passed through.

Most of the initial construction took place in the 1920s. The focus was on paving and improving existing roads to be included in the highway system. The Bankhead Highway primarily utilized already established roads, so the work involved upgrades rather than building entirely new roads.  The Great Depression slowed down many infrastructural projects, but the Bankhead Highway still saw intermittent developments, particularly with the influx of New Deal funds.

The Bankhead Highway traversed various states, namely Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. It connected major urban centers, but its impact was also felt in smaller towns and rural communities along its path, which benefited from improved access and subsequent economic opportunities. Key cities on its route included Birmingham, Dallas, El Paso, Phoenix, and Tempe, among others.


The present map is apparently a unique survival.