ExxonMobil is among the sponsors of a Smithsonian exhibition that includes themes aimed at educating young people about transportation in American history.
The Transportation Hall of National Museum of American History is 26,000 square feet — with 340 objects. It features 19 historic settings in chronological order.
“America on the Move” features the Smithsonian Institution’s extensive transportation collection using the latest multimedia technology.
The exhibition “brings back to life the history of ships, trains, trucks, and automobiles. It also reveals America’s fascination with life on the road.”
A red oilfield service truck from Shawnee, Oklahoma, is among the notable petroleum-related exhibits at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
The large exhibit area highlights the Smithsonian’s transportation collection, including displays showing the history of the interstate highway system and images and artifacts from Route 66.
Petroleum history plays a small role in the Smithsonian museum’s “America on the Move” exhibit.
A section about “life on the open road” notes how in the 1920s new highways began to affect people’s lives: “Some Americans used highways to migrate.
Others earned a living on the road, or by its side, running businesses. Many Americans began to take to the highways for pleasure.”
Travelers often saw the highway as a symbol of independence and freedom – although they depended on government for the roads, and on businesses such as automobile and tire manufacturers, oil refiners, gas stations and roadside restaurants.
Route 66 & the Interstate System
Among the exhibits are images of Route 66, which was commissioned in 1926 and fully paved by the late 1930s.
A prominent Tulsa, Oklahoma, businessman – who also invested in the petroleum industry – is credited with creating the enduring (and international) popular identity of Route 66.
Cyrus Avery, a Pennsylvania native, saw the need for better roads, the exhibit notes. As chairman of the Oklahoma Highway Commission, he helped plan the system for numbered highways. His proposal for a highway from Chicago to Los Angeles along a southwestern route was approved and designated U.S. 66 in 1926.
Avery founded the U.S. 66 Highway Association and coined the route’s nickname, “Main Street of America.”
Pennsylvania’s 160-mile turnpike opened in 1940.
Another exhibit notes that after decades of debate, Congress passed the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956 – and the interstate network was born.
The 41,000-mile system was designed to reach every city with a population of more than 100,000.
An historical marker from the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which opened in 1940, notes creation of one of the earliest service plazas, now commonplace on all interstate highways.
When the Pennsylvania Turnpike opened in 1940, it stretched 160 miles from Carlisle to Irwin. It would more than double in length by 1957.
The “limited access” design of the turnpike became the model for future superhighways – the U.S. interstate system. Almost completed by the 1990s, the total cost for the nation’s interstate system reached more than $100 billion.
The Route 66 exhibit includes the red Oklahoma “oil field service” truck owned by the Rufus Lillard Company of Shawnee with this note: The 20th century oil industry employed increasingly large numbers of men in the oil fields: their number rose from 22,230 workers in 1902 to 93,205 in 1919.
Even more people were employed building pipelines and working in refineries, corporate offices, and marketing. Despite the Depression, by the mid-1930s the U.S. petroleum industry employed some one million people.
Read about America’s first automobile show in 1900 in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in “Cantankerous Combustion.”
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