All American Highway Gallery
The Nation's first Federal road agency, the U.S. Office of Road Inquiry (ORI), opened for business on October 3, 1893, in the U.S. Department of Agriculture with a budget of $10,000 that first year. The new agency was headed by General Roy Stone, the Special Agent and Engineer for Road Inquiry, and its only other employee was his stenographer. The ORI's mission did not include road building. Rather, its mission was "to make inquiry regarding public roads" and to disseminate the information. As General Stone would explain:
This country is so big that a great deal goes on that we all don't know about. What we [did] in Washington is simply to set up a watch, to keep an eye on the whole country, and report what is going on. It simply furnishes a rallying point for the friends of the reform and a signal tower from which its progress can be watched and reported day by day. We are ready through that office to furnish facts and arguments showing why good roads are necessary, how they can be built, and how they are being built in many parts of this great country.
The ORI and its successor agencies carried out this educational purpose by lectures, publications, tours on "Good Roads Trains," participation in good roads conventions, development of model State legislation, and dissemination of how-to manuals and research results. To support this function, agency employees took photographs to illustrate the lectures, publications, and other informational material. By 1911, the Office of Public Roads (as it was then called) had over 6,000 negatives and approximately 5,000 lantern slides in its collection.
The photo collection would eventually be turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for preservation. A NARA log indicates that the collection includes, in part:
- Photographs illustrating the development of transportation 1896-1952: 3,500 photographs from sources outside the agency.
- Photographs illustrating the activities of the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads 1900-1953: 20,000 photographs.
- Negatives 1896-1953: 62,000 glass plate and film negatives of photographs.
The work of the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) photographic staff continued into the Interstate era. By then, the agency had three staff photographers: George W. Crum, William F. Hall, and T. Welby Kines. Their photographs documenting the critical early years of Interstate development are maintained in the Still Pictures Branch of NARA's facility in College Park, Maryland, as part of Record Group 30. Their work is supplemented by photographs collected from State highway agencies and other sources during the period.
During the early Interstate era, the BPR used the photographers' work in its publications, annual reports, displays, and other promotional work. The images also provided a resource for magazines, newspapers, and other publications. Most of the images, however, were never used, and those that were used were seen mainly within the highway community.
When the U.S. Department of Transportation began operations on April 1, 1967, the Federal road agency became the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). As the Department consolidated operations, the long-running photograph enterprise declined and soon came to an end. The Department would retain professional photographers, but their work would no longer include traveling the country to document highway development.
The FHWA is pleased to present a gallery of these Interstate images, many available to the public for the first time. No claim of "art" is made - these images were not made for that purpose. Instead, the images are the work of professional photographers who took pride in documenting the most productive period in the history of the Nation's most important highway enterprise - construction of the Interstate System - while continuing their photographic work on a wide range of other internal and external subjects. By the mid-1960s, half of the Interstate System was open, and these photographs show many of the routes during this early period.
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