On July 11, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Aid Road Act.
Discussions for a federal road program began at the turn of the 20th century, especially after Henry Ford introduced the Ford Model-T. The affordable price of the Ford put more Americans on the road than ever before. Farmers wanted all-weather roads to transport their crops and urban motorists wanted smoother, long-distance highways.
Times were rough and the roads were rougher. America was two years into World War I. Horse and buggies shared trails with Model-T Fords and other vehicles. Sometimes mud and sometimes muck, drivers often risked getting stuck during their travels. At the time, a “tow truck” consisted of some men, blocks and ropes.
Wilson was an advocate for good roads. He spent about two hours each day in his automobile to relax and clear his mind of the stresses of being the president.
Wilson realized the need for smoother roads and signed the $75 million act. Upon signing the act, he said, “The happiness, comfort and prosperity of rural life, and the development of the city, are alike conserved by the construction of public highways. We, therefore, favor national aid in the construction of post roads and roads for military purposes.”
Think about the “man”ual tow truck and lack of roads the next time you’re stuck in construction. The $75 million price tag in 1916 is the equivalent to over $1.5 billion today. Now, it roughly costs $75 million for a single roadway improvement, but at least we have cell phones and Empire car covers!