The road’s efficacy was tested early on as a thoroughfare for refugees of the Dust Bowl and the Depression, who traveled westward for better lives (an experience mythologized in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, of which a handwritten manuscript page appears in the exhibit).
During this period, from the late 1940s to early 1950s, American travel was more about the journey, and less about the destination. The road was not completely open for everyone, however; the exhibit includes brochures made for African-American travelers noting “sundown towns”—places to avoid getting harassed (or even killed) after dark. Still, this was a unique, brief time in tourism when an American vacation meant infusing time and money into small communities rather than corporations.
But in 1956, effectively bypassed Route 66. As CityLab has written before, the straight-lined, speedy interstates often bifurcated cities. They also cut paths far from Route 66’s small, idiosyncratic towns. The rise of modern air travel also diminished the appeal of the winding, open road.