U.S. Route 66

Last updated

US 66 (1926).svg

U.S. Route 66
Will Rogers Memorial Highway
Map of US 66.svg
Route information
Length2,448 mi (3,940 km)
ExistedNovember 26, 1926 (1926-11-26) [1] –June 26, 1985 (1985-06-26) [2]
MUTCD D6-4.svg Historic Route 66
Major intersections (in 1947) [3]
West endAlternate plate.svgNo image.svg
US 101 California 1926.svg US 101 Alt. in Santa Monica, Cal.
East endUS 41 (1926).svgUS 54 (1926).svg US 41 / US 54 in Chicago, Ill.
States California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois
Highway system

U.S. Route 66 or U.S. Highway 66 (US 66 or Route 66), also known as the Will Rogers Highway, the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways in the U.S. Highway System. US 66 was established on November 11, 1926, with road signs erected the following year. [4] The highway, which became one of the most famous roads in the United States, originally ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending in Santa Monica in Los Angeles County, California, covering a total of 2,448 miles (3,940 km). [5] It was recognized in popular culture by both the hit song "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66" and the Route 66 television show in the 1960s. In John Steinbeck's classic American novel, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), the road, "Highway 66", was turned into a powerful symbol of escape and loss.

Chicago City in Illinois, United States

Chicago, officially the City of Chicago, is the most populous city in Illinois, as well as the third most populous city in the United States. With an estimated population of 2,716,450 (2017), it is the most populous city in the Midwest. Chicago is the principal city of the Chicago metropolitan area, often referred to as Chicagoland, and the county seat of Cook County, the second most populous county in the United States. The metropolitan area, at nearly 10 million people, is the third-largest in the United States.

Illinois State of the United States of America

Illinois is a state in the Midwestern and Great Lakes region of the United States. It has the fifth largest gross domestic product (GDP), the sixth largest population, and the 25th largest land area of all U.S. states. Illinois is often noted as a microcosm of the entire United States. With Chicago in northeastern Illinois, small industrial cities and immense agricultural productivity in the north and center of the state, and natural resources such as coal, timber, and petroleum in the south, Illinois has a diverse economic base, and is a major transportation hub. Chicagoland, Chicago's metropolitan area, encompasses over 65% of the state's population. The Port of Chicago connects the state to international ports via two main routes: from the Great Lakes, via the Saint Lawrence Seaway, to the Atlantic Ocean and from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River, via the Illinois Waterway to the Illinois River. The Mississippi River, the Ohio River, and the Wabash River form parts of the boundaries of Illinois. For decades, Chicago's O'Hare International Airport has been ranked as one of the world's busiest airports. Illinois has long had a reputation as a bellwether both in social and cultural terms and, through the 1980s, in politics.

Missouri State of the United States of America

Missouri is a state in the Midwestern United States. With over six million residents, it is the 18th-most populous state of the Union. The largest urban areas are St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, and Columbia; the capital is Jefferson City. The state is the 21st-most extensive in area. In the South are the Ozarks, a forested highland, providing timber, minerals, and recreation. The Missouri River, after which the state is named, flows through the center of the state into the Mississippi River, which makes up Missouri's eastern border.


US 66 served as a primary route for those who migrated west, especially during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and the road supported the economies of the communities through which it passed. People doing business along the route became prosperous due to the growing popularity of the highway, and those same people later fought to keep the highway alive in the face of the growing threat of being bypassed by the new Interstate Highway System.

Dust Bowl period of severe dust storms in North America

The Dust Bowl was a period of severe dust storms that greatly damaged the ecology and agriculture of the American and Canadian prairies during the 1930s; severe drought and a failure to apply dryland farming methods to prevent the aeolian processes caused the phenomenon. The drought came in three waves, 1934, 1936, and 1939–1940, but some regions of the high plains experienced drought conditions for as many as eight years. With insufficient understanding of the ecology of the plains, farmers had conducted extensive deep plowing of the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains during the previous decade; this had displaced the native, deep-rooted grasses that normally trapped soil and moisture even during periods of drought and high winds. The rapid mechanization of farm equipment, especially small gasoline tractors, and widespread use of the combine harvester contributed to farmers' decisions to convert arid grassland to cultivated cropland.

Interstate Highway System United States highway system

The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, commonly known as the Interstate Highway System, is a network of controlled-access highways that forms part of the National Highway System in the United States. Construction of the system was authorized by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. The system extends throughout the contiguous United States and has routes in Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico.

US 66 underwent many improvements and realignments over its lifetime, but was officially removed from the United States Highway System in 1985 [2] after it had been replaced in its entirety by segments of the Interstate Highway System. Portions of the road that passed through Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona have been communally designated a National Scenic Byway of the name "Historic Route 66", returning the name to some maps. [6] [7] Several states have adopted significant bypassed sections of the former US 66 into their state road networks as State Route 66. The corridor is also being redeveloped into U.S. Bicycle Route 66, a part of the United States Bicycle Route System that was developed in the 2010s.

A decommissioned highway is a highway that has been removed from service, has been shut down, or has had its authorization as a national, provincial or state highway removed. Decommissioning can include the complete or partial demolition or abandonment of an old highway structure because the old roadway has lost its utility, but such is not always the norm. Where the old highway has continuing value, it likely remains as a local road offering access to properties denied access to the new road or for use by slow vehicles such as farm equipment and horse-drawn vehicles denied use of the newer highway.

National Scenic Byway Road recognized by the USDOT for one or more of six "intrinsic qualities": archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic

A National Scenic Byway is a road recognized by the United States Department of Transportation for one or more of six "intrinsic qualities": archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic. The program was established by Congress in 1991 to preserve and protect the nation's scenic but often less-traveled roads and promote tourism and economic development. The National Scenic Byways Program (NSBP) is administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

U.S. Bicycle Route 66 (USBR 66) is a United States Bicycle Route that follows the former U.S. Route 66 (US 66) across the United States. The first section of the route, spanning 358 miles (576 km) from between Baxter Springs, Kansas, and St. Louis, Missouri, was designated as USBR 66 in 2018. The rest of the route remains proposed but un-designated.


Lengths (1926 alignment)
  mi [8] km
California 314505
Arizona 401645
New Mexico 487784
Texas 186299
Oklahoma 432695
Kansas 1321
Missouri 317510
Illinois 301484

Before the U.S. Highway System

A remnant of an original state right-of-way marker serves as a reminder of the early days of the road's construction. This was part of the 1927 construction of US 66. Rte66RightOfWayMarker.jpg
A remnant of an original state right-of-way marker serves as a reminder of the early days of the road's construction. This was part of the 1927 construction of US 66.

In 1857, Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale, a Naval officer in the service of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, was ordered by the War Department to build a government-funded wagon road along the 35th Parallel. His secondary orders were to test the feasibility of the use of camels as pack animals in the southwestern desert. This road became part of US 66. [9]

Edward Fitzgerald Beale American explorer, surveyor, ambassador

Edward Fitzgerald "Ned" Beale was a national figure in 19th century America. He was naval officer, military general, explorer, frontiersman, Indian affairs superintendent, California rancher, diplomat, and friend of Kit Carson, Buffalo Bill Cody and Ulysses S. Grant. He fought in the Mexican–American War, emerging as a hero of the Battle of San Pasqual in 1846. He achieved national fame in 1848 in carrying to the east the first gold samples from California, contributing to the gold rush.

United States Department of War Former US government agency

The United States Department of War, also called the War Department, was the United States Cabinet department originally responsible for the operation and maintenance of the United States Army, also bearing responsibility for naval affairs until the establishment of the Navy Department in 1798, and for most land-based air forces until the creation of the Department of the Air Force on September 18, 1947.

Parts of the original Route 66 from 1913, prior to its official naming and commissioning, can still be seen north of the Cajon Pass. The paved road becomes a dirt road, south of Cajon, which was also the original Route 66. [10]

Cajon Pass mountain pass in Southern California

Cajon Pass is a mountain pass between the San Bernardino Mountains and the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California. It was created by the movements of the San Andreas Fault. Located in the Mojave Desert, the pass is an important link from the Greater San Bernardino Area to the Victor Valley, and northeast to Las Vegas.

Before a nationwide network of numbered highways was adopted by the states, named auto trails were marked by private organizations. The route that would become US 66 was covered by three highways. The Lone Star Route passed through St. Louis on its way from Chicago to Cameron, Louisiana, though US 66 would take a shorter route through Bloomington rather than Peoria. The transcontinental National Old Trails Road led via St. Louis to Los Angeles, but was not followed until New Mexico; instead US 66 used one of the main routes of the Ozark Trails system, [11] which ended at the National Old Trails Road just south of Las Vegas, New Mexico. Again, a shorter route was taken, here following the Postal Highway between Oklahoma City and Amarillo. Finally, the National Old Trails Road became the rest of the route to Los Angeles. [12]

The system of auto trails was an informal network of marked routes that existed in the United States and Canada in the early part of the 20th century. Marked with colored bands on telephone poles, the trails were intended to help travellers in the early days of the automobile.

Cameron, Louisiana Census-designated place in Louisiana, United States

Cameron is a census-designated place (CDP) in and the parish seat of Cameron Parish, Louisiana, United States. It is part of the Lake Charles Metropolitan Statistical Area. After sustaining extreme damage from Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008, the 2010 Census showed Cameron having a population of just 406, a 79% drop in population between the years 2000 and 2010.

Bloomington, Illinois City in Illinois, United States

Bloomington is a city in and the county seat of McLean County, Illinois, United States. It is adjacent to Normal, and is the more populous of the two principal municipalities of the Bloomington-Normal metropolitan area.

While legislation for public highways first appeared in 1916, with revisions in 1921, it was not until Congress enacted an even more comprehensive version of the act in 1925 that the government executed its plan for national highway construction. The original inspiration for a roadway between Chicago and Los Angeles was planned by entrepreneurs Cyrus Avery of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and John Woodruff of Springfield, Missouri. The pair lobbied the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) for the creation of a route following the 1925 plans. [13]

From the outset, public road planners intended US 66 to connect the main streets of rural and urban communities along its course for the most practical of reasons: most small towns had no prior access to a major national thoroughfare.

Birthplace and rise of US 66

The route sign from 1926 to 1948 US 66 Arizona 1926.svg
The route sign from 1926 to 1948
Modern 'historic' signage in Chicago Route66 024.jpg
Modern 'historic' signage in Chicago

The numerical designation 66 was assigned to the Chicago-to-Los Angeles route on April 30, 1926, [13] in Springfield, Missouri. A placard in Park Central Square was dedicated to the city by the Route 66 Association of Missouri, [14] and traces of the "Mother Road" are still visible in downtown Springfield along Kearney Street, Glenstone Avenue, College, and St. Louis streets and on Route 266 to Halltown, Missouri. [15]

Championed by Avery when the first talks about a national highway system began, US 66 was first signed into law in 1927 as one of the original U.S. Highways, although it was not completely paved until 1938. Avery was adamant that the highway have a round number and had proposed number 60 to identify it. A controversy erupted over the number 60, largely from delegates from Kentucky who wanted a Virginia Beach–Los Angeles highway to be US 60 and US 62 between Chicago and Springfield, Missouri. [16] Arguments and counterarguments continued throughout February, including a proposal to split the proposed route through Kentucky into Route 60 North (to Chicago) and Route 60 South (to Newport News). [17] The final conclusion was to have US 60 run between Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Springfield, Missouri, and the Chicago–L.A. route be US 62. [18] Avery and highway engineer John Page settled on "66," which was unassigned, despite the fact that in its entirety, US 66 was north of US 60. [19]

The state of Missouri released its 1926 state highway map with the highway labeled as US 60. [20]

After the new federal highway system was officially created, Cyrus Avery called for the establishment of the U.S. Highway 66 Association to promote the complete paving of the highway from end to end and to promote travel down the highway. In 1927, in Tulsa, the association was officially established with John T. Woodruff of Springfield, Missouri, elected the first president. In 1928, the association made its first attempt at publicity, the "Bunion Derby," a footrace from Los Angeles to New York City, of which the path from Los Angeles to Chicago would be on US 66. [21] The publicity worked: several dignitaries, including Will Rogers, greeted the runners at certain points on the route. The race ended in Madison Square Garden, where the $25,000 first prize (equal to $364,777 in 2018) was awarded to Andy Hartley Payne, a Cherokee runner from Oklahoma. The U.S. Highway 66 Association also placed its first advertisement in the July 16, 1932, issue of the Saturday Evening Post . The ad invited Americans to take US 66 to the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. A U.S. Highway 66 Association office in Oklahoma received hundreds of requests for information after the ad was published. [22] The association went on to serve as a voice for businesses along the highway until it disbanded in 1976.

Traffic grew on the highway because of the geography through which it passed. Much of the highway was essentially flat and this made the highway a popular truck route. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s saw many farming families, mainly from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Texas, heading west for agricultural jobs in California. US 66 became the main road of travel for these people, often derogatorily called "Okies" or "Arkies". During the Depression, it gave some relief to communities located on the highway. The route passed through numerous small towns and, with the growing traffic on the highway, helped create the rise of mom-and-pop businesses, such as service stations, restaurants, and motor courts, all readily accessible to passing motorists. [23]

The Chain of Rocks Bridge across the Mississippi River was built to carry the growing traffic of US 66 around the city of St. Louis Chain of Rocks.jpg
The Chain of Rocks Bridge across the Mississippi River was built to carry the growing traffic of US 66 around the city of St. Louis
Restored Magnolia gasoline station museum on Route 66 in Shamrock in Wheeler County, TX Magnolia gasoline station, Shamrock, TX IMG 6141.JPG
Restored Magnolia gasoline station museum on Route 66 in Shamrock in Wheeler County, TX

Much of the early highway, like all the other early highways, was gravel or graded dirt. Due to the efforts of the U.S. Highway 66 Association, US 66 became the first highway to be completely paved in 1938. Several places were dangerous: more than one part of the highway was nicknamed "Bloody 66" and gradually work was done to realign these segments to remove dangerous curves. However, one section through the Black Mountains outside Oatman, Arizona, was fraught with hairpin turns and was the steepest along the entire route, so much so that some early travelers, too frightened at the prospect of driving such a potentially dangerous road, hired locals to navigate the winding grade. The section remained as US 66 until 1953 and is still open to traffic today as the Oatman Highway. Despite such hazards in some areas, US 66 continued to be a popular route. [23]

Notable buildings include the art deco–styled U-Drop Inn, constructed in 1936 in Shamrock, in Wheeler County east of Amarillo, Texas, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. [24] [25] A restored Magnolia fuel station is also located in Shamrock as well as Vega, in Oldham County, west of Amarillo. [26]

During World War II, more migration west occurred because of war-related industries in California. US 66, already popular and fully paved, became one of the main routes and also served for moving military equipment. Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri was located near the highway, which was locally upgraded quickly to a divided highway to help with military traffic. When Richard Feynman was working on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, he used to travel nearly 100 miles (160 km) to visit his wife, who was dying of tuberculosis, in a sanatorium located on US 66 in Albuquerque. [27]

In the 1950s, US 66 became the main highway for vacationers heading to Los Angeles. The road passed through the Painted Desert and near the Grand Canyon. Meteor Crater in Arizona was another popular stop. This sharp increase in tourism in turn gave rise to a burgeoning trade in all manner of roadside attractions, including teepee-shaped motels, frozen custard stands, Indian curio shops, and reptile farms. Meramec Caverns near St. Louis, began advertising on barns, billing itself as the "Jesse James hideout". The Big Texan advertised a free 72-ounce (2.0 kg) steak dinner to anyone who could consume the entire meal in one hour. It also marked the birth of the fast-food industry: Red's Giant Hamburg in Springfield, Missouri, site of the first drive-through restaurant, and the first McDonald's in San Bernardino, California. Changes like these to the landscape further cemented 66's reputation as a near-perfect microcosm of the culture of America, now linked by the automobile. [23]

Changes in routing

Modern-day sign in New Mexico, along a section of Route 66 named a National Scenic Byway Route66 sign.jpg
Modern-day sign in New Mexico, along a section of Route 66 named a National Scenic Byway

Many sections of US 66 underwent major realignments.

In 1930, between the Illinois cities of Springfield and East St. Louis, US 66 was shifted farther east to what is now roughly Interstate 55 (I-55). The original alignment followed the current Illinois Route 4 (IL 4). [28]

From downtown St. Louis to Gray Summit, Missouri, US 66 originally went down Market Street and Manchester Road, which is largely Route 100. In 1932, this route was changed and the original alignment was never viewed as anything more than temporary. The planned route was down Watson Road, which is now Route 366 but Watson Road had not been completed yet.

In Oklahoma, from west of El Reno to Bridgeport, US 66 turned north to Calumet and then west to Geary, then southwest across the South Canadian River over a suspension toll bridge into Bridgeport. In 1933, a straighter cut-off route was completed from west of El Reno to one mile (1.6 km) south of Bridgeport, crossing over a 38-span steel pony truss bridge over the South Canadian River, bypassing Calumet and Geary by several miles.

From west of Santa Rosa, New Mexico, to north of Los Lunas, New Mexico, the road originally turned north from current I-40 along much of what is now US 84 to near Las Vegas, New Mexico, followed (roughly) I-25—then the decertified US 85 through Santa Fe and Albuquerque to Los Lunas and then turned northwest along the present New Mexico State Road 6 (NM 6) alignment to a point near Laguna. In 1937, a straight-line route was completed from west of Santa Rosa through Moriarty and east–west through Albuquerque and west to Laguna. This newer routing saved travelers as much as four hours of travel through New Mexico. According to legend, the rerouting was done at the behest of Democratic Governor Arthur T. Hannett to punish the Republican Santa Fe Ring, which had long dominated New Mexico out of Santa Fe. [29]

In 1940, the first freeway in Los Angeles was incorporated into US 66; this was the Arroyo Seco Parkway, later known as the Pasadena Freeway; now again known as Arroyo Seco Parkway. [28]

Route 66 between Oatman and Kingman Rte66btwnOatmanAndKingman.JPG
Route 66 between Oatman and Kingman

In 1953, the Oatman Highway through the Black Mountains was completely bypassed by a new route between Kingman, Arizona, and Needles, California; [28] by the 1960s, Oatman, Arizona, was virtually abandoned as a ghost town.

Since the 1950s, as Interstates were being constructed, sections of US 66 not only saw the traffic drain to them, but often the route number itself was moved to the faster means of travel. In some cases, such as to the east of St. Louis, this was done as soon as the Interstate was finished to the next exit. The displacement of US 66 signage to the new freeways, combined with restrictions in the 1965 Highway Beautification Act that often denied merchants on the old road access to signage on the freeway, became factors in the closure of many established US 66 businesses as travelers could no longer easily find or reach them. [30]

In 1936, US 66 was extended from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica to end at US 101 Alt., today the intersection of Olympic and Lincoln Boulevards. Even though there is a plaque dedicating US 66 as the Will Rogers Highway placed at the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard, the highway never terminated there.

US 66 was rerouted around several larger cities via bypass or beltline routes to permit travelers to avoid city traffic congestion. Some of those cities included Springfield, Illinois; St. Louis, Missouri; Rolla, Missouri; Springfield, Missouri; Joplin, Missouri; and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The route was also a foundation for many chain stores back in the 1920s, sprouting up next to it to increase business and sales.


Abandoned, fire-damaged Whiting Brothers gas station. All along the route, preservation efforts are under way to preserve original buildings such as this. Whiting bros.jpg
Abandoned, fire-damaged Whiting Brothers gas station. All along the route, preservation efforts are under way to preserve original buildings such as this.
An abandoned early US 66 alignment in central Illinois, 2006 OldalignIL.jpg
An abandoned early US 66 alignment in central Illinois, 2006
The ghost town of Two Guns, Arizona, once featured a zoo, gift shop, restaurant, campground, gas station, and "death cave". Abandoned gas station - Two Guns, Arizona.jpg
The ghost town of Two Guns, Arizona, once featured a zoo, gift shop, restaurant, campground, gas station, and "death cave".

The beginning of the decline for US 66 came in 1956 with the signing of the Interstate Highway Act by President Dwight D. Eisenhower who was influenced by his experiences in 1919 as a young Army officer crossing the country in a truck convoy (following the route of the Lincoln Highway), and his appreciation of the autobahn network as a necessary component of a national defense system. [31]

During its nearly 60-year existence, US 66 was under constant change. As highway engineering became more sophisticated, engineers constantly sought more direct routes between cities and towns. Increased traffic led to a number of major and minor realignments of US 66 through the years, particularly in the years immediately following World War II when Illinois began widening US 66 to four lanes through virtually the entire state from Chicago to the Mississippi River just east of St. Louis, and included bypasses around virtually all of the towns. By the early to mid-1950s, Missouri also upgraded its sections of US 66 to four lanes complete with bypasses. Most of the newer four-lane 66 paving in both states was upgraded to freeway status in later years.

One of the remnants of US 66 is the highway now known as Veterans Parkway, east and south of Normal, Illinois, and Bloomington, Illinois. The two sweeping curves on the southeast and southwest of the cities originally were intended to easily handle traffic at speeds up to 100 miles per hour (160 km/h), as part of an effort to make Illinois 66 an Autobahn equivalent for military transport.

In 1953, the first major bypassing of US 66 occurred in Oklahoma with the opening of the Turner Turnpike between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. The new 88-mile (142 km) toll road paralleled US 66 for its entire length and bypassed each of the towns along 66. The Turner Turnpike was joined in 1957 by the new Will Rogers Turnpike, which connected Tulsa with the Oklahoma-Missouri border west of Joplin, Missouri, again paralleling US 66 and bypassing the towns in northeastern Oklahoma in addition to its entire stretch through Kansas. Both Oklahoma turnpikes were soon designated as I-44, along with the US 66 bypass at Tulsa that connected the city with both turnpikes.

In some cases, such as many areas in Illinois, the new Interstate Highway not only paralleled the old US 66, it actually used much of the same roadway. A typical approach was to build one new set of lanes, then move one direction of traffic to it, while retaining the original road for traffic flowing in the opposite direction. Then a second set of lanes for traffic flowing in the other direction would be constructed, finally followed by abandoning the other old set of lanes or converting them into a frontage road.

The same scenario was used in western Oklahoma when US 66 was initially upgraded to a four-lane highway such as from Sayre through Erick to the Texas border at Texola in 1957 and 1958 where the old paving was retained for westbound traffic and a new parallel lane built for eastbound traffic (much of this section was entirely bypassed by I-40 in 1975), and on two other sections; from Canute to Elk City in 1959 and Hydro to Weatherford in 1960, both of which were upgraded with the construction of a new westbound lane in 1966 to bring the highway up to full interstate standards and demoting the old US 66 paving to frontage road status. In the initial process of constructing I-40 across western Oklahoma, the state also included projects to upgrade the through routes in El Reno, Weatherford, Clinton, Canute, Elk City, Sayre, Erick, and Texola to four-lane highways not only to provide seamless transitions from the rural sections of I-40 from both ends of town but also to provide easy access to those cities in later years after the I-40 bypasses were completed.

The leaning water tower, east of Groom, TX, along I-40 (old US 66) Leaningwatertower.jpg
The leaning water tower, east of Groom, TX, along I-40 (old US 66)

In New Mexico, as in most other states, rural sections of I-40 were to be constructed first with bypasses around cities to come later. However, some business and civic leaders in cities along US 66 were completely opposed to bypassing fearing loss of business and tax revenues. In 1963, the New Mexico Legislature enacted legislation that banned the construction of interstate bypasses around cities by local request. This legislation was short-lived, however, due to pressures from Washington and threat of loss of federal highway funds so it was rescinded by 1965. In 1964, Tucumcari and San Jon became the first cities in New Mexico to work out an agreement with state and federal officials in determining the locations of their I-40 bypasses as close to their business areas as possible in order to permit easy access for highway travelers to their localities. Other cities soon fell in line including Santa Rosa, Moriarty, Grants and Gallup although it wasn't until well into the 1970s that most of those cities would be bypassed by I-40.

Old Route 66 near Amboy, CA Amboy (California, USA), Hist. Route 66 -- 2012 -- 1.jpg
Old Route 66 near Amboy, CA

By the late 1960s, most of the rural sections of US 66 had been replaced by I-40 across New Mexico with the most notable exception being the 40-mile (64 km) strip from the Texas border at Glenrio west through San Jon to Tucumcari, which was becoming increasingly treacherous due to heavier and heavier traffic on the narrow two-lane highway. During 1968 and 1969, this section of US 66 was often referred to by locals and travelers as "Slaughter Lane" due to numerous injury and fatal accidents on this stretch. Local and area business and civic leaders and news media called upon state and federal highway officials to get I-40 built through the area; however, disputes over proposed highway routing in the vicinity of San Jon held up construction plans for several years as federal officials proposed that I-40 run some five to six miles (8 to 10 km) north of that city while local and state officials insisted on following a proposed route that touched the northern city limits of San Jon. In November 1969, a truce was reached when federal highway officials agreed to build the I-40 route just outside the city, therefore providing local businesses dependent on highway traffic easy access to and from the expressway via the north–south highway that crossed old US 66 in San Jon. I-40 was completed from Glenrio to the east side of San Jon in 1976 and extended west to Tucumcari in 1981, including the bypasses around both cities.

US 66, going to Oatman, AZ in 2007 Route 66 2073773569 7b3fae3b91 b.jpg
US 66, going to Oatman, AZ in 2007

Originally, highway officials planned for the last section of US 66 to be bypassed by interstates in Texas, but as was the case in many places, lawsuits held up construction of the new interstates. The US Highway 66 Association had become a voice for the people who feared the loss of their businesses. Since the interstates only provided access via ramps at interchanges, travellers could not pull directly off a highway into a business. At first, plans were laid out to allow mainly national chains to be placed in interstate medians. Such lawsuits effectively prevented this on all but toll roads. Some towns in Missouri threatened to sue the state if the US 66 designation was removed from the road, though lawsuits never materialized. Several businesses were well known to be on US 66, and fear of losing the number resulted in the state of Missouri officially requesting the designation "Interstate 66" for the St. Louis to Oklahoma City section of the route, but it was denied. In 1984, Arizona also saw its final stretch of highway decommissioned with the completion of I-40 just north of Williams, Arizona. Finally, with decertification of the highway by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials the following year, US 66 officially ceased to exist.

With the decommissioning of US 66, no single interstate route was designated to replace it. I-55 covered the section from Chicago to St. Louis; I-44 carried the traffic on to Oklahoma City; I-40 took the largest chunk, replacing 66 to Barstow, California; I-15 took over for the route to San Bernardino; and California State Route 66, I-210 and State Route 2 (SR 2) or I-10 carried the traffic of US 66 across the Los Angeles metropolitan area to Santa Monica, and the beach.

After decertification

"Sidewalk highway" section of US 66 near Miami, OK Sidewalk Highway.jpg
"Sidewalk highway" section of US 66 near Miami, OK

When the highway was decommissioned, sections of the road were disposed of in various ways. Within many cities, the route became a "business loop" for the interstate. Some sections became state roads, local roads, private drives, or were abandoned completely. Although it is no longer possible to drive US 66 uninterrupted all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles, much of the original route and alternate alignments are still drivable with careful planning. Some stretches are quite well preserved, including one between Springfield, Missouri, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Some sections of US 66 still retain their historic 9-foot-wide (2.7 m) "sidewalk highway" form, [32] never having been resurfaced to make them into full-width highways. These old sections have a single, paved lane, concrete curbs to mark the edge of the lane, and gravel shoulders for passing.

Some states have kept the 66 designation for parts of the highway, albeit as state roads. In Missouri, Routes 366, 266, and 66 are all original sections of the highway. State Highway 66 (SH-66) in Oklahoma remains as the alternate "free" route near its turnpikes. "Historic Route 66" runs for a significant distance in and near Flagstaff, Arizona. Farther west, a long segment of US 66 in Arizona runs significantly north of I-40, and much of it is designated as State Route 66 (SR 66). This runs from Seligman to Kingman, Arizona, via Peach Springs. A surface street stretch between San Bernardino and La Verne (known as Foothill Boulevard) to the east of Los Angeles retains its number as SR 66. Several county roads and city streets at various places along the old route have also retained the "66" number.


Restored service station in Mt Olive, IL SoulsbyServiceStation MtOliveIL.jpg
Restored service station in Mt Olive, IL

The first Route 66 associations were founded in Arizona in 1987 and Missouri in 1989 (incorporated in 1990). [33] [34] Other groups in the other US 66 states soon followed. In 1990, the state of Missouri declared US 66 in that state a "State Historic Route". The first "Historic Route 66" marker in Missouri was erected on Kearney Street at Glenstone Avenue in Springfield, Missouri (now replaced—the original sign has been placed at Route 66 State Park near Eureka). [35] Other historic markers now line—at times sporadically—the entire 2,400-mile (3,900 km) length of road. [23] In many communities, local groups have painted or stenciled the "66" and U.S. Route shield or outline directly onto the road surface, along with the state's name. [23] This is common in areas where conventional signage for "Historic Route 66" is a target of repeated theft by souvenir hunters. [36]

Delgadillo's Snow Cap Drive-In in Seligman, AZ. The eatery is still a popular tourist stop. Snow cap seligman.jpg
Delgadillo's Snow Cap Drive-In in Seligman, AZ. The eatery is still a popular tourist stop.

Various sections of the road itself have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Arroyo Seco Parkway in the Los Angeles Area and US 66 in New Mexico have been made into National Scenic Byways. Williams Historic Business District and Urban Route 66, Williams were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and 1989, respectively. In 2005, the State of Missouri made the road a state scenic byway from Illinois to Kansas. In the cities of Rancho Cucamonga, Rialto, and San Bernardino in California, there are US 66 signs erected along Foothill Boulevard, and also on Huntington Drive in the city of Arcadia. "Historic Route 66" signs may be found along the old route on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, San Dimas, La Verne, and along Foothill Boulevard in Claremont, California. The city of Glendora, California, renamed Alosta Avenue, its section of US 66, by calling it "Route 66". Flagstaff, Arizona, renamed all but a few blocks of Sante Fe Avenue as "Route 66"." Until 2017, when it was moved to the nearby Millennium Park, the annual June Chicago Blues Festival was held each year in Grant Park and included a "Route 66 Roadhouse" stage on Columbus Avenue, a few yards north of old US 66/Jackson Boulevard (both closed to traffic for the festival), and a block west of the route's former eastern terminus at US 41 Lake Shore Drive. [37] [38] Since 2001, Springfield, Illinois has annually held its "International Route 66 Mother Road Festival" in its downtown district surrounding the Old State Capitol. [39]

Many preservation groups have tried to save and even landmark the old motels and neon signs along the road in different states. [40]

In 1999, President Bill Clinton signed a National Route 66 Preservation Bill that provided for $10 million in matching fund grants for preserving and restoring the historic features along the route. [41]

In 2008, the World Monuments Fund added US 66 to the World Monuments Watch as sites along the route such as gas stations, motels, cafés, trading posts and drive-in movie theaters are threatened by development in urban areas and by abandonment and decay in rural areas. [42] The National Park Service developed a Route 66 Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary describing over one hundred individual historic sites. [43] As the popularity and mythical stature of US 66 has continued to grow, demands have begun to mount to improve signage, return US 66 to road atlases and revive its status as a continuous routing.

The U.S. Route 66 Recommissioning Initiative is a group that seeks to recertify US 66 as a US Highway along a combination of historic and modern alignments. [44] The group's redesignation proposal does not enjoy universal support, as requirements the route to meet modern US Highway system specifications could force upgrades that compromise its historic integrity or require US 66 signage be moved to Interstate highways for some portions of the route.

US 66 has been a fixture in popular culture. Pixar's 2006 animated film Cars describes the decline of a once-booming Radiator Springs, nearly a ghost town once its mother road, US 66, was bypassed by Interstate 40. [45] Pixar's creative director John Lasseter, inspired by what he saw during a cross-country road trip with his family in 2000, contacted road historian Michael Wallis who led the creative team down the still-drivable parts of the route as research for the film. The fictional Radiator Springs is based on multiple real places visited on the five-state research trip through Peach Springs, Arizona, Baxter Springs, Kansas, and countless small towns along the way. [46] The movie's success generated a resurgence of public interest in US 66. [47]

In 2018, the AASHTO designated the first sections of U.S. Bicycle Route 66, part of the United States Bicycle Route System, in Kansas and Missouri. [48]

National Museum of American History

The National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. has a section on US 66 in its "America on the Move" exhibition. In the exhibit is a portion of pavement of the route taken from Bridgeport, Oklahoma and a restored car and truck of the type that would have been driven on the road in the 1930s. Also on display is a "Hamons Court" neon sign that hung at a gas station and tourist cabins near Hydro, Oklahoma, a "CABINS" neon sign that pointed to Ring's Rest tourist cabins in Muirkirk, Maryland, as well as several post cards a traveler sent back to his future wife while touring the route. [49]

Museums and monuments in Oklahoma

Elk City, Oklahoma has the National Route 66 & Transportation Museum, which encompasses all eight states through which the Mother Road ran. [50] Clinton has the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, designed to display the iconic ideas, images, and myths of the Mother Road. [51] Tulsa has multiple sites, starting with the Cyrus Avery Centennial Plaza, located at the east end of the historic 11th Street Bridge over which the route passed, and which includes a giant sculpture weighing 20,000 pounds (9,100 kg) [52] called "East Meets West". The sculpture depicts the Avery family riding west in a Model T Ford meeting an eastbound horse-drawn carriage. [53] In 2020, Avery Plaza Southwest is scheduled to open, at the west end of the bridge, and should include replicas of three neon signs from Tulsa-area Route 66 motels from the era, being the Will Rogers Motor Court. Tulsa Auto Court, and the Oil Capital Motel. [54] Future plans for that site also include a Route 66 Interpretive Center. [55] Additionally, Tulsa has installed "Route 66 Rising," a 70-by-30-foot (21.3 by 9.1 m) sculpture on the road's eastern approach to town at East Admiral Place and Mingo Road. [56] A granite marker on Southwest Boulevard between W. 23rd and W. 24th Streets dedicated to Route 66 as the Will Rogers Highway features an image of namesake Will Rogers, and information on the route from Michael Wallis, author of Route 66: The Mother Road. [57] A memorial museum to the selfsame Will Rogers is located in Claremore, while his birthplace ranch is maintained in Oologah. [58] In Sapulpa, the Heart of Route 66 Auto Museum features a 66-foot-high (20 m) gas pump, the world's tallest. [59]

Route description

Over the years, US 66 received many nicknames. Right after US 66 was commissioned, it was known as "The Great Diagonal Way" because the Chicago-to-Oklahoma City stretch ran northeast to southwest. Later, US 66 was advertised by the U.S. Highway 66 Association as "The Main Street of America". The title had also been claimed by supporters of US 40, but the US 66 group was more successful. In the John Steinbeck novel The Grapes of Wrath , the highway is called "The Mother Road", its prevailing title today. [60] Lastly, US 66 was unofficially named "The Will Rogers Highway" by the U.S. Highway 66 Association in 1952, although a sign along the road with that name appeared in the John Ford film, The Grapes of Wrath, which was released in 1940, twelve years before the association gave the road that name. A plaque dedicating the highway to Will Rogers is still located in Santa Monica, California. There are more plaques like this; one can be found in Galena, Kansas. It was originally located on the Kansas-Missouri state line, but moved to the Howard Litch Memorial Park in 2001. [61]


The sign of US 66's western terminus at the Santa Monica Pier End of route 66 in santa monica.jpg
The sign of US 66's western terminus at the Santa Monica Pier

US 66 had its western terminus in California, and covered 315 miles (507 km) in the state. [62] The terminus was located at the Pacific Coast Highway, then US 101 Alternate and now SR 1, in Santa Monica, California. The highway ran through major cities such as Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino. San Bernardino also contains one of the two surviving Wigwam Motels along US 66. The highway had major intersections with US 101 in Hollywood, I-5 in Los Angeles, I-15, and I-40 in Barstow, and US 95 in Needles. It also ran concurrent to I-40 at California's very eastern end. [63]

US 66 marker on the corner of Navajo Boulevard and Hopi Drive in Holbrook, AZ Route 66 in Holbrook.JPG
US 66 marker on the corner of Navajo Boulevard and Hopi Drive in Holbrook, AZ


In Arizona, the highway originally covered 401 miles (645 km) in the state. Along much of the way, US 66 paralleled I-40. It entered across the Topock Gorge, passing through Oatman along the way to Kingman. [64] Between Kingman and Seligman, the route is still signed as SR 66. Notably, just between Seligman and Flagstaff, Williams was the last point on US 66 to be bypassed by an Interstate. The route also passed through the once-incorporated community of Winona. Holbrook contains one of the two surviving Wigwam Motels on the route. [65]

New Mexico

US 66 covered 380 miles (610 km) in the state and passed through many Indian reservations in the western half of New Mexico. [66] East of those reservations, the highway passed through Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Las Vegas. As in Arizona, in New Mexico, U.S. 66 paralleled I-40. [67]


The Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, TX, at the midpoint of the route US66 midpoint cafe Adrian TX.jpg
The Midpoint Café in Adrian, TX, at the midpoint of the route

US 66 covered 178 miles (286 km) in the Texas Panhandle, travelling in an east–west line between Glenrio, New Mexico and Texas and Texola, Oklahoma. [68] Adrian, in the western Panhandle, was notable as the midpoint of the route. East of there, the highway passed through Amarillo, famous for the Cadillac Ranch, Conway, Groom, and Shamrock.

Oklahoma and Kansas

The highway covered 267 miles (430 km) in Oklahoma. Today, it is marked by I-40 west of Oklahoma City, and SH-66 east of there. After entering at Texola, US 66 passed through Sayre, and Elk City before entering Oklahoma City. [69] Beyond Oklahoma City, the highway passed through Edmond on its way to Tulsa. Past there, US 66 passed through northeastern Oklahoma before entering Kansas where it covered only 13.2 miles (21.2 km). [70] Only three towns are located on the route in Kansas: Galena, Riverton and Baxter Springs.


US 66 covered 292 miles (470 km) in Missouri. Upon entering from Galena, Kansas, the highway passed through Joplin. From there, it passed through Carthage, Springfield, where Red's Giant Hamburg, the world's first drive-thru stands, Waynesville, Devils Elbow, and Rolla before passing through St. Louis. [71]


US 66 covered 301 miles (484 km) in Illinois. It entered Illinois in East St. Louis after crossing the Mississippi River. Near there, it passed by Cahokia Mounds, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The highway then passed through Hamel, Springfield, passing by the Illinois State Capitol, Bloomington-Normal, Pontiac, and Gardner. [72] It then entered the Chicago area. After passing through the suburbs, U.S. 66 entered Chicago itself, where it terminated at Lake Shore Drive. [73]

Special routes

Several alternate alignments of US 66 occurred because of traffic issues. Business routes (BUS), bypass routes (BYP), alternate routes (ALT), and "optional routes" (OPT) (an early designation for alternate routes) came into being.

American pop-culture artists publicized US 66 and the experience, through song and television. Bobby Troup wrote "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66", and the highway lent its name to a TV series in the 1960s. [74]

Other appearances in popular culture include:

See also

Related Research Articles

Interstate 44 Interstate mostly in Oklahoma and Missouri

Interstate 44 (I-44) is a major Interstate Highway in the central United States. Although it is nominally an east-west road as it is even-numbered, it follows a more southwest-northeast alignment. Its western terminus is in Wichita Falls, Texas at a concurrency with U.S. Route 277 (US 277), US 281, and U.S. Route 287 in Texas; its eastern terminus is at I-70 in St. Louis, Missouri. I-44 is one of five interstates built to bypass U.S. Route 66; this highway covers the section between Oklahoma City and St. Louis.

Interstate 72 (I-72) is an Interstate Highway in the midwestern United States. Its western terminus is in Hannibal, Missouri, at an intersection with U.S. Route 61; its eastern terminus is at Country Fair Drive in Champaign, Illinois. The route runs through the major cities of Decatur, Illinois and Springfield, Illinois. In 2006, the Illinois General Assembly dedicated all of Interstate 72 as Purple Heart Memorial Highway. The stretch between Springfield and Decatur is also called Penny Severns Memorial Expressway, and the section between Mile 35 and the Mississippi River is known as the Free Frank McWorter Historic Highway.

U.S. Route 75 highway in the United States

U.S. Route 75 is a major north–south U.S. Highway that extends 1,239 miles (1,994 km) in the central United States. The highway's northern terminus is in Noyes, Minnesota, at the Canada–US border, where it once continued as Manitoba Highway 75 on the other side of the now-closed border crossing. Its southern terminus is at Interstate 30 and Interstate 45 in Dallas, where it is known as North Central Expressway.

U.S. Route 60 highway in the United States

U.S. Route 60 or U.S. Highway 60 (US 60) is an east–west major United States highway, traveling 2,670 mi (4,300 km) from southwestern Arizona to the Atlantic coast in Virginia. Despite the final "0" in its number, indicating a transcontinental designation, the 1926 route formerly ended in Springfield, Missouri, at its intersection with the majorly famous and now defunct US 66. In fact, US 66 was almost given the US 60 number.

U.S. Route 160 highway in the United States

U.S. Route 160 (US 160) is a 1,465 mile (2,358 km) long east–west United States highway in the Midwestern and Western United States. The western terminus of the route is at US 89 five miles (8 km) west of Tuba City, Arizona. The eastern terminus is at US 67 and Missouri 158 southwest of Poplar Bluff, Missouri.

U.S. Route 166 (US 166) is a 164-mile (264 km) west–east United States highway. This route and US-266 are the only two remaining spurs of historic U.S. Route 66, since US-666 was renumbered to US-491 in 2003.

U.S. Route 54 highway in the United States

U.S. Route 54 is an east–west United States highway that runs northeast-southwest for 1,197 miles (2,115 km) from Griggsville, Illinois to El Paso, Texas. It enters and leaves Texas twice. The Union Pacific Railroad's Tucumcari Line runs parallel to US-54 from El Paso to Pratt, Kansas, which comprises about two-thirds of the route.

Oklahoma State Highway 66 highway in Oklahoma

State Highway 66 is a 192.7-mile (310.1 km) state highway in the U.S. state of Oklahoma, beginning at U.S. Highway 81 in El Reno and ending at U.S. Highway 60 near White Oak. The highway was designated in 1985 as a replacement for the decommissioned US-66. Although most of the highway follows Historic Route 66, the highway follows US-66's final alignment, joining Interstate 44 through Tulsa and Oklahoma City, while older versions of the route follow various city streets through both cities.

The U.S. Highway 66 Association was organized in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1927. Its purpose was to get U.S. Highway 66 paved from end to end and to promote tourism on the highway.

Cyrus Stevens Avery (1871–1963) was known as the "Father of Route 66". He created the route while a member of the federal board appointed to create the Federal Highway System, then pushed for the establishment of the U.S. Highway 66 Association to pave and promote the highway.

U.S. Highway associations were organizations to promote business and tourism along specific highways. The earliest ones also worked on interconnecting various state highways to create longer, multi-state highways. Since 1990, new associations have formed for preservation of historic highways.

U.S. Route 66 is a former east–west United States Numbered Highway, running from Santa Monica, California to Chicago, Illinois. In Missouri, the highway ran from downtown St. Louis at the Mississippi River to the Kansas state line west of Joplin. The highway was originally Route 14 from St. Louis to Joplin and Route 1F from Joplin to Kansas. It underwent two major realignments and several lesser realignments in the cities of St. Louis, Springfield, and Joplin. Current highways covering several miles of the former highway include Route 100, Route 366, Route 266, Route 96, and Route 66. Interstate 44 (I-44) approximates much of US 66 between St. Louis and Springfield.

The historic U.S. Route 66, also known as the Will Rogers Highway after Oklahoma native Will Rogers, ran from west to northeast across the state of Oklahoma, along the path now taken by Interstate 40 (I-40) and State Highway 66 (SH-66). It passed through Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and many smaller communities. West of the Oklahoma City area, it has been largely replaced by I-40; the few independent portions that are still state-maintained are now I-40 Business. However, from Oklahoma City northeast to Kansas, the bypassing I-44 is mostly a toll road, and SH-66 remains as a free alternate.

Interstate 55 (I-55) is a major north–south Interstate Highway in the U.S. state of Illinois that connects the St. Louis, Missouri, and Chicago metropolitan areas. It enters the state from Missouri on the Poplar Street Bridge near East St. Louis and runs to U.S. Route 41 near downtown Chicago where the highway ends, a distance of 294.38 miles (473.76 km). The Road also runs through the cities of Springfield, Bloomington, and Joliet. The section in DuPage County is officially named Joliet Freeway or Will Rogers Freeway and in Cook County is officially named the Stevenson Expressway.

Interstate 40 (I-40) is an east–west Interstate Highway that has a 359.11-mile (577.93 km) section in the U.S. state of Arizona, connecting sections in California and New Mexico. The section throughout Arizona is also known as the Purple Heart Trail. It enters Arizona from the west at a crossing of the Colorado River southwest of Kingman. It travels eastward across the northern portion of the state connecting the cities of Kingman, Ash Fork, Williams, Flagstaff, Winslow, and Holbrook. I-40 continues into New Mexico, heading to Albuquerque. The highway has major junctions with U.S. Route 93 — the main highway connecting Phoenix and Las Vegas, Nevada — in Kingman and again approximately 22 miles (35 km) to the east, and Interstate 17 — the freeway linking Phoenix to northern Arizona — in Flagstaff.

Interstate 40 in New Mexico highway in New Mexico

Interstate 40 (I-40), a major east–west route of the Interstate Highway System, runs east–west through Albuquerque in the U.S. state of New Mexico. It is the direct replacement for the historic U.S. Highway 66 (US 66).

There have been 22 special routes of U.S. Route 66.

Interstate business routes are roads connecting a central or commercial district of a city or town with an Interstate bypass. These roads typically follow along local streets often along a former U.S. route or state highway that had been replaced by an Interstate. Interstate business route reassurance markers are signed as either loops or spurs using a green shield shaped and numbered like the shield of the parent Interstate highway.



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Works cited

  • Arizona Highways. July 1981. ISSN   0004-1521.Missing or empty |title= (help) Entire issue about Route 66.
  • Dedek, Peter B. (2007). Hip to the Trip: A Cultural History of Route 66. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN   9780826341945.
  • Freeth, Nick (2001). Route 66. St. Paul, MN: MBI Publishing. ISBN   978-0-7603-0864-6.
  • Kelly, Susan Croce (2014). Father of Route 66: The Story of Cy Avery. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN   978-0-806-14778-9.
  • Krim, Arthur; Wood, Denis (2005). Route 66: Iconography of the American Highway (1st ed.). Sante Fe, NM: Center for American Places. ISBN   9781930066359.
  • Mahar, Lisa (2002). American Signs: Form and Meaning on Route 66. New York: Monacelli Press. ISBN   9781580931199.
  • Rittenhouse, Jack D. (1989) [1946]. A Guide Book to Highway 66. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN   978-0-8263-1148-1.
  • Schneider, Jill (1991). Route 66 Across New Mexico: A Wanderer's Guide. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN   978-0-8263-1280-8.
  • Scott, Quinta; Kelly, Susan Croce (1988). Route 66: A Highway and Its People. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN   978-0-8061-2291-5.
  • Tremeear, Janice (2013). Illinois' Haunted Route 66. History Press. ISBN   978-1-626-19252-2.
  • Wallis, Michael (2001). Route 66: The Mother Road. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN   978-0-312-28167-0.

Further reading

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