In the late 1920s, Americans were rolling in success. The stock market was skyrocketing to record levels, radio was emerging from a curiosity to a major medium and automobile ownership was reaching an all-time high. The stock market crash was months away and times were good.
Everyone knew what the Lincoln Highway was and where it ran, but it was no longer officially known as "The Lincoln Highway." The US Bureau of Public Roads had eliminated named trails and highways in 1925, and the Lincoln Highway was supposed to be known as US 1, US 30, US 40, US 50 and other, less-romantic, state highway numbers. With little left to do, the old Lincoln Highway Association ceased operations at the close of 1927.
One of the last actions of the Lincoln Highway Association before it closed, was to order the casting of 3,000 concrete markers, to dedicate the highway to the memory of Abraham Lincoln. A rectangular head on top of a hexagonal shaped post, the markers featured the Lincoln Highway logo, a bronze medallion and arrows to indicate the route of the memorial highway. The US Bureau of Public Roads allowed the placement of these markers along the length of the old highway.
The markers were built to last. The posts are reinforced with steel rebar. The colors in the logo are actually separate pieces of cast concrete, with the color added, that were inserted into the final casting. The bronze medallions are anchored into the concrete and cannot be removed without destroying them.
A Lincoln Highway Marker in Mount Vernon, Iowa
On September 1, 1928 at 9:00 AM, the markers were placed by Boy Scout troops, all across the country. (Since the markers weigh over 220 pounds each, it is likely that parents helped out on the project.) In the sparsely populated western states, county highway crews placed the markers at a later date. 2,436 markers were actually placed, the position of each marker was determined by a plan laid out by Gael Hoag, Field Secretary of the Lincoln Highway Association. It is assumed that extras were cast as replacements or set aside for future route improvements. No one seems to know what happened to the extra markers.
After more than 75 years since their placement, some markers remain at their original positions, but not many. Others have been relocated. Many are gone, lost forever to road enhancements, neglect, or indifference on the part of local highway departments that were entrusted with their care.
Still others are in the hands of private collectors. Some have been moved into museums, others have been placed in positions of honor in Lincoln Highway towns across the country.
There is so much interest in the markers that reproductions are being cast and sold. Some reproduction markers are in place on the Lincoln Highway and others are on display in private collections or being used in special displays.
Of the markers in original position, many are at risk. One of the western-most markers is located in San Francisco, on California Street. The marker faces California Street. The primary cross street is Park Presidio (State Route 1). However, the marker is actually closer to the next cross street, 14th Avenue. It is a frequent target of vandals and has been tagged numerous times but through the tireless efforts of Lincoln Highway enthusiasts, it remains cleaned. Some reproduction markers have not fared better.
Reproduction markers, part of a historical marker in Nebraska, have had the bronze medallions ripped out and stolen. Others have been stolen entirely.
The Lincoln Highway Association would like to find original markers, especially those in the hands of collectors. Many are languishing in garages and basements, where they are doing nothing for anyone.
If you have one or more of these wonderful markers, or know someone who does, the Lincoln Highway Association would encourage you to donate it to us or to an interested museum on the route of the Lincoln Highway, so it can be restored to its original grandeur and position it in a place of honor. Perhaps collectors would bequeath their markers to the Lincoln Highway Association. Either way, your donation is tax deductible and will help preserve the Lincoln Highway for future generations.
Visit the website of the Lincoln Highway Association
Author's Note: This essay first appeared on the official website of the Lincoln Highway Association.
-- J.R. Manning