This Week in History: June 26, 1956

interstate highway

Congress Approves Federal Highway Act

On this day in 1956, the U.S. Congress approves the Federal Highway Act, which allocates more than $30 billion for the construction of some 41,000 miles of interstate highways; it will be the largest public construction project in U.S. history to that date.

Among the pressing questions involved in passing highway legislation were where exactly the highways should be built, and how much of the cost should be carried by the federal government versus the individual states. Several competing bills went through Congress before 1956, including plans spearheaded by the retired general and engineer Lucius D. Clay; Senator Albert Gore Sr.; and Rep. George H. Fallon, who called his program the “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways,” thus linking the construction of highways with the preservation of a strong national defense.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower had first realized the value of a national system of roads after participating in the U.S. Army’s first transcontinental motor convoy in 1919; during World War II, he had admired Germany’s autobahn network. In January 1956, Eisenhower called in his State of the Union address (as he had in 1954) for a “modern, interstate highway system.” Later that month, Fallon introduced a revised version of his bill as the Federal Highway Act of 1956. It provided for a 65,000-km national system of interstate and defense highways to be built over 13 years, with the federal government paying for 90 percent, or $24.8 billion. To raise funds for the project, Congress would increase the gas tax from two to three cents per gallon and impose a series of other highway user tax changes. On June 26, 1956, the Senate approved the final version of the bill by a vote of 89 to 1; Senator Russell Long, who opposed the gas tax increase, cast the single “no” vote. That same day, the House approved the bill by a voice vote, and three days later, Eisenhower signed it into law.

Highway construction began almost immediately, employing tens of thousands of workers and billions of tons of gravel and asphalt. The system fueled a surge in the interstate trucking industry, which soon pushed aside the railroads to gain the lion’s share of the domestic shipping market. Interstate highway construction also fostered the growth of roadside businesses such as restaurants (often fast-food chains), hotels and amusement parks. By the 1960s, an estimated one in seven Americans was employed directly or indirectly by the automobile industry, and America had become a nation of drivers.

Legislation has extended the Interstate Highway Revenue Act three times, and it is remembered by many historians as Eisenhower’s greatest domestic achievement. On the other side of the coin, critics of the system have pointed to its less positive effects, including the loss of productive farmland and the demise of small businesses and towns in more isolated parts of the country.

History.com, “Congress approves Federal Highway Act”, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/congress-approves-federal-highway-act

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This Week in History: June 21, 1834

Cyrus McCormick

Cyrus McCormick Patents a Better Reaper

Cyrus Hall McCormick was born in Virginia in 1809; his father, Robert, was something of a tinkerer himself. Early mechanical reapers appeared in England around 1800, and inventors in Europe and the United States continued to explore new possibilities. Robert McCormick experimented with a reaper and gave it to his son, Cyrus, in 1831. After making improvements, the younger McCormick patented his new reaper in 1834. Although Cyrus McCormick left the farm machine business for a few years, his reaper, which would come to transform agriculture in the Trans-Appalachian West, hit the market in 1840. Between his own workshop in Virginia and some contractors in Cincinnati, Ohio, McCormick turned out 150 reapers in 1845. McCormick realized that a factory in the Midwest could significantly increase sales, so in 1847 he and a partner built a factory in Chicago. They manufactured 500 mechanical reapers there in 1848.

It is important to realize that Cyrus McCormick was not the only inventor of the new reaper. In fact, Obed Hussey patented his first reaper a year before McCormick and remained his main competitor for years. There were other competitors as well, making McCormick’s patents difficult to protect. McCormick repeatedly went to court to protect a variety of patents. Despite these legal obstacles, by 1850 McCormick had produced more than 1,600 reapers and had captured 50 percent of the American market. During the 1850s, while the number of reapers he produced increased as a result of continuous demand, his market share declined. By 1865 McCormick possessed only 5 percent of the reaper market. Indeed, new competitors were inventing and producing better machines more rapidly. Still, the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company continued to compete in the last half of the nineteenth century. When Cyrus died in 1884, his son Cyrus Jr. took charge of the business. In 1902 the McCormicks and other large producers of mechanical reapers merged to create a giant firm known as International Harvester.

Vast changes in Western agriculture followed the development of the McCormick reaper and other new machines. Since the number of acres a farmer could harvest rose dramatically, farms in the West became increasingly larger. As with all technological change, some Americans were hurt by these developments. Poorer farming families often found they could not compete with wealthier commercial farmers. Less reliance on human hands pushed many agricultural laborers into the nation’s urban factories. The ecological consequences eventually included soil erosion and the transformation of the American prairies into areas of comparatively little biodiversity. Before 1860 such concerns were not yet apparent to many Americans, and the nation instead celebrated the rise of seemingly efficient large-scale farming.

McCormick, Cyrus (1809–1884). (1997). In American Eras (Vol. 6, pp. 111-112). Detroit: Gale. Retrieved from http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX2536601172/GVRL?u=lcpls&sid=GVRL&xid=064cde71

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This Week in History: June 12, 1979

MacCready-Gossamer-Albatross-Inflight

First Human Powered Flight across the English Channel

Shortly after dawn one day last week, a strange contraption teetered down a quay below the chalky cliffs at Folkestone, England. It looked like a giant dragonfly, with diaphanous wings spreading 96 ft. (2 1/2 ft. more than a DC-9’s) above skeletal workings of a bicycle: a seat, pedals and a chain that powered a plastic propeller. Inside the translucent shell of the 75-lb. flying machine sat 140-lb. Bryan Allen, 26, a bespectacled bean pole from Tulare, Calif., garbed in running shorts and leather cycling shoes, plastic crash helmet, a red life jacket around his bare chest.

Just 2 hrs. and 49 min. later, Allen and his Gossamer Albatross touched down on a beach at Cap Gris-Nez, France, 23 watery miles away. Only last August, three Americans had landed in a Normandy wheat field after the world’s first transatlantic voyage in a helium balloon. Allen’s odyssey was far shorter, but every bit as impressive, perhaps more so. The flight earned not only the coveted $210,000 prize offered by British Industrialist Henry Kremer but also a niche in aviation history for the first muscle-powered flight across the English Channel.

The feat was an inspirational diversion from more serious matters. TRIUMPH OF THE PEDALER OF THE SKY, said Paris’ France-Soir. THE REVENGE OF IC-ARUS, judged Communist L’Humanite. One British cartoonist showed a Frenchman exclaiming, as Gossamer Albatross approached: “Mon dieu, there really must be a petrol shortage in England.” U.S. Ambassador in London Kingman Brewster could not resist telling a jammed post-flight press conference: “Some have said this is the most constructive solution to the energy crisis we’ve seen.”

The brains behind Albatross was designer Paul MacCready, 53, an aeronautical engineer from Pasadena, Calif. His foot still in a cast from a jogging accident a few weeks ago, MacCready mused about his fragile bird: “It’s a specialized thing, so large, so flimsy, in order to be low-powered enough for man to propel, but it certainly does alter one’s perspective of what man is capable of, both in design and actual powering of things.”

For MacCready, a glider pilot who became America’s first international soaring champion in 1956, the triumph was a reprise. Two years ago, another of his pedal-powered craft, Gossamer Condor, completed a 1.15-mile, figure-eight course in Shafter, Calif., to win an $86,000 Kremer prize that had eluded aeronautical designers for nearly two decades. Condor, which was also piloted by Allen, now rests in the Smithsonian Institution.

Odyssey Of The Albatross A Yank pedals over the English Channel in a space-age bike. Time, 0040781X, 6/25/1979, Vol. 113, Issue 26  http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edb&AN=53524883&site=eds-live

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This Week in History: June 7, 1769

Daniel Boone

Daniel Boone Sees Present Day Kentucky

On June 7, 1769, frontiersman Daniel Boone first saw the forests and valleys of present-day Kentucky. For more than a century, Kentucky has celebrated June 7 as “Boone Day.”

Born on November 2, 1734, in Berks County, Pennsylvania, Daniel Boone spent much of his youth hunting and trapping on the North Carolina frontier. By the late 1760s, Boone had ventured into the Cumberland Gap region, which was little known to white people. Although the westward opening in the Appalachian Mountains had been identified by Virginian explorer Thomas Walker in 1750, the French and Indian War discouraged exploration and settlement of the Kentucky territory. After the war, lacking the manpower or resources to protect their empire’s trans-Appalachian frontier, the British prohibited westward migration. Boone was among the many settlers who ignored the Crown’s ban.

In 1775, Boone worked with Richard Henderson’s Transylvania Company to establish a trail through the Cumberland Gap. With some thirty associates, he constructed the Wilderness Road, which soon became white settlers’ primary route to the West. Just months after its completion, Boone’s wife and daughters traveled the new thoroughfare to the new settlement of Boonesborough, becoming the first Anglo-American women to settle in Kentucky.

During the Revolutionary War, Kentucky was organized as a Virginia county and Daniel Boone served as captain in the local militia. The settlers feared both the Indians and their British allies. Captured by the Shawnee in 1778, Boone escaped in time to warn Boonesborough residents of an impending attack, enabling the settlement to survive.

Although a brave man and respected leader, the frontiersman failed to capitalize on his adventures. In his seventies, Boone made a final attempt to profit from his career as a trailblazer. He petitioned the U.S. Congress for land grants in recognition for his having “been greatly instrumental in opening the road to civilization in the immense territories now attached to the United States.” An explorer and hunter to the end, Daniel Boone died in St. Charles County, Missouri, in 1820, secure in his place in history as the nation’s archetypal hero of the frontier.

Library of Congress, Today in History “Daniel Boone” , https://www.loc.gov/item/today-in-history/june-07?loclr=eatod

 

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