Cyrus Avery

Cyrus Avery

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.


Early life and move to Oklahoma

He was born in Stevensville, Pennsylvania on August 31, 1871. He and his parents, Alexander James Avery and Ruie Stevens Avery moved to Missouri in 1881.[1] In 1893, he enrolled in William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, where he earned a Bachelor's degree in 1897.[2] He married Essie McClelland after graduation,[3] then moved to Oklahoma City to be an insurance agent. In 1904, he moved to Vinita in Indian Territory, where he expanded into real estate loans and invested in the oil industry, establishing the Avery Oil & Gas Company.[1] In 1907, he moved again to Tulsa.

Avery and the creation of a national highway system

Interest in highway systems

Avery realized that an interstate system of highways would help his adopted city and state prosper. He became impressed with the Good Roads Movement going on in Missouri and joined the Oklahoma Good Roads Association. He also served as president of the Albert Pike Highway Association from 1917 to 1927.[1] He was elected chairman of the Tulsa County Commission and began pushing for a state-wide improvement of roads. He eventually became involved in the creation of the Ozarks Trails, a system of roads connecting St. Louis and Amarillo, Texas. After working with creating more roads, he was elected president of the Associated Highway Associations of America. In 1923, he was appointed to the Oklahoma State Highway Commission, where he implemented a gasoline tax to fund the highway department.[1]

He became instrumental in pushing for a federal level of good roads. In 1925, the United States Secretary of Agriculture appointed him to the Joint Board of Interstate Highways, which was to designate the new federal highways and mark them.[1]

One of the routes requested by Congress was a road running from Virginia Beach, Virginia to Los Angeles, California. This road would follow what is now U.S. Highway 60 from Virginia Beach to Springfield, Missouri, continue west to Joplin, across southern Kansas, Colorado, Utah, turning south to Las Vegas, Nevada, then further south and west to Los Angeles. Avery successfully argued that to avoid the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains, the road should turn south through Tulsa and Oklahoma City, continue west across the Texas Panhandle, New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California. His suggestion that this highway should go east from Springfield to St. Louis and Chicago, Illinois, as commerce naturally continued in that direction, was also adopted.

After the highways were routed, the group decided not to name the highways (as had been done by many non-profit groups which were currently connecting various state routes into longer multi-state and transcontinental routes), but instead to follow the pattern of numbering the highways, as established in Wisconsin and Missouri. The current east-west routes would be even numbers, and the north-south would be odd. Major routes would be one- or two-digit numbers ending in either "1" or "0" depending on the route. To avoid a "U.S. 0", U.S. Highway 2 was treated as a "0" highway and U.S. Route 101 would be treated as a two-digit highway to expand the number of available routes north-south. Avery, arguing that the Chicago to Los Angeles route would be a major highway, numbered the highway US 60. This received support from Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, and Missouri. It was outright attacked by a delegation from Kentucky.

U.S. 60 vs. U.S. 62

The Virginia Beach–Springfield route had been designated as U.S. 62 and actually terminated south of Ozark, Missouri at U.S. Highway 65. Kentucky would be the only state without a "0" highway. They countered Avery's US route by pushing for US 60 to run between Virginia Beach and Los Angeles; the Springfield to Chicago section could be "U.S. 60 North". Avery returned with "U.S. 60 South" for the Springfield–Virginia Beach alignment. Kentucky threated to walk completely out of the new highway system (individual states could not be forced to participate in it). Finally, Kentucky offered a compromise: connect their highway with Avery's in Springfield and give their highway the number 60. Avery could have his Chicago–Los Angeles highway if he would accept the number 62 which was originally assigned to their road. Avery disliked the number 62, found out 66 was not used, and designated the Chicago–Los Angeles highway as U.S. 66. In 1926, the Federal Highway System was approved by Congress. With this done, Congress also de-certified all the old "association" highways.

Avery and the U.S. 66 Association

In 1927, Avery pushed for the creation of the U.S. Highway 66 Association to promote paving U.S. 66 and promote travel on the highway. He got a business connection in Springfield (MO) appointed as president. In the 1930s, Avery would attempt to have himself elected president of the organization, but he never succeeded.


Avery died in California on July 2, 1963,[1] and was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Tulsa.[4] Avery Drive, a street in southwest Tulsa, was named for him.[2]

In 1997, the National Historic Route 66 Federation established a Cyrus Avery Award, which has been presented variously to individuals for outstanding creativity in depicting Route 66 [4], and to organizations for noteworthy preservation projects [5].

In 2004, the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma renamed the Eleventh Street Bridge (which carried US 66 over the Arkansas River), the Cyrus Avery Route 66 Memorial Bridge in his honor.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Everett, Dianna. Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture: Cyrus Stevens Avery. Retrieved July 25, 2011.[1]
  2. ^ a b "History of Southwest Tulsa." Chapter Seven:Historic Route 66. Available on Google Books.
  3. ^ "The Father of Route 66." Retrieved July 24, 2011.[2]
  4. ^ "Find a grave: Cyrus Stevens Avery."Retrieved July 24, 2011.
  5. ^ "Cyrus Stevens Avery Timeline."Accessed July 23, 2011.[3]

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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