We are fast approaching Memorial Day Weekend, the busiest travel weekend of the year. Thousands of Montanans will load up their family car and jump onto the highways of Montana for a little spring adventure. Over the last century, highways and interstates have become a way of life. But that certainly wasn’t always the case.

In the 1880s bicyclists were the first to push Congress for hard-surfaced roads in America. The cause was also championed by automobile drivers in the early 1900s. Auto drivers not only wanted hard roads, they also pressured Congress for long-distance roads.

Initially, Congress had no interest in building cross-country roads, why would they? They had railroads.

The ‘good-road’ movement had to convince the railroad owners that good roads would make it easier to get products to and from railheads. It took some doing, but the railroad owners agreed and helped pressure Congress.

What became Highway 87. From Great Falls to Havre.
What became Highway 87. From Great Falls to Havre.

By the end of 1913, Montana had established a State Highway Commission. But road construction was slow. Severe drought and economic depression struck in 1918, and by the end of the 1920s, Montana still had some of the worst roads in America.

“The Roads of Montana are, I believe, the poorest of any state in the Union. Even the glorious scenery of the Rockies can’t entirely make up for the ruts, chug-holes, mud, and detours- to say nothing of broken springs or stone-bruised tires.” – Hoffman Birney, Roads to Roam (1930)

By 1926, there was only one stretch of highway that was fully paved in Montana.

That was from Butte to Anaconda. (You only get one guess why)

Roads in Montana, 1926.
Roads in Montana, 1926.

By 1928 there were approximately 50 miles of highways paved in Montana and by the end of the 1930s, Montana had over 7,200 miles of paved roads (as well as 1360 sturdy, new bridges.)

And I believe all of those 1360 bridges are being worked on as we speak! Have a wonderful, and safe Memorial Day weekend.

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