Route 66 Nicknames

Last updated on December 5th, 2023 at 12:05 pm

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William Shakespeare once said, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But what about a road instead of a rose? Route 66 is definitely a sweet road to drive, no matter which of the menagerie of Route 66 nicknames you choose to call it.

Route 66 was a historic U.S. highway established in 1926. Stretching from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California, it covered approximately 2,448 miles across eight states (Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California). Route 66 played a pivotal role in American history, facilitating westward migration during the Dust Bowl era and serving as a vital trade route. In the mid-20th century, it became an iconic symbol of American road trips, thanks in part to popular culture references in songs and movies. However, with the construction of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s, Route 66 gradually lost its prominence and was officially decommissioned in 1985.

Without even getting into actual nicknames, there are many ways to refer to the route: U.S. Route 66, U.S. Highway 66, US 66, or, plain and simply Route 66. But if you’re looking for more ways to refer to the most famous highway in the world, here is a list of the most popular Route 66 nicknames and how they came to be.

Route 66 Nicknames

Will Rogers Highway Sign on Route 66

Will Rogers Highway

While Route 66 has many unofficial nicknames, Will Rogers Highway is an official one.

Route 66 is often called the “Will Rogers Highway” in honor of the beloved American entertainer and humorist, Will Rogers. He was known for his wit and wisdom during the early 20th century and spent much of his youth in and around Route 66 communities. Rogers was a strong advocate for highway improvement and travel. After his tragic death in a plane crash in 1935, a portion of Route 66 was dedicated to him in an official co-designation by the U.S. Highway 66 Association.

John Steinbeck The Mother ROad Route 66 Quote at the Arizona Route 66 Museum in Kingman, Arizona - Route 66 Nicknames

The Mother Road

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1939 novel “The Grapes of Wrath,” John Steinbeck tells the story of Dust Bowl migrants of the 1930s. In the book he devoted an entire chapter to Route 66, and ended up giving it a whole new name. In a passage he used the term “mother road” to describe the path that so many people affected by the Great Depression took west. The moniker stuck and today “The Mother Road” is probably the most well known of the Route 66 nicknames.

66 is the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership, from the desert’s slow northward invasion, from the twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from the floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there. From all of these the people are in flight, and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road, the road of flight.

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck The Mother ROad Route 66 Quote at the Arizona Route 66 Museum in Kingman, Arizona - Route 66 Nicknames - Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma

The Main Street of America

Route 66 is also known as “The Main Street of America.” It earned this moniker due to its central role in American transportation and culture. The road connected countless small towns and businesses across the country, making it a symbol of American small-town life. As it wove its way through the spattering of small towns between Chicago and Los Angeles it often became the main street in town, where shops, businesses, restaurants, and motels thrived. Route 66 endures as a nostalgic symbol of exploration and adventure, forever etching its status as the quintessential “Main Street” of the United States.

The Most Famous Highway in the World

Route 66 is often dubbed “The Most Famous Highway in the World.” It earned this distinction due to its legendary status in American and global culture. The route’s prominence during the Dust Bowl migration and its portrayal in popular songs and films made it an enduring symbol of American adventure. The international appeal of Route 66’s open road, quirky landmarks, and sense of freedom has made it a bucket-list destination for travelers worldwide. Despite its decommissioning in 1985, Route 66 remains an iconic emblem of exploration and the American road trip. It just might be “The Most Famous Highway in the World.”

The Road of Dreams

Route 66 is often referred to as “The Road of Dreams.” It acquired this title due to its role as a symbol of hope and opportunity during the Great Depression. This iconic highway, stretching from Chicago to Los Angeles, represented a path to a brighter future for countless Americans seeking jobs and prosperity in the West as they attempted to escape the Dust Bowl and find a beter life in California. Immortalized in literature, music, and film, Route 66 embodied the pursuit of the American Dream. Its rich history, captivating landscapes, and cultural significance continue to inspire dreams of adventure and exploration, making Route 66 a cherished route for those yearning to embark on a journey of discovery and possibility and “The Road of Dreams” a Route 66 nickname that is as apt as ever today.

The Great Diagonal Way

When US 66 was first commissioned, it was known as “The Great Diagonal Way.” It earned this name to its unique diagonal path connecting Chicago to Oklahoma City stretch, which ran northeast to southwest.

Bloody 66

A more sinister nickname Route 66 has taken on is “Bloody 66.” Bloody 66 was a colloquial nickname for Route 66 during its early years, primarily due to the challenging and perilous conditions travelers faced. In the early 20th century, the road was often unpaved, narrow, and poorly maintained. This led to accidents, fatalities, and a reputation for being treacherous. Over time, road improvements and safety measures reduced its dangers, but still, the legend of “Bloody 66” lives on.

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Last modified: December 5, 2023
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