If I asked you what the largest public works project in America was, my guess is you might answer the Hoover Dam. Others might say the Golden Gate Bridge. Still others, Mount Rushmore. All of these, while impressive in their own right…are wrong answers. The largest public works project in America was the Interstate Highway System. After Dwight D. Eisenhower became president in 1953, his administration developed a proposal for an interstate highway system, eventually resulting in the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956.
Unlike other transportation systems in other parts of the world, these Interstates were designed to be an all-freeway system, with unified standards for construction and signage. Unified standards include odd numbered highways run north-south and even numbers running east-west. Costing over $114 billion (equivalent to $535 billion in today’s dollars), the total length of the System is 48,756 miles and more is added when deemed necessary as communities and commerce continue to expand. Construction started in August of 1956 and was deemed completed in 1992.
And with that, Eisenhower ushered in an unprecedented boom in American commerce. Upon development of a highway through a town or city, many things began to happen. For one, gas stations started popping up all over the place. As did restaurants, hotels and shopping centers. Someone who lived in Michigan could now visit friends and family what lived in Florida by hopping in their car and traveling down I-75. With each passing mile, spending money on food, gas, lodging and amenities. Too, these roads needed policed, which gave way to hiring over a thousand Highway Patrol officers. These Officers get paid a wage, which they spend on their family and needs. They also have to put gas in their cruisers. Not to speak of the fact that vehicles do break down. So, auto service stations, tow trucks, and tire repair centers all began to pop up everywhere along these highways. All compounding to one of the largest wealth creation systems in American history.
Yet, if you weren’t paying attention, it all happened without you knowing it. Estimates reveal that the Interstate Highway System contributed over $1.1 trillion in US GDP (Gross Domestic Product, a measure of economic impact) in 2021 alone. And it’s impact on you? Ultimately, the System reduces manufacturing and distribution costs in our large domestic market due to transportation efficiencies. This, in turn, lowers prices and makes US products more competitive in world markets. This increases employment and allows US citizens to purchase more with their earnings.
All of this started with a vision of President Eisenhower. In 1919, the US Army sent an expedition across the US to determine the difficulties that military vehicles would encounter on a cross country trip. Just 28 years old at the time, Eisenhower accompanied the trip. On it, he saw that it would be virtually impossible to defend our borders appropriately with the harshness of the makeshift roads they had to traverse from Washington DC to San Francisco Bay. When he became President, he sought to rectify the situation he observed as a young Army veteran. He believed in the System, not so much for commerce, but as a way to truly defend and protect this great nation. If military forces needed to gather at our western border, he wanted an efficient and paved pathway for our entire National Defense to be able to get there quickly. The unintended, but beneficial outcome, was the opening of commerce throughout this great nation and a wellspring of opportunity and wealth creation that dawned from sea to shining sea.
The US became a role model of infrastructure to other emerging nations across the globe. The System was shared and studied by many other developing economies, and they implemented their own interstate highways to achieve the same results.
Unintended consequences. The System, intended to allow for a better national defense, ended up fostering one of the greatest wealth booms in American history.
What about you? What vision or dream do you have that could change the course of history? What intentions do you carry within your heart to help humanity survive, even thrive? Perhaps these creations deep within your soul will not only solve the problem for which it was intended, but solve something else entirely different as well? America welcomes invention and ingenuity. Its free-market economy is set up for rewarding those with ideas and solutions that will change the world. While we all can agree to disagree on politics, one thing is sure, we live in the greatest nation on earth. A nation that supports entrepreneurial freedoms and workers’ rights. A nation that protects intellectual property and design. A nation that gives its citizens the right to vote on who they believe is best fit to govern.
May we express gratitude for our freedoms and appreciation for the visions of our leaders. President Eisenhower had no idea the System would create a $1.1 trillion dollar impact to our nation’s wealth machine. But it did. You never know the unintended, yet positive impact your vision…your idea might have on this world. May you step forward with boldness and let the world take notice of your purpose. The Best Is Ahead!