Route 66 and Its Importance in Missouri’s Past

Route 66, also known as the “Mother Road,” is a historic highway that has captured travelers’ imaginations for decades. Spanning over 2,400 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica, this iconic route has played a significant role in American history and culture. 

In Missouri, Route 66 holds a special place in the hearts of locals and travelers alike, as it has been an integral part of the state’s past and present.

The Birth of Route 66 in Missouri

The beginning of Route 66 in Missouri is a story that intertwines with the broader narrative of America’s quest for mobility and progress. Officially commissioned in 1926, Route 66’s stretch through Missouri was part of the original highway that connected urban and rural communities across the Midwest to the West Coast. 

Missouri’s segment of Route 66 starts in St. Louis, at the banks of the Mississippi River, and carves its way through the scenic Ozarks to the vibrant city of Joplin before crossing into Kansas. This route through Missouri was not just a path of concrete and asphalt but a lifeline for many small towns, offering economic opportunities and a connection to the larger narrative of American growth.

Missouri’s Route 66 and the Great Depression

During the Great Depression, Route 66 in Missouri transformed from a pathway of prosperity to a route of necessity for many. As economic hardship swept across the country, people from the Dust Bowl states hit hardest by drought and despair saw Route 66 as a corridor of hope leading towards potential jobs and a new beginning in the West. 

The Great Depression had a profound impact on Missouri’s Route 66, as local businesses and roadside establishments struggled to cater to the increased flow of travelers with limited financial means. In response, many of these establishments, including diners, motels, and gas stations, adapted by offering affordable services and goods, creating a unique culture of hospitality that became synonymous with the Route 66 experience.

The Golden Age of Route 66 in Missouri

The Golden Age of Route 66 in Missouri is remembered as a period of vibrant life and cultural significance that stretched from the end of World War II into the late 1950s. As America entered a time of prosperity and the automobile became more accessible to the average family, travel for leisure emerged as a popular form of recreation. 

Missouri’s stretch of Route 66 flourished, offering diverse attractions that catered to the curious traveler. Neon-lit motels, quirky roadside diners, and unique tourist traps sprung up, each adding to the lore of the Mother Road. Cities and towns along the route, such as Springfield, the proclaimed birthplace of Route 66, and St. Louis, with its iconic Gateway Arch nearing completion, became hotspots for tourists seeking adventure and the freedom of the open road. 

Decline and Rediscovery

The decline of Route 66 began in the late 1950s, as the United States started to construct the Interstate Highway System, which promised faster and more direct routes across the country. In Missouri, new interstates like I-44 bypassed many small towns and iconic attractions that depended on the traffic Route 66 brought. As a result, these communities and businesses faced significant economic challenges, with many iconic roadside establishments closing their doors. 

The Mother Road was officially decommissioned in 1985, fading from modern maps and, for a time, from public consciousness. However, the spirit of Route 66 refused to die. A resurgence of interest in the late 20th and early 21st centuries led to the rediscovery of this historic highway. Enthusiasts, historians, and travelers began to advocate for preserving and restoring the road’s most iconic landmarks.

Route 66 Today: Missouri’s Living Legacy

Today, Route 66 in Missouri is a vibrant testament to the state’s rich historical tapestry and enduring spirit of adventure. This legendary highway continues to captivate the hearts of travelers worldwide, offering a unique journey through time and culture. 

From St. Louis to Joplin, the Mother Road’s Missouri stretch is peppered with restored diners, classic motels, and neon signs that beam like beacons of nostalgia, inviting explorers to step back into a bygone era. Museums dedicated to the history of Route 66 and annual festivals and events celebrate the road’s iconic status and impact on American life.

Route 66 Car Museum exterior

Route 66 Car Museum in Springfield, MO

Located on historic Route 66 in Springfield, Missouri, the Route 66 Car Museum is a treasure trove for car enthusiasts. Perfect for individuals, families, and tour groups, the museum offers a captivating experience that celebrates the cars that shaped American pop culture. Contact us online or call us to learn more about our exhibits and plan your visit!

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The museum features more than 75 classic, sports, and vintage cars.

Tour Bus

We welcome tour buses. Contact us to schedule your visit!  417-459-2452


We welcome small and large groups to the museum. 


To learn more about us and to book your tour, contact us today.