Looking for good schools, good health, good morals, and good times? Well, then you'd need to find good roads first, according to the National Highway Association. Which is why the NHA drew up the first proposed highway plan in 1913.

In 1911, the National Highways Association (NHA) was established to promote the development of a transnational system of roads in the United States. Two years later, under the slogan "Good roads for everyone!" the NHA put forward a plan outlining a 50,000-mile network of highways, which Charles Henry Davis, president and cofounder of the NHA, described as "a broad and comprehensive system of National Highways, built, owned, and maintained by the National Government." Davis went on:

To propose the building of fifty thousand miles of National Highways may seem to the unthinking a revolutionary idea, yet fifty thousand miles of Highway is but little more than two per cent of the total road mileage of this country... These highways have not been merely drawn upon a map with a pencil in the hands of a theorist who decided "it would be a good thing to have a road here!" They have been accurately and carefully located by trained and experienced road engineers, working with a large and complete office and drafting force for more than four months.


The map of the proposed highway system used red, blue, and yellow to designate "Main," "Trunk," and "Link" National Highways, respectively, and appears below, by way of the World Digital Library (WDL). Click the upper left hand corner of the image, to see it in close detail:

According to the WDL:

This system was to be composed of six main national highways, 13 trunk national highways, and 40 link highways. The link highways, the NHA explained, would connect "the Mains and Trunks" and reach out "in all directions until the country as a whole is covered with almost a spider-web tracery of highways."

...Besides issuing brochures and circulars aimed at convincing citizens of the need for a national road system, the NHA was a prolific producer of maps. Cartographic work was done at an office in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts, where approximately 40 people were employed on [Davis' property]. Davis believed that these maps would be helpful to a national highways commission that he hoped would be established and that they would assist the states in integrating their roads into a national system.


In 1915, the NHA would expand its vision of a transcontinental highway system considerably. A new series of maps depicted a 150,000-mile network, "based on a four-fold system of national, state, county, and town or township highways and roads." Their designs reflect not only the NHA's ambition to connect the political and administrative divisions of the country (at the top of each map are tabulated estimates of the numbers and percentages of people living in counties serviced by proposed highway system), but the political climate of the time. In an age when good roads meant good schools, churches, health, morals, homes, farms, crops, times, towns, and fun (at least, according to the NHA), these maps endeavored to associate "the cause of good roads with the 'preparedness' debate underway at that time concerning possible intervention by the United States in World War I as an ally of Britain and France." As Davis put it:

The National Highways Association believes that, when established, these national highways will increase the wealth, the power, and the importance of this country as nothing else can do besides that which has brought civilization to the savage, wealth to the poor, and happiness to all—GOOD ROADS.


An inset from the above NHA map equating good roads with good everything.


An NHA map associating good, transcontinental roads with wartime preparedness.

Another NHA map correlating a national highway system with wartime preparedness. This particular map contrasts the benefits of a highway network with those of the Panama Canal, which had opened a year earlier. The map claims – "on what basis is unclear," notes the WDL –that good roads everywhere would come at a cost comparable to that of the canal.

While Congress never embraced any of the plans proposed by the NHA, the WDL notes that "the organization and its maps helped to promote the cause of a national road network." (It is striking how similar these initial plans are to today's modern infrastructure.) Ultimately, the nation's first federal highway would not be adopted until November 1926, when the American Association of State Highway Officials approved the plans for first nationwide system of numbered highways, pictured here: