In the late 1800’s the best highways and roads were in Europe. The US State Depts 600 page report confirmed this and determined it was because of government action in European countries that made them of higher quality. In all Europe the best roads were in France, thanks to the planning of Napoleon. Quality roads, they said, helped make their economy strong. “All roads in France receive perpetual attention. Roads in America receive perpetual inattention” it said. Congress, however, disputed the study however, and little was done to implement a federal government role in road construction and maitenance for the next 20 years. In 1908, France held the first international Road Congress, where methods of road construction and maitenance were discussed. In 1913 a report was again commisioned and it stated that “the resultant organization would assume very large proportions.” In 1915 the committee recommended a federal aid program, but warned against concentration of control in Washington as well as concerns about pork barrel projects.
When Americans soldiers traveled French roads in WWI they experienced French roads first hand and were envious. Modern society was grappling with the issue of cars using roads designed for horse & carriages. Thomas Edison was a friend of Henry Ford & Harvey Firestone and noted that “I have have traveled over 4,000 miles of French roads built by the central government, and kept in perfect repair. I note with pain and humiliation the horrible mess made by us in our road building, arising from dense ignorance.”
Concrete and asphalt would become the future of the modern road. Concrete is created by combining sand or crushed stone with a binding agent. There are various types of cement, and one of the earliest was Portland cement. Edison became infatuated with concrete and began exploring it’s uses for homebuilding, as furniture, and for roads. Not much is known about Edison’s attempts at using concrete. He was responsible for the building of the first concrete road in the US. Located in Franklin Twp, NJ it was built in 1912 happen for another 30 years…
The Germans made great progress in roadbuilding, and after WWII Dwight Eisenhower was inspired to built a large national intrastate highway system which gave us such highways as route 80 and route 95.