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A Maximum of Good Results: Martin Dodge and the Good Roads Trains
On To Washington
Some years later, Dodge said of his service as chairman of the Ohio Good Roads Commission:
Governor McKinley . . . often told me that if he should become President he wanted me to take charge of the road office for the United States government.
Governor McKinley became President on March 4, 1897, and served until he was assassinated in 1901. The new President retained General Stone in the ORI, but brought Dodge to Washington at the first opportunity. In June 1898, General Stone took a leave of absence to serve in the Spanish-American War. While Stone was away, President McKinley brought Dodge to Washington in August as Acting Director of the little ORI. General Stone returned to the Office on January 31, 1899, but resigned later that year on October 23. This time, Dodge was appointed permanent Director. According to Dodge, the opportunity arose when he "completed my term of service as senator in the state senate of Ohio." [ National Republic, p. 26]
President McKinley's Secretary of Agriculture, James Wilson, had a more aggressive approach than his predecessor, Secretary J. Sterling Morton, under President Grover Cleveland. Secretary Morton, a fiscal conservative opposed to all forms of government "paternalism," had spent much of his tenure trying to reduce the Department's expenditures and role. He had limited General Stone to gathering information and disseminating it. By contrast, the Department's official history stated that Secretary Wilson's 16 years as Secretary (1897-1913) marked "a new era . . . for the Department, one characterized by expansion, the widening of the scope of its activities, and the strengthening of the relationship between the Department and the land-grant colleges." [Centennial Committee, Century of Service: The First 100 Years of the United States Department of Agriculture, Department of Agriculture, 1963, p. 39]
Wilson, known as "Tama Jim" after his hometown in Iowa, had been a professor at Iowa Agricultural College, served in the Iowa State Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives, and had introduced the first bill, in 1874, to elevate the existing Department of Agriculture to a Cabinet-level Department. [p. 40] Consistent with his general approach, Secretary Wilson wanted General Stone to "push the practical side of our work in preference to the academic," as Stone put it in his annual report for fiscal year 1897. [p. 173]
In accordance with the Secretary's injunction, General Stone initiated an object-lesson roads program modeled on a similar program by the Massachusetts State Highway Commission. The idea was to build short stretches of road on or near State experimental farms for demonstration purposes on the theory that "seeing is believing"-that short stretches of good road would encourage the public to want more such roads. As explained in America's Highways 1776-1976: "These would serve to instruct the roadmakers, to educate the visiting public and to improve the economic administration of the farms." [p. 45]
With a limited budget, the agency had to rely on outside groups to assist in building the object-lesson roads. As General Stone explained in his annual report for FY 1897:
No funds being provided by Congress for actual road construction, I have been compelled to carry on road building by means of contributions from the various parties interested, viz, the agricultural colleges and experiment stations, the citizens concerned, and the manufacturers of road implements and machinery; the Road Inquiry contributing only a small installment of the expenses, through the payment of freight on machinery and part payment of wages of experts sent in charge of the machines, but keeping full control of the construction in order that the roads may be creditable to the Government when done. [p. 173-174]
With an investment of $300 to $500 in Federal funds for each locality, the Office could build from $2,000 to $10,000 worth of road. [ America's Highways 1776-1976, p. 46] The first object-lesson roads, on Nichol Avenue and College Avenue, were built at the Agricultural College and Experiment Station in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in June 1897. The ORI team improved 660 feet of Nichol Avenue with crushed rock from the cross street to the gate of the farm. Because of the difficulty of obtaining materials, ORI was able to provide crushed stone for only a portion of the planned 500-foot College Avenue project; the work was completed by local authorities. [Stone, Roy, "Object-Lesson Roads," United States Department of Agriculture Yearbook, 1897, p.376]
Steel-Track Wagon Roads
Although the object-lesson roads would demonstrate the latest techniques in road building and encourage their adoption, Secretary Wilson wanted General Stone to explore experimental methods as well. As historian Philip P. Mason explained:
The Office of Road Inquiry also was interested in the building of sample roads for purely experimental purposes in order to gain first-hand knowledge of the best methods of road construction. This program differed from the object-lesson road work in that the federal government paid all of the expenses . . . .
In the 1880's and 1890's . . . the main emphasis of road reformers was on hard-surfaced or macadam roads. It was soon discovered, however, that not only was this type of construction too expensive for most rural communities, but that many areas of the country lacked the gravel, rock or other hard material necessary to build such roads. The Office of Road Inquiry was soon aware of this problem and began to conduct experiments in 1897 with other types of road materials. [Mason, Philip P., The League of American Wheelmen and the Good Roads Movement, 1880-1905, Ph. D. dissertation, 1957, University Microfilms International, p. 162-163]
As the number of motor vehicles increased, the problem would worsen because broken stone road surfaces, such as macadam, that served horses and wagons were not suited to automobile tires. The search for a suitable surface would continue into 1910s, with asphalt and concrete overtaking macadam, bricks, stone-clay, and other materials as the dominant surfacing materials for the automobile age.
Secretary Wilson wanted General Stone to focus initially on steel roadways. Dodge, who had not yet been appointed Acting Director, stated that he convinced the Secretary of the practicality of the concept. In the Department of Agriculture Yearbook for 1898, Dodge discussed his involvement, dating to 1891, with steel-track wagon roads. [p. 291-296] The principal advantages in any surfacing material, he said, were cheapness, durability, and reduction of power required to move a vehicle. He believed that everyone agreed that steel tracks offered the advantages of cheapness and durability, but acknowledged that in reference to cost and manner of construction, "there is great diversity of opinion." He disagreed with earlier plans, proposed in 1894 and discussed during the National Road Conference in Asbury Park, where the steel tracks were placed on wooden substructures. He explained:
This wooden substructure adds to the cost of construction without adding to the real value or utility of the road, and can therefore be omitted with advantage, provided we can so adapt the steel track to the roadbed that it will combine with the materials composing the latter in such a way as to form a substantial and integral part of it.
Mr. Abel Bliss of New Lenox, Illinois, and Mr. F. Melber of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had put down short experimental sections, only 25-30 feet long, reflecting what Dodge considered "the best form of construction," but the sections were too short "to furnish any full and sufficient tests as to the value and utility of such roads." In the fall of 1897, Dodge said, he had conducted the first true test of the value of steel-track wagon roads:
At that time the county commissioners of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, authorized the writer, by contract, to lay 500 feet of steel track on the Brecksville road, immediately south of the city limits of Cleveland. The form chosen for this track was one designed and recommended by Mr. Melber, but without the wooden substructure provided for by him in 1894. This track was not completed till June, 1898, and has been somewhat disturbed and obstructed since by reason of grading done adjacent to the track by the contractor, who was charged with carrying out more extensive improvements on the Brecksville road. The track, when completed, presented a fine appearance, and will doubtless give satisfactory results, but sufficient time has not yet elapsed to test it thoroughly in every respect.
With the Secretary's backing, General Stone initiated the experimental work by contacting the principal steel manufacturers, which offered construction plans. Stone favored a proposal by the Cambria Iron Company of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. In his annual report for FY 1897, he said:
Upon investigating what has been already done by private experiment I am confirmed in my former opinion that a well-designed steel trackway can be successfully built and will be profitable to use and maintain, especially in localities where other road materials are scarce.
The considerable expense involved in preparing to roll special shapes of rail has prevented much experiment in this direction heretofore, but the Cambria Iron Company is disposed to aid in the matter and will undertake this expense whenever a definite order for 1 mile of road shall be received. I have not succeeded as yet in getting such order and it will probably be necessary to ask Congress for a small appropriation for this purpose. The cost of material for a mile of road will be $3,500. It will be advisable to put this down in several places, widely separated, in order that the test may be more complete and the exhibition more thorough. [p. 174-175]
Stone did not say so, but the Office was aware of Dodge's work in Cuyahoga County. The annual report for FY 1989, drafted by Assistant Director M. O. Eldridge and submitted by Acting Director Dodge, described Dodge's work:
This road is composed of inverted channel bars placed in such a position that they become a tramway or trackway. A broken-stone surface has been prepared for the horses to walk upon, and to enable the teamsters to take their wagons on and off the road at will. The road is laid in a street on which there is a large amount of heavy traffic and has already demonstrated the great value of steel in road construction. [p. 161]
The first Federal experiment took place under Dodge's direction while he was filling in for General Stone. At Dodge's urging, Secretary Wilson authorized construction of a steel trackway on the grounds of the October 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha, Nebraska. Dodge's Yearbook article indicated that Secretary Wilson "determined to undertake, through this Office, a test as to the utility of the steel track, made and laid so that vehicles without flanged wheels might have the great advantage of a smooth track, heretofore enjoyed only by vehicles with the flanged wheels." [p. 292]
For the FY 1898 annual report, drafted by Eldridge and submitted by General Stone, described plans for the trackway:
The contract for the steel work has already been let to the Cambria Iron Company, and it will be completed in a few days. It is the purpose of the director of this office [Acting Director Dodge] to proceed to Omaha and superintend the laying of this track upon the roadway connecting the main street of the exposition with the Indian village, where it can be seen and examined by all persons attending the exposition. It is also proposed to make traction tests upon this steel road, with a view to showing how much less power would be required to move vehicles over such a road than over any other heretofore built. It is expected that this experiment will show that steel roads can be built at no greater cost than other hard roads, that when built they will last many times as long with but little repair, and that the power required to move a vehicle will be reduced to a small fraction of that which is now required. It has been claimed that an animal can move fifty times its weight over such a road as is to be built at Omaha. The tests to be made by this object-lesson road will prove or disprove these claims. [p. 162]
Under Dodge's supervision, the Office's engineer in charge of object-lesson roads, General E. G. Harrison of Asbury Park, New Jersey, built 280 feet of steel track on the exposition grounds. In the Yearbook article, Dodge described the facility:
The road thus laid consists of two parallel lines of steel plates, 8 inches wide, laid at a sufficient distance apart to receive the wheels of vehicles of the standard gauge. These plates have a slightly projecting flange upward and on the inner edge, so as to prevent the wheels of ordinary vehicles, which have no flanges, from easily leaving the track. At the same time the flanges, being only one-half inch, are not of a height to prevent the vehicles from leaving the track for the purpose of passing other vehicles whenever the driver so desires. These steel plates are not supported by wooden cross-ties or longitudinal stringers of any kind, but are provided with flanges projecting both downward and outward. These flanges are embedded in the concrete of the roadbed so as to form a substantial part of it, and the steel plates are supported at every point by a substructure of cement or other enduring material. [p. 292-293]
The trackway included cross-ties, "not for support, but only to maintain the steel plates at a uniform distance from each other and also to prevent tilting and to maintain the face of the plates in a horizontal position." Without cross-ties of wood, the trackway "contains no perishable material . . . heretofore used and thought necessary for all steel-track construction." [p. 293]
After completing the exposition tracks, General Harrison built a 150-foot steel trackway at the State experiment station in St. Anthony, Minnesota, and a 180-foot trackway at the State College at Ames, Iowa, both in September.
Dodge reported that the cost of the steel-track road was about $1 per foot, but he thought the cost would be lower when trackways were built in longer sections "requiring large quantities of material, and when the rolling mills are equipped with suitable rolls to get the shapes desired without the extra cost incurred in making the 'built section.'" He also thought that experience would indicate that the weight of steel could be reduced, resulting in additional cost reduction.
At the Omaha exposition, Dodge demonstrated that one horse on a steel trackway could haul an 11-ton load that would require 20 horses on an ordinary road. In the case of the steel trackway, the 11 tons consisted of men and boys, including Dodge in his top hat, on wagons. He also demonstrated that a "horseless carriage propelled by electricity" could operate on the steel-track wagon road, and that a bicycle could ride one track of the double trackway.
Thus, the experiment proved his point that the steel-track wagon roads were cheaper and theoretically more durable than regular roads. It also demonstrated that "the power required to move a vehicle . . . is only a small fraction of the power required to move the same vehicle over any other kind of road." (In his National Republicarticle, Dodge stated that "The same demonstration was made at the Paris Exposition in 1900.")
Although Dodge considered the trackways a success, the three experimental trackways built in the autumn of 1898 would be the ORI's final experiments with the concept. The cost of retooling steel plants for manufacture of specially designed steel tracks proved prohibitive. With General Stone back in office but having missed much of FY 1899, Eldridge again wrote the annual report, which included a summary of the experiment:
These experimental sections of steel road clearly demonstrated their usefulness for the Western States and for the other level States which are but sparingly supplied with good stone or gravel. The time was so limited and the means at our disposal so inadequate that we had to prepare a design for these steel roads, using rails of the regular shapes found in the market. Imperfections were naturally found which can be easily remedied if steel again becomes so cheap that the manufacturers can take the matter up and make rails of special shapes, or if sufficient means are appropriated by Congress to perfect the system. [p. 157]
Director, Office of Public Road Inquiries
As the permanent Director beginning October 23, 1899, Dodge continued many of General Stone's initiatives, but with a different emphasis. Historian Bruce E. Seely said of Dodge:
In most respects, Dodge retained Stone's mix of technical and promotional efforts through cooperation, but altered the balance of these activities, not to mention the style of operation. Stone had used technical activities to further promotion ends, whereas Dodge reversed the order. [Building the American Highway System: Engineers as Policy Makers, Temple University Press, 1987, p. 17.]
Dodge was aided by new instructions provided by Secretary Wilson on May 29, 1899. In the OPRI annual report for 1900, Dodge wrote:
According to the strict construction put upon the law by your predecessor (see letter of instruction printed in the report of this Office for 1893), we were, up to the time of your accession, prohibited from engaging in any practical road work. On May 29 of last year the Director of this Office received the subjoined letter of instructions, to the effect that we should push the practical side of our work. Under these instructions this Office has embraced every possible opportunity to assist in or take charge of the construction of object-lesson, sample, or experimental roads.
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Office of the Secretary
May 29, 1900
Sir: In order that the provisions of the statutes relating to "Public-road inquiries" may be properly and efficiently executed, you are hereby authorized and directed to supervise, manage, and conduct investigations, inquiries, and experiments relating to the following subjects, viz.:
- To make inquiries in regard to the various systems of road management throughout the United States.
- To make investigations, by experiment and otherwise, regarding the best methods of road making and the best kinds of road-making materials to be found in the several States.
- To prepare didactic reports and statements upon the subjects of road making and road management suitable for publication and distribution as bulletins of this Department.
- To assist the agricultural colleges and agricultural experiment stations in disseminating, by object-lesson methods and otherwise, information on the aforementioned subjects.
The necessary expenses attending the execution of these instructions will be provided for upon requisitions and specific letters of authorization.
These instruction supersede all former general directions given you respecting the scope and purpose of the work of the Office of Public Road Inquiries.
James Wilson, Secretary
These instructions [p. 279-280] formally confirmed the Secretary's desire that Dodge continue the initiatives that he and General Stone had begun while undertaking the "practical" activities that Secretary Morton had opposed.
At the same time, OPRI remained a small office compared with its broadened task. Dodge would have to use his ability to work with the private sector, as well as his political skills, to accomplish the mission.
With the Secretary's and congressional support, Dodge took several steps in 1900 to strengthen his staff. One was to establish the organization's first field structure, with four divisions headed by special agents. The FY 1900 annual report explained:
The Congress at its last session appropriated an additional sum of $6,000, over and above that usually appropriated heretofore, in order that the work of this Office might be extended; and for the purpose of carrying out that idea the United States has been divided into four divisions known as the Eastern, the Southern, the Middle, and the Western . . . .
The special agents were:
Eastern division – Logan W. Page of Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was the Chief of the Bureau of Chemistry's Division of Tests in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Southern division – Professor Joseph A. Holmes, State Geologist, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Middle division – Horatio S. Earle, State Senator and Chairman of the Michigan State Highway Commission, Detroit, Michigan
Western division – James W. Abbott, Lake City, Colorado. [p 290]
Except for Page, the special agents were part-time employees. Dodge provided a look at their work in his annual report for FY 1901. Special Agent Abbott traveled 12,000 miles by railroad for the following activities:
He has, by personal interviews and private letters, brought the subject of road improvement to the attention of governors and other State officials, the editors of leading newspapers, professors in institutions of learning, presidents and managers of railroads, prominent civil and mining engineers, members of the legislatures, boards of county commissioners, road supervisors, the heads of leading industries, manufacturers of road machinery, besides a large number of influential private citizens.
He attended and participated in the work of four very important conventions, at two of which he read papers. He has written several articles for publication in leading newspapers, and numerous interviews have been published giving accounts of his movements and work. He spent some time in consultation with the road committees of the Colorado legislature and assisted in framing a carefully prepared road law. He visited many places in Colorado, Utah, and California, and gave advice where it was desired regarding specific or general road improvement. Mr. Abbott visited, practically at his own expense, this Office and the highway departments of New York, Massachusetts, and California . . . . [p. 238]
America's Highways 1776-1976, quoting this material, added:
All this for $1,500 per year! Obviously, Special Agent Abbott also had a private income to draw upon, as did the other division heads. [p. 47]
Seely summarized the efforts of the special agents as reflecting Dodge's political style:
He hired three part-time special agents in part to supervise object-lesson roads but also to organize road conventions and meet with political and civic leaders. One drafted several bills after consulting with ten legislatures in 1899, while another agent distributed 200,000 copies of an OPRI circular on state aid to thirty-five Illinois farmers' institutes in 1901 before preparing a bill. In 1900, OPRI agents appeared in twenty-three states, for as Dodge's assistant later explained, "a great deal can be said in a speech that cannot be printed in a Department publication." [Seely, p. 17]
This division structure would be retained in expanded form until the mid-1940's.
The arrival of Logan Page in Washington would have long-term significance. Born in Richmond, Page graduated from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1889 and went on to become one of the first three graduates of the highway engineering program that his uncle, Professor Nathaniel Shaler, had begun at Harvard.
In 1893, Shaler appointed Page, then 23 years old, to direct the testing laboratory of the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard. In this capacity, Page served as geologist and testing engineer for the Massachusetts State Highway Commission, the Nation's first State highway agency. To learn about laboratory testing from the acknowledged international leader in good roads, Page took courses in France's School of Bridges and Roads (l'Ecole nationale des Ponts et Chaussees).
One of the challenges facing road builders was the availability of material suitable for use in roads. Each State had its own unique materials that were more or less suited to road building. In 1897, the ORI had begun working with the U.S. Geological Survey to identify satisfactory road materials. In 1900, Congress appropriated funds for a materials testing laboratory in the Agriculture Department's Bureau of Chemistry. Dodge, who believed that material testing was at the heart of French success in building good roads, hired Page to head the laboratory.
Page, with 7 years of experience in Massachusetts and training in French laboratory science, would establish the new laboratory as the Nation's primary scientific laboratory on road building materials. As Seely explained:
Like the object-lesson road program, the sample testing program was extremely popular. The railroads, contractors, quarry operators, government officials, and the public all sent samples of stone, rock, tar, oil, sand, and other materials for analysis and often asked for proper instruction on their use. Almost every letter received a short reply, and whenever applicable, a copy of a relevant office bulletin or circular. Under Page's guidance, the testing division also began research projects into the use of Portland cement and other materials for road surfacing. The laboratory director was especially interested in cement and concrete, and as this work became known, he even received requests for help from manufacturers of concrete fence posts and cement wash tubs. The primary point is that the laboratory very quickly strengthened the Office of Public Road Inquiry's national position as the standard source of information on road materials and construction methods. [Highway Engineers as Policy Makers: The Bureau of Public Roads, 1893-1944, Ph.d. Thesis, 1982, University Microfilms International, p. 40]
Era of Transformation
Dodge's tenure coincided with a national shift in surface transportation. As reflected in his Ohio work, he initially saw a shift from animal power to inanimate power. This was, he believed, part of a larger debate in society about the shift of population from farms to the industrial urban areas. In December 1898, the Acting Director told The Washington Star:
Some ten years ago I became satisfied that the agricultural industry in this country was passing through a period of decline, especially in the eastern and middle states. When the census report for 1890 was published, it was more apparent than ever before that the agricultural industry had not only declined as to its prosperity, but that relative to other industries it was losing its place. This was manifest by deserted villages in the rural districts, abandoned farm-houses, and an absolute decrease in the rural population . . . . In studying the causes of this decline in agriculture I soon observed that those communities which had the best and cheapest means of transportation had suffered the least, and that those communities that were poorly provided with the means of transportation had suffered most. [Emphasis in original]
States in the trans-Mississippi group, which had "the cheapest means of transportation for long distances by the steam railroads and the steamships upon the great lakes," suffered less of a decline:
On the other hand, the local communities who are dependent upon animal power to move their products have suffered the greatest decline where the wagon roads are poorest, and the least decline where wagon roads are best. So it seems apparent that the most important factor in producing the changed condition of population and the decreasing value of agricultural land is the item of transportation.
Dodge pointed out that the relationship was so clear that "the value of agricultural land can be accurately estimated by its distance from easy means of transportation." By "easy" or "cheap" transportation, he explained, "I mean something better than an ordinary wagon drawn over an ordinary unimproved road by animal power."
Documenting the cost of transportation under varying conditions was a task that General Stone, Dodge, and his successor would consider an important part of their scientific and promotional work. The purpose of the three steel trackway demonstrations in 1898 had been to illustrate a way of reducing the cost of transportation. Dodge summarized the latest findings:
The cost of moving tonnage 1,250 miles by steamships upon deep water, 250 miles on steam cars, or 25 miles upon electric cars, is no greater than the cost of moving tonnage five miles by animal power upon a common road. Having noticed this great difference in the cost of moving the productions of the country . . . it seemed to me imperative that everything should be done to supply the rural districts a cheaper means of transportation than they have ever enjoyed, and restore them as much as possible. [Stararticle quoted in "Effect of Roads on Population," L.A.W. Bulletin and Good Roads, December 23, 1898, p. 459]
While promoting the shift from animal to inanimate power, Dodge served as Director during the period when the automobile replaced the bicycle as the primary vehicle behind the Good Roads Movement. During the 1880's and 1890's, bicyclists had dominated the movement during The Bicycle Craze, including efforts to convince farmers that good roads were in their interest. Dodge, as Acting Director in 1898, cited the bicycle as an example of one of the trends he favored in an era when alternatives to the railroad were being examined. He suggested shifting focus from the roadbed to the vehicle riding over it and the means of its propulsion. He explained:
The roadbed, as commonly constructed, is of great width and solidity, yet the burdens passing over these roads are, as a rule, only from one or two tons in weight. It is unnecessary and unwise to build roads for the transportation of light burdens capable of sustaining burdens a hundred times the ordinary weight. Of course the new roadway should be hard and smooth. This can be effected by substituting steel for stone. In reference to the vehicle, the fault which expresses itself in excessive weight, is the result of a natural evolution based upon conditions heretofore existing, but now rapidly passing away and capable of complete elimination.
The bicycle offered four advantages over the horse-power commonly used on the roads:
First of all, the improvement of the roadbed can be effected without increasing the cost of its construction. In the second place, the weight of the vehicle can be greatly diminished in proportion to the load it carried. The bicycle is a noted example of what has been done in this respect. The chief value of the bicycle resides in the fact that it carries a burden many times its own weight. If it were constructed on the principle of nearly all other vehicles, so as to weigh as much, or more, than the burden it carries, it would have no practical value and would not be in use. It is possible, in my opinion, to construct other vehicles so as to attain, to a very great extent though not to so high a degree, the perfection of the bicycle in that the vehicle shall carry in all cases more than its own weight, and in most cases many times its own weight. In the third place, having such vehicles as I have referred to above, it is possible to substitute inanimate power for animal power for all distance [sic] upwards of five miles, and by such substitution there would be a gain equal to four-fifths of the present cost for animal power. As a fourth element of advantage, and one resulting from the foregoing, there would be an increase in the speed of vehicles and consequently a proportional saving in time, which is also an economic gain of great consequence . . . .
No real progress was made in the development of the bicycle until the low wheels were put on and the centre of gravity lowered to the lowest possible point. This example should be imitated in the construction of other vehicles . . . . With a smooth truckway and a light vehicle placed upon roller bearings, it is possible to substitute inanimate power for animal power on all distances of five miles and upwards with a very great saving, equal to what is estimated to approximate four-fifths of the present cost for animal power, and as a natural result of these conditions there will come a great increase in the speed of the vehicle. [Dodge, Martin, "The Disadvantages of Animal Power," L.A.W. Bulletin and Good Roads, February 10, 1899, p. 201-202]
Soon, Dodge had to acknowledge that technology was moving in the opposite direction, away from light vehicles with heavy loads. Dodge put the evolution in historical perspective:
In the early history of this country the plan of internal improvement by the general government included the building of highways. This plan was strongly advocated by such statesmen as Clay and Calhoun and was followed until the introduction of the railroad furnished a cheaper means for the long haul than could be attained upon the ordinary highways . . . . Within the past few years new inventions have been made which are destined to change all this. We now have the bicycle, the automobile, the suburban street car, all moved without the aid of animal power and suited for use upon the highway . . . The time has now come to take up, develop and carry out the original thought and intention of providing a cheap and easy way of moving light and ordinary vehicles over the common highways, to and from the houses of the people carrying themselves and their products. The one great thing which we need in order to accomplish this very desirable result is better roads. And in order to make sure of a rapid and permanent improvement of our highways we should appeal to the original system of internal improvement advocated by Clay and Calhoun. [Dodge, Martin, "Ideas of Clay and Calhoun," The L.A.W. Magazine, June 1900, p. 16-17]
The November 1900 issue of L.A.W. Magazine contained this brief item in its "Observations of the Month" column that reflected the shift to the automobile:
In relation to his active interest in the construction of an inter-state side path from Boston to New York to Chicago, Director Dodge, of the office of Public Road Inquiries, at Washington, informs us that he is confident that the completion of such a wheelway would be but the first step toward the construction of an inter-state national highway along the same route.
Having brought this part of the plan to a successful conclusion, the next step would be to interest the automobile people. Judging from the rapidity with which the automobile is becoming popular, and the success which has attended recent long-distance runs, the horseless vehicle is destined to spread beyond the metropolitan districts. As good roads are essential for the rubber tired carriage, Mr. Dodge hopes, by the aid of manufacturers, automobile clubs and property owners along the proposed route, to widen the cycle path into a road sufficiently broad for the automobile.
Having obtained a smooth and serviceable road, twenty feet wide, and running in as nearly a straight line as possible from Boston to Chicago, the further task of widening it for a universal highway would be the natural sequence. As soon as the states west of Chicago evince a willingness to fall in line, as some have already done, the work will be extended westward in the same manner. [p. 1]
Death of President McKinley
On September 6, 1901, Dodge's patron, President McKinley was in the Temple of Music at the Pan American Exposition, a World's Fair held in Buffalo, New York. McKinley was greeting exposition visitors. Historian Paul F. Boller, Jr., explained that shaking hands with well-wishers was a favorite activity:
McKinley's handshake was famous. To save wear and tear on his right hand at receptions, the President developed what came to be called the "McKinley grip." In receiving lines, he would smile as a man came by, take his right hand and squeeze it warmly before his own hand got caught in a hard grip, hold the man's elbow with his left hand, and then swiftly pull him along and be ready to beam on the next guest. [Boller, Paul F., Jr., Presidential Anecdotes, Oxford University Press, 1981, p. 188]
Just past 4 p.m., the President reached out to apply the "McKinley Grip" to the next guest in the receiving line. The guest, a Polish anarchist named Leon Czolgosz, shot the President twice, once in the chest and once in the abdomen. After emergency surgery in the exposition's small hospital, the President was taken to the home of the exposition president, John Milburn. The President's condition was considered too grave for the longer trip to a larger hospital.
On September 14, The New York Times reported on the President's final hours. The article began:
Buffalo, Sept. 14.-Before 6 o'clock last evening it was clear to those at the President's bedside that he was dying, and preparations were made for the last sad offices of farewell from those who were nearest and dearest to him. Oxygen had been administered steadily, but with little effect in keeping back the approach of death. The President came out of one period of unconsciousness only to relapse into another.
But in this period, when his mind was partially clear, occurred a series of events of profoundly touching character.
His Cabinet had arrived at the Milburn House:
They knew the end was near and that the time had come when they must see him for the last time on earth. This was about 6 o'clock. One by one they ascended the stairway-Secretary [of War Elihu] Root, Secretary [of the Interior Ethan A.] Hitchcock, and Attorney General [Philander C.] Knox. Secretary [of Agriculture James] Wilson also was there, but he held back, not wishing to see the President in his last agony. There was only a momentary stay of the Cabinet officers at the threshold of the death chamber. Then they withdrew, the tears streaming down their faces and the words of intense grief choking in their throats.
The President revived about 7:45 and asked to see his wife:
She came to the room strong in her weakness compared with the weakness of the strong man whose life was so fast ebbing. The physicians and all but one of the nurses in the room, and for ten minutes husband and wife sat alone. Mrs. McKinley came from the room and was escorted back to her own. This was the second time last evening she had been by the side of the dying President. When she left Mr. McKinley murmured words from the hymn, "Nearer, My God, to Thee."
From the Milburn house came State Senator Martin Dodge of Cleveland, an old friend of the President and a fellow-worker with him in years gone by. He was not permitted to enter the room, but stood in the hall trying to catch one last glimpse of the face of his early companion. As he reached the barrier in the street he stopped, looked about, and, while weeping, said "Gentlemen, the Nation's chief is dying. There is absolutely no hope, no chance."
While officials kept vigil, the President approached his end. It came on the afternoon of September 14. McKinley regained consciousness long enough to say his final words to his family:
"Good bye all. It is God's way. His will, not ours, be done. Nearer my God to Thee!" he said softly. Soon, he would be gone, and his Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, would become President.
(Czolgosz would be executed in the electric chair at Auburn State Prison on October 29, 1901.)
Colonel W. H. Moore and the National Good Roads Association
Just 2 days after President McKinley's death, the International Good Roads Congress opened on September 16, 1901, on the grounds of the Pan American Exposition. On July 22, 1901, the National Good Roads Association (NGRA) had called for the congress, with Martin Dodge supporting the proposal by issuing a notice of the congress. Acting Secretary of State Alvey A. Adee had issued an invitation to foreign governments on August 8, noting that, "The congress has the indorsement [sic] of the director-general of the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo" but "will not be under the auspices or patronage of the Government of the United States." Nevertheless, "the Department would be glad if the Government of the country to which you are accredited could find it of advantage to send delegates to the congress." [Proceedings of the International Good Roads Congress, OPRI Bulletin No. 21, 1901, p. 5]
Throughout his tenure, Dodge would be closely linked with the NGRA, a private group headed by Colonel William H. Moore and based in St. Louis. America's Highways 1776-1976 said of the NGRA:
Like many other good roads organizations, the National Good Roads Association had no permanent membership list and depended for its support on donations from civic groups, manufacturers of road machinery, suppliers of road materials, wealthy individuals, the public at large and even the railroads. Colonel Moore, the guiding spirit of the NGRA, was a skillful and persuasive promoter, with a wide acquaintanceship among influential people. [p. 48]
Moore was born in 1856, a native of Sheffield in Ontario, Canada, who grew up in Ontario's Lambeth. As he would put it in a speech to the North Carolina Good Roads Convention on February 12, 1902:
I lived on a farm until I was 16 years old, and I know what it is to travel through the mud to school, and I also know I missed many days when I should have been there.
He also discussed the origins of the NGRA:
This is the eleventh year I have been associated with this movement. It started in a Southern State- Missouri-in 1891. We next held a convention in Omaha, and then in St. Louis, and finally we got up to Chicago, and there held a national convention in 1900, with representatives from thirty-nine States, at which time this National Good Roads Association was organized . . . . [Proceedings of the North Carolina Good Roads Convention, OPRI Bulletin No. 24, 1903, p. 12]
With the Nation in mourning for the assassinated President, Moore opened the International Good Roads Congress on September 16. He explained:
It is not necessary for me to state that we meet under adverse conditions, for the hearts of the nation to-day are following the funeral train that is now on its way to the Capitol bearing the remains of our beloved President. [Bulletin 21, p. 6]
Dodge, addressing the congress as temporary chairman, began his comments in a similar vein:
I appreciate very highly, I assure you, the honor of being called upon to preside temporarily over your deliberations. I do so, however, with feelings of the most intense regret, that we and the entire nation have been overtaken by this great calamity-the assassination of our beloved Chief Magistrate. Undoubtedly the attendance of delegates is diminished by reason of that unfortunate fact.
Turning to the subject at hand, he stated that "it is a matter of regret that the Government has been somewhat slow to appreciate the necessities of the people in this great movement." Citing annual appropriations as low as $8,000, he explained that Congress had increased the appropriation to $14,000 the previous year and to $20,000 for the present year. "It is still, however, ridiculously small to meet the necessities and requirements of the case."
(The reference to $8,000 is correct. Although the Office began in 1893 with a budget of $10,000, the annual amount was reduced in later years during the depression that followed the economic panic of 1893.)
The remainder of his speech covered familiar territory, including the evolution of vehicles, the shift from animal power to inanimate power, and the need for cheap transportation by road. He concluded with an observation that he made in other speeches and articles:
In conclusion, let me call your attention to the fact that the cheap rates which prevail upon the steam roads and the steamships have been largely brought about by the aid which has been given to them by the Government of the United States. You all know how many millions of dollars are and have been appropriated annually for many years past in the "rivers and harbors" bill to deepen the rivers and harbors and the water communication between the Great Lakes . . . . The Government has also given its aid to the long-distance railroads going through the prairies of the West and over the mountains to the Pacific coast, and in that way great results in the cheapening of transportation have come through Government aid . . . . But what I now think is that having accomplished so much in those directions and the needs being so great in reference to a matter which has been so long neglected, we ought all to agree that the Government itself should give suitable aid, and the various States would follow the example set by this State, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and other States, and push this work forward until we have accomplished for the short haul as much as has been accomplished for the long haul. [p. 11-15]
Later that first day of the congress, delegates adopted a resolution on the death of President McKinley, expressing their grief and deciding to adjourn on September 19, the day of his funeral.
Despite the somber circumstances, the congress was successful in its array of topics. The OPRI published the proceedings in November 1901 in a first edition of 10,000 copies. When that edition was exhausted, OPRI printed another 10,000.
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