How We Get From Here to There

America’s story is one of migration and expansion. In this hour, we explore the history of America’s highways and byways. We hear from Gridlock Sam, who fights traffic for a living, and Peter Norton, who takes us back to the dawn of the motor age. Then we travel through America’s canalways with batteau reenactors and John Larson, a scholar who explains the delicate issue of who foots the bill for internal improvements. Finally, Susan Rugh reminds us that “freedom of the road” simply wasn’t a reality for black Americans in the 1950s, a period when physical and social mobility seem particularly linked.

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Historian Susan Rugh describes the discrimination black families faced on America’s highways in the 1940s and 50s. Many of those travelers recounted their experiences in letters to the NAACP – letters that eventually helped convince U.S. Senators to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Taking it to the Streets


Historian Peter Norton speaks with 20th Century History Guy Brian Balogh about how automobile companies in the 1920s managed to re-define streets as a space for cars, rather than pedestrians. And he explains the little-known history of the term “jaywalker.”

Related Links

Read a chapter from Peter Norton’s Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City

Find out more about the history of batteaus and view pictures from the 2008 Batteau Festival

Read more about Easterling (PDF) Gresham (PDF) Young (PDF) Williams and Haynes (PDF)

BackStory loves bicycles! Here’s our favorite bicycle history book, by David Herlihy

Carts & wagons in colonial Virginia