Before a mile of Michigan roadway was paved or a centerline painted, before Henry Ford rolled his first Model A off the assembly line, there was Horatio “Good Roads” Earle. At the turn of the century, this young entrepreneur and bicycle enthusiast was president of the League of American Wheelmen. This group, founded in 1880, fought for better roads and streets and the rights of bicyclists to use them. In 1892, they convinced the Michigan legislature to establish a state highway commission to recommend road improvements.
I often hear now-a-days, the automobile instigated good roads; that the automobile is the parent of good roads. Well, the truth is, the bicycle is the father of the good roads movement in this country.
Earle was a visionary; as early as 1901, he envisioned a system of roads that would connect every major city and every state capital. He founded the American Road Makers of 1902, which later became the American Road and Transportation Builders Association and lobbied for federal funding of road construction.
Earle’s zeal on behalf of the good-roads movement brought him national prominence and focused the attention of Michigan residents on the roads issue. In 1905, voters in 83 Michigan counties approved an amendment to the state’s constitution authorizing state spending for roads, and creating the Michigan State Highway Department. The new department set up business in the office of the Speaker of the House in the State Capitol with an annual operating budget of $10,000 and a staff of five. Earle became the state’s first highway commissioner.
Earle declared war on the “mighty monarch mud, who rules the road to the exclusion of everyone.” Under his administration, the nation’s first mile of rural concrete highway is paved on Woodward Ave. between Six and Seven Mile roads in Detroit. The road is completed in less than three months at a cost of $13,537, including $1000 in state aid. The short stretch of road becomes a tourist attraction.
Michigan historical marker commemorating Horatio Sawyer Earle in front of the Michigan Department of Transportation building in Lansing, Michigan.
Who was “Good Roads” Earle?, Michigan Department of Transportation
Horatio Earle entry, American Roads and Transportation Builder Association
Horatio Earle, Michigan Transportation History
The autobiography of “By gum” Earle, by Horatio Sawyer Earle.