1957: the year that defined America and the automobile

Of all the periods in the Twentieth Century, the 1950s were perhaps the most symbolic of American culture and pride. The postwar growth and optimism paved the wave for the new generation of baby boomers and the then-middle aged set who had just finished World War II. Of these years, 1957 represented the postwar American culture at its peak-with its milestones in automotive history still remembered 50 years later.

The Interstate Highway Act had been approved and signed by President Dwight Eisenhower a year earlier and the construction of the new Interstate Highway System was in full swing by 1957. The Pennsylvania Turnpike reached its full length in 1950, the New Jersey Turnpike was completed in 1951, followed by the Ohio Turnpke in 1955 and by 1956 the Indiana Toll Road and the New York State Thruway were completed. Motorists could now travel from from New York to Chicago via limited-access toll routes without traffic lights, stop signs or intersections.

Jack Kerouac published his novel On the Road that year, which would be a testament to America's new culture of the 50s: the open road. And the road was indeed a culture that influenced that Nation. From diners to roadside curios and other artifacts now found along the country's lost highways, the mid 1950s now seem like a lost time of innocence, bygone.

1957 was not just a year of car culture and new roads, but also gave us some of the structures themselves now part of our great highway network. The Mackinac Bridge ("Mighty Mac") opened linking Michigan's Lower and Upper Peninsula and at over five miles in total length became the world's longest suspension bridge. The Massachusetts Turnpike was completed, as were the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, Walt Whitman Bridge in Philadelphia and the third (south) tube of the Lincoln Tunnel.

Lastly, the year 1957 gave the world several cars still remembered today as classics. The 1957 Chevy and 1957 Ford Thunderbird (original 2-seat) are very much recognized by many with a special place in American history. On the flip side, the 1958 Edsel introduced that fall has become a synonym for an automotive marketing failure, and a product dud in general. As much as 1957 symbolized postwar American prosperity and growth, we can look back and see in a half-century, it is progress?

Maybe in 2057...

-Kevin Wong


First cars cross the new south tube of the Lincoln Tunnel, May 25, 1957.