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Map of National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, 1958

This 1958 map of interstate highways shows improvements in rural segments to be completed over the next quarter-century. The 1956 Federal Highway Act converted many two-lane state roads into well-paved, four-lane superhighways, speeding travel between major population centers. The routes were meant for emergency evacuation and military transport as well as for commerce and commuting.

AAA, used by permission; Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress

Map of National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, 1958

Creating an Interstate Highway System

In his 1956 State of the Union Address to Congress, President Dwight D. Eisenhower called for “legislation to provide a modern, interstate highway system.” Within months, after considerable debate, Congress passed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. It authorized the extension of highways nationwide in one of the largest public works projects in U.S. history. Interstate highways made travel and commerce more efficient. They also provided key routes for evacuating urban centers—a critical national defense issue in the Cold War era.