Springfield Research Center Receives Previously Unseen Photos of “The Father of Route 66”

Cyrus Avery, right, with his wife, Essie, and sons Leighton and Gordon, circa 1907.

By Erin Smither, senior archivist

The State Historical Society of Missouri

April 30 marked the ninety-second anniversary of the birth of Route 66. Photographs at the State Historical Society of Missouri’s Springfield Research Center provide a new window into the early life of Cyrus Avery, an instrumental figure in the creation of America’s “Mother Road.”

Born in Pennsylvania in 1871, Cyrus Stevens Avery moved to Missouri with his family in 1881, where he would remain for his formative years. After graduating from William Jewell College in Liberty, he moved to the Oklahoma Territory in 1901 and pursued occupations ranging from selling insurance and real estate to investing in oil. 

Recognizing that modern highways brought prosperity to communities, he became an outspoken advocate of the Good Roads Movement. After he was elected the presiding commissioner of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, in 1913, he began working to improve the local road system. Avery’s efforts led to his appointment on the Oklahoma Highway Commission, where he continued to champion improved roads.  

Avery attended a meeting at the Colonial Hotel in Springfield, Missouri, on April 30, 1926, at which an impasse was resolved over the designation of a new highway that would begin in Chicago, cross Illinois, Missouri, and six other states, and end in Santa Monica, California. Historians are uncertain about who suggested that the route be designated Highway 66, but the group recognized the number was catchy and unanimously recommended its adoption by the Bureau of Public Roads in Washington, DC.

As a member of the board tasked with creating the Federal Highway System, Avery helped determine the route’s path. Once the road was established, he pushed for the creation of the US Highway 66 Association, which worked to have all 2,448 miles paved. As a result of his efforts to build and promote the highway, Avery came to be known as the “Father of Route 66.”  

SHSMO’s collection of materials on Avery were acquired through a donation in 2016 from Rose Stauber, his great-niece. The Rose Stauber Papers (SP0015) includes previously unseen photos of Avery from the years before his time as a public official. The images show him as a young man, sometimes posing with his sisters or as a young father with his children.

Though he only lived 20 of his 92 years in Missouri, Cyrus remained in touch with his family there, often visiting the Stauber farm in Noel. While owning a farm and raising cattle in Oklahoma, Avery remained active in civic affairs, often running for office either at the state or local level. He was also a Lock Joint Pipe Company salesman from 1950 until his retirement in 1958. Avery died in Los Angeles on July 2, 1963.

 

Cyrus Avery, right, with his sisters, Bertha and Caroline, in the 1880s. The images were donated by Avery’s great-niece.
Cyrus Avery, left, with an unidentified man