Culmination of a Four-Year Research Project: Eno’s Work on Eisenhower

In celebration of the dedication of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in downtown Washington this week, Eno’s Jeff Davis published the results of a four-year research project into the transportation policy documents of the Eisenhower Library and other National Archives facilities. Davis also participated in a National Heritage Lecture through the United States Capitol Historical Society to discuss Eisenhower’s transportation policies and how they continue to impact today’s transportation system.

You can now access all the articles, organized by mode, describing the Eisenhower-era transportation policies on Eno’s website. In each article, there are numerous links to original source documents, many of which are hosted on the Eno website and are unavailable digitally anywhere else.

In his presentation with the Historical Society, Davis provided an overview of President Eisenhower’s impact on transportation, including his most widely-known accomplishments—the St. Lawrence Seaway and the development of the interstate system.

A series of locks and/or dams to close the 243-foot vertical drop between Lake Ontario and the Atlantic Ocean had been under discussion since the 1890s and under serious study since the Wilson Administration. The Seaway had acquired a degree of urgency by the time Eisenhower took office because in December 1951, the Canadian government passed a law declaring that they would build a Seaway without U.S. participation if the U.S. would not move forward. This would allow Canada to charge tolls to U.S. vessels higher than other vessels, and also raised the possibility of Canada denying Seaway use to U.S. vessels in time of war if Canada was not a belligerent party. After a difficult but eventually bipartisan passage by Congress, Eisenhower signed the Seaway bill into law on May 13, construction commenced, and was completed by 1959, in time for Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth to open the Seaway in June 1959. Since then, the Seaway has moved more than 2.5 billion tons of cargo.

Even more notable than Eisenhower’s work regarding the Seaway was the development of the interstate system. 1919, Lt. Col. Eisenhower famously was attached as an observer on the first experimental Army cross-country truck convoy, which took 62 miserable days to travel 3,251 miles of mostly unimproved dirt roads from Washington DC to San Francisco. This left a lasting impression on Eisenhower, which was amplified when he got to Germany in 1945 and observed the vast efficiencies of their autobahn network. After a long and difficult process (that included a dramatic announcement of a “$50 billion-dollar plan” to pay for improved roads) a final bill provided $24.8 billion (5.7 percent of the FY 1956 GDP) in up-front funding for Interstate construction, to be doled out in tranches over 13 years. Today, the Interstate Highway System stretches 47,622 miles and is an integral part of national travel.

To learn more about Eisenhower and his impacts on transportation, make sure to check out our page with all of the research.

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