HISTORIC FEATS: America’s Forgotten Highway

The modern world didn’t just happen. It was built. Built by men and women who understood the value of hard work and overcoming the impossible to accomplish Historic Feats. Those are our kind of people. To celebrate them and their accomplishments, OXX is taking a closer look at some of the greatest feats of human ingenuity that America has ever seen. 

When you think of famous highway systems, which ones do you think of? Does Route 66 come to mind, or maybe the local highway that’s got some hometown history to it? For most, the highway that doesn’t make the cut is one of the country’s most significant: the Alaskan Highway. Built in 1942 during World War II, the Alaska Highway was a feat of engineering meant to ensure the safety of North America’s western coast. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States and Canada came to an agreement that a highway connecting the lower 48 to the state of Alaska was a necessary safety precaution. The United States Army Corps of Engineers headed to Dawson Creek, British Columbia to begin the monstrous undertaking of the road to Alaska.

 

Photo Courtesy of The Dakota Hunter

It’s crazy long. 

The official start of the Alaska Highway is in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. From there, the highway winds through the Canadian Countryside were it officially ends at Delta Junction, Alaska, some 1,422 miles away. That’s a little over the distance from Chicago, IL to Salt Lake City, UT. The drive would take you about 27 hours to complete.

 

 

 

Photo Courtesy of Olive-Drab
Photo Courtesy of Olive-Drab

 

It took a lot of people. 

With the Japanese continuing to threaten the territories of North American, the United States Army Corps of Engineers enlisted 5 regiments of almost 11,000 men to work on construction. In addition to the armed forces that worked on the project, another 16,000 civilian workers from 41 American and 13 Canadian contractors worked on the project. Amazingly, the project was completed in just 8 short months.

 

 

Photo Courtesy of PBS

The construction of the Alaska Highway was an important milestone for the desegregation of the United States Army. 

One of the first challenges of the Alaska Highway project was finding engineers to man it. Most of the Army’s engineers had already been assigned to different posts throughout the world. With little options left available to them, War Department decided to hire 3 regiments of African Americans. At this time, the military was still segregated, and many believed that the African American engineers would not only perform poorly, but would be unable to withstand the harsh climates of Alaska. But by October 1942, an African American soldier and a white bulldozer-driving soldier met in the middle to shake hands at the completion of the Alaskan Highway. The iconic picture of that moment became a symbol, sending a message to African Americans that their hard work made a difference in the fight against the Axis.

 

The Alaska Highway is more than an engineering success story. It’s a moment in our history that began to change the way we look at our fellow Americans. The Alaska Highway project brought us together to celebrate what our combined efforts can accomplish when we have a common goal.