Despite what you may believe after driving through Detroit on I-75, we enjoy an excellent road system here in the United States. Few of us take the time to think about exactly where those roads came from or how the federal government got into the road building business at all. We just assume that as transportation evolved, so did roads. As you might by now suspect, that's not exactly the case. It turns out that the government's interest in decent roadways has more to do with the evolution of the bicycle than it does the growth of the automobile.
In the late 1800s, a business man by the name of Albert Pope had noticed the growing popularity of bicycles and started up his own manufacturing company. In order to make his product more appealing to those who lived outside of well-manicured city streets, Pope began a crusade that would shape the face of transportation in America. He started a magazine with the sole purpose of bringing road quality to the public eye, donated vast sums of money to MIT to start a new road engineering program and eventually succeeded in convincing congress to found the Office of Road Inquiry – what would eventually become the Federal Highway Administration.
So the next time you have to wait to pass a bicyclist on a two lane road, be patient. Their contraption is likely more responsible for the silky tarmac you're driving on than the car you're in.
[Source: The Infrastructurist]