Inventor of the Week Archive
for a different Invention or Inventor
Interstate Highway System
Francis "Frank" Turner is credited with having developed the interstate
highway system as we know it in the United States. In 1929, the Dallas native
graduated from the Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Texas
A&M University) and immediately joined the Bureau
of Public Roads as a Junior Highway Engineer. There, he was assigned to
field service in the Bureau's research program in what was then called the Division
of Management. He was one of a group of college graduates selected each year
to participate in a training program which focused on building methods designed
to reduce the costs of highway construction. At the time, highway engineering
was a brand new field.
During training, Frank learned to question construction procedures of the
time and to be innovative and resourceful. He was transferred to the Arkansas
Division office in Little Rock in 1933, where he was an Area Engineer responsible
for a portion of the Arizona federal-aid highway program.
In 1940, Frank earned a graduate degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M.
He continued to work for the Bureau of Public Roads in Washington, D.C. for
a few years, then in 1943 he went to work on the Alaska
Highway project as an "expediter," where he lead the way in using aerial
reconnaissance for highway location. In 1946, Frank headed to the Philippines,
where he was in charge of restoring war-damaged roads and bridges. In 1951,
the Philippine government recognized Frank's work by making him a Member of
the Legion of Honor.
Frank returned to the U.S. in 1950 to become the assistant to Commissioner
Thomas H. MacDonald, who made him coordinator for the Inter-American Highway
and projects in other countries. Some say the real father of the federal interstate
system was President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was inspired to create a better
U.S. highway system after he saw the Autobahn in Germany. In the 1950's, Eisenhower,
for whom military concerns were always top-of-mind, wanted to build a system
of highways linking all parts of the country so as to facilitate the rapid movement
of the military and civilians in case of an attack by the Soviet Union.
In 1954, when President Eisenhower appointed the President's Advisory Committee
National Highway Program (the Clay Committee), Frank was named Executive
Secretary to the committee. The modern interstate highway system was born June
29, 1956, when President Eisenhower signed the
Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, which provided for joint federal and state
funding of interstate highways. Frank had served as liaison between the bureau
and the congressional committees during the deliberations leading up to the
creation of the Act.
From 1957 to 1969, as deputy commissioner, chief engineer, and then director
of public roads, Turner was instrumental in helping to resolve many project
disputes and keeping the interstate system's progress on track. In February
1967, the U.S. Senate confirmed his appointment as Director of Public Roads.
In 1969, he was appointed the federal highway administrator. He served in this
position until his retirement on June 30, 1972.
Over the last fifty years, Frank has received recognition for his leadership
and contributions in transportation from many organizations. He was named Construction
Man of the Year in 1967 and 1970 by Engineering
News-Record and also was named World Highway Man of the Year by the International
Road Federation in 1969. In January 1999, Frank became the first recipient
of the Frank Turner Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Transportation. He died
in October of that year at age 90.