There's a great, illustrated history of America's highway system—from the Colonial period to the 1970s—that can be read for free on OpenLibrary.
I've just thumbed through it a bit so far, but it reminded me of a book I read a couple of years ago, Consuming Nature: Environmentalism in the Fox River Valley, 1850-1950. That book, by Greg Summers, a professor the University of Wisconsin - Steven's Point, is about how electric and highway infrastructures were built up in Wisconsin. It's also about the socio-cultural changes that led first to the construction of infrastructure and then, later, to fear over what infrastructure had done to the environment. Really super fascinating.
One of the things I learned in both of these books is that early road infrastructure was built and maintained by the local people who used it. In Colonial times, you owed the city or county so many hours of labor every year. And, when they called you up, you had to go out and work on a road crew. Sort of like jury duty. Only sweatier. (Of course, if you were wealthy enough -- or, in the case of colonial Virginia, owned enough slaves -- you could have other people do your labor for you.) In 19th-century Wisconsin, you could substitute labor on the roads for cash road taxes.
One of the fun outcomes of this system, at least in Wisconsin: Really craptastic roads. Turns out, a gang of random citizens, led by another random citizen, is not exactly who you want in charge of your infrastructure. Summers writes:
"Given proper direction, they might have been capable of maintaining the roads. Unfortunately, town officials tended to select overseers from the ranks of their own communities, leaving them with individuals who had no more knowledge or training in the principles of highway construction than the neighbors they were intended to supervise. As a result, the annual parties of local residents organized for the spring roadwork often degenerated into social gatherings, and little improvement to the highways was ever accomplished."
Thanks to Philip Bump for the link to the OpenLibrary book!
Image: Road crew, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from runran's photostream
The PocketLab is billed as a “Swiss Army Knife of science.” Launched via Kickstarter, the small device contains numerous sensors to measure acceleration, force, angular velocity, magnetic field, pressure, altitude, and temperature and send that data to smartphones or laptops. According to inventor Clifton Roozeboom, it’s a tool for students and citizen scientists who can’t […]
Ambient displays translate online information into a simple presentation that’s meant to be glanceable, easy to understand, and non-intrusive. I’ve always appreciate artistic ambient displays, like Nancy Patterson’s Stock Market Skirt and Eric Paulos’s Limelight. Ken Kawamoto’s Tempescope appears to be another wonderful example. It’s a weather display in the form of a transparent box […]
Twenty years ago, Texas Instruments released the TI-83 graphing calculator, a stupidly expensive piece of old technology that most high schools still require their juniors and seniors buy for around $100. Why? Because. That’s why. From Mic.com: Pearson textbooks feature illustrations of TI-series calculators alongside chapters so students can use their TI calculator in conjunction […]
SitePoint Premium is the ultimate e-learning library for web developers, designers, and digital professionals. Famous for their web development books written by industry leaders, they’ve expanded their content library to include in-depth video courses and short, handy screencasts partnering with A Book Apart and UX Mastery. Whatever you want to achieve in your web career, […]
Skip the technical jargon and get right to taking amazing, professional-quality photos with this complete training. The Hollywood Art Institute Photography Course includes 22 modules filled with tutorials on how to profit off of your photography, or simply capture your memories in the manner they deserve.Accredited by the Photography Education Accreditation CouncilDive into this 22 […]
Power up your gadgets in the most unexpected places with the extremely compact SolarJuice battery pack. SolarJuice charges up at home like your average battery pack, but also lets you add extra juice on-the-go using its built-in solar panel—so you’ll never be left unplugged from the digital world.4.5 Stars on Amazon!Simultaneously charges 2 devices at […]