Zero Milestone: Ike, World War I, and The American Century Of Oil
By Brian C. Black
via the Black Rifle Coffee Company Coffee or Die magazine web site
On July 7, 1919, a group of U.S. military members dedicated Zero Milestone – the point from which all road distances in the country would be measured – just south of the White House lawn in Washington, D.C. The next morning, they helped to define the future of the nation.
Instead of an exploratory rocket or deep-sea submarine, these explorers set out in 42 trucks, five passenger cars and an assortment of motorcycles, ambulances, tank trucks, mobile field kitchens, mobile repair shops and Signal Corps searchlight trucks. During the first three days of driving, they managed just over five miles per hour. This was most troubling because their goal was to explore the condition of American roads by driving across the U.S.
Participating in this exploratory party was U.S. Army Captain Dwight D. Eisenhower. Although he played a critical role in many portions of 20th-century U.S. history, his passion for roads may have carried the most significant impact on the domestic front. This trek, literally and figuratively, caught the nation and the young soldier at a crossroads.
Returning from World War I, Ike was entertaining the idea of leaving the military and accepting a civilian job. His decision to remain proved pivotal for the nation. By the end of the first half of the century, the roadscape – transformed with an interstate highway system while he was president – helped remake the nation and the lives of its occupants.
For Ike, though, roadways represented not only domestic development but also national security. By the early 1900s it become clear to many administrators that petroleum was a strategic resource to the nation’s present and future.
At the start of World War I, the world had an oil glut since there were few practical uses for it beyond kerosene for lighting. When the war was over, the developed world had little doubt that a nation’s future standing in the world was predicated on access to oil. “The Great War” introduced a 19th-century world to modern ideas and technologies, many of which required inexpensive crude.
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