Certain folks were quick to catch on to the Automobile Age's equation of commerce: Anything on the side of the highway is a form of mass communication. If you add products or services to sell, the sum total might just be big profits.
These people were the first on the new roadside scene. They learned, just like in the movies, that if you build it, they will come. Better put, they might come. These pioneers honed their drive-by propaganda skills over the years, crafting advertising carefully concealed as outlandish art.
Others possessed particularly clever schemes and built (and, in some cases, continue to build) something so bold and so different that it was an attraction in itself. They didn't depend on their creation to sell something -- it sold itself and lured in hordes with money to spend.
When communities realized this was the case, they often got in on the act, with local governments authorizing the construction of a work of public art that was excessive in one way or another.
Still others never cared about dollars and cents; they just wanted to make a statement. These people just wanted to build something that would tell everyone, "Yes, we were on the planet Earth for a spell. And we left our mark. There it is, on the side of the road."
Whatever their motives, many people have worked their fingers to the bone creating lasting works of roadside Americana. And a road trip in the United States would lose a coat or two of its luster without their efforts.
Sure, there are picturesque peaks, plunging canyons, wide-open spaces, and resort destinations, but the manufactured spectacle is a nice complement to the traditionally beautiful sights of nature.
In a few instances, a particular roadside landmark has transcended its purpose and origins to become an American icon in the same league as the Empire State Building or the Grand Canyon. People all over the country and, in some cases, all over the world, know of them.
Wall Drug. The Hollywood sign. Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. These are all places that mark the end of the rainbow on a road trip, pots of gold next to which you just have to pose for a few photos.
These places are the things of childhood nostalgia. The mental image of the family at Wall Drug is cemented in many a brain right next to the trip to Yellowstone.
Ultimately, the best roadside diversions are the ones that remain etched in your memory from the second you first lay eyes on them. In this article, you'll find some that rise to the top based on longevity, publicity, or just plain originality.
Let's begin our look at roadside landmarks with an import from England: the old London Bridge in Lake Havasu, Arizona. Read about it on the next page.