1853: A Giant Among Early Road Advocates is Born

January 15, 1853

Sidney Suggs (third from left on the top row in the picture above), a leading good roads advocate who became the first director of the Oklahoma Department of Highways (forerunner of today’s Oklahoma Department of Transportation), was born near the city of Tupelo, Mississippi. When Suggs was 14, he and his family moved to Texas. Suggs worked for a machinery business in Dallas for 15 years, then joined his brother Hugh in the section of present-day Oklahoma that was known at the time as Indian Territory. (In 1907, this territory and Oklahoma Territory combined to form the state of Oklahoma.) Together, the Suggs brothers operated such enterprises as a mill, lumberyard, and cotton gin.

By 1897, Sidney Suggs had embarked on a career in journalism. He purchased the Ardmoreite newspaper (based in the city of Ardmore) and, along with strongly urging that the Indian and Oklahoma Territories come together to create a single state, he staunchly promoted the development of better and more modern highways in the region. In 1906, Suggs was elected president of the Oklahoma Good Roads Association. He wholeheartedly embraced this new role, traveling throughout the area to give speeches on behalf of good roads and lobbying lawmakers for the creation of a highway department. In 1910, Oklahoma Governor Charles Haskell appointed Suggs as the inspector of public roads.

Suggs subsequently stepped away from the newspaper business so that he could focus full-time on behalf of good roads in the Sooner State. After the Oklahoma Department of Highways was officially established in 1911, Governor Lee Cruce appointed Suggs at its first director. The Weekly Democrat Chief newspaper (based in the city of Hobart, Oklahoma) asserted later that same year, “State highway Commissioner Sidney Suggs of Ardmore is doing great work for the people of Oklahoma. He believes that by organization, and organization only, can the work of constructing modern highways be accomplished, and there are none better than he on bringing about effective organizations.”

One of Suggs’ key accomplishments during his tenure took place well beyond Oklahoma. In 1914, he was among those who founded the American Association of State Highway Officials in Washington, D.C., and then met afterward with President Woodrow Wilson at the White House to promote state-level highway priorities and needs.

Suggs, who served as director of the Oklahoma Department of Highways until 1915, was widely known as Colonel Sidney Suggs. When Suggs died in 1935 at the age of 82, the Oklahoma-based Ada Weekly News highlighted one of his most memorable and endearing trademarks. “Col. Suggs and his old-fashioned accordion became an institution in Oklahoma and throughout the southwest,” noted the newspaper. “Everywhere Suggs went, he took his accordion. He had played it at road conventions, especially all the way from New York to California, he once said.”

For more information on Sidney Suggs, please check out https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=SU004.

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