April 1, 1967
The recently created U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) formally began operations as the 12th federal cabinet department with a considerable amount of fun and fanfare on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Thousands gathered at that park in the nation’s capital for a celebration featuring a broad-based transportation theme and including music from organs and bands as well as a calliope. The Associated Press reported that the entire event “was all put on by the Smithsonian Institution, which deals, as one official explained, in showmanship as well as scholarship.”
Alan S. Boyd, who had been sworn in as the first secretary of the new department in January of that year, played a very active role in the day’s festivities. He rode in a mule-drawn 1880s omnibus at one point and also traveled in a jet-age, propeller-driven vehicle that skimmed above the ground on a cushion of air.
In addition, Boyd took to the skies in a hot-air balloon with his wife and son. They soared at least 40 feet (12.2 meters) off the National Mall in the balloon. “It’s just like being on a featherbed,” the new transportation secretary said about the subsequent return of the aircraft to earth.
There was much else taking place on the National Mall during that spring day. “Everything seemed to be happening at once,” noted the Washington Post. “Bands played, flags flapped, crowds milled.” Other highlights of the activity-filled celebration included an assortment of antique automobiles driving slowly around the National Mall. Then there was the man who drifted up into the air several times thanks to a steam-powered rocket pack on his back.
After completing his own airborne excursion that day, Boyd went inside the Smithsonian’s Museum of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History) to talk about the newest federal cabinet department and its goals. “It was the only serious note of a glorious, zany day,” reported the New York Times.
The establishment of USDOT to bring together various transportation modes under one federal agency created a ripple effect among the states. Over the next decade, one state after another similarly consolidated standalone transportation functions into single agencies. AASHO likewise followed suit, officially becoming AASHTO in 1973 to reflect an expanded mission that embraced all modes of transportation.
Photo Credit: The Federal Highway Administration
For more information on the origins of the U.S. Department of Transportation, please check out Public Roads – A Great Day in America: USDOT’s 50th Anniversary , September/October 2016 – FHWA-HRT-16-006