The Great Renumbering

What is involved in taking an entire state road system, and changing all of the road numbers on one day? Well, the Indiana State Highway Commission found out on 1 October 1926. Planning for months, the ISHC was as ready as they could be for the day that could turn into the “day from hell.”

Route decisions 1: it took quite a bit of time to decide to make this project happen. Let’s start with the AASHO, the American Association of State Highway Officials. The work started in 1924 to design a replacement for the confusing number of cross-country highways, then known as Auto Routes. As mentioned before in this blog, the US Highway system was basically an agreement between the states to keep the same number across state lines. But 1924 and 1925 were the beginning of trying to nail down a plan of roads to put the newly created US shields.

Route decisions 2: What to do with the duplicate numbers? Does Indiana keep them, knowing that they are only state roads with a more important sign, or do they replace the ones that were in place? Original State Road (OSR) 20 connected Mount Vernon, New Harmony and Owensville in southern Indiana. OSR 24 ran along what became SR 35 in 1926 from Palmyra to south of Vallonia. OSR 50 became SR 10. OSR 27 became SR 15. OSR 40 became parts of many state roads connecting (western part) Jasper, Patoke, French Lick and West Baden, with the eastern part starting at Scottsburg, via Madison, Vevay, Rising Sun and Aurora to Lawrenceburg. Needless to say, SOME road numbers were going to have to change. Should the ISHC change them all? The decision was yes.

Route decisions 3: Since the numbers are changing, what do we (the ISHC) change them to? The decision was to follow AASHO’s lead when it came to numbering the US highways. With very few exceptions, the new numbers would follow that same system very well.

Public notice: Now that decisions have been made, time to tell the public that things are going to be moving around. Every newspaper in the state published the very same article between 25 and 30 September 1926. The article listed all of the pending changes. Pieces of that article were shown in this entry:

Signage 1: Oh, yeah. The whole signage thing. The whole reason that state highway systems were created in the first place. To take the place of all the confusing array of painted route markers. The picture to the left shows the state road markers in place before the Great Renumbering. This is taken from a 1923 Indiana Official Highway map. It goes so far as to say that these were painted on

telephone poles. The new signs were to be just the state outline on a flat sign, as shown in the picture to the right. (Personal laughing moment – the SR 2 sign shown above left was placed along what became US 30 in 1926. The original OSR 2 was the original 1913 route of the Lincoln Highway. This original OSR 2 would, on 1 October 1926, became, get this, NEW SR 2. Oh, yes. That did happen.

Signage 2: Oh. My. Goodness. Signs along the sides of the roads at that time couldn’t be printed on a laser printer like Indiana’s current license plates. (I know, laser printers didn’t exist at the time!) Signs at that point in history were stamped and hand painted. Just like the license plates at the time. (See what I did there?) This is part of the reason

Indianapolis News, 16 August 1926

that the fonts on most signs at the time is so square looking. But let’s get to the meat of the issue. There MIGHT have been a total of two months notice to make signs for the massive change about to come. That is not enough time to make that many signs. An article, shared to the left, mentions the state needed 39,300 route markers and signs.

So what happened the day of the Great Renumbering when it came to route markers? Since all the renumberings had to be done in one day, the resignage was done with paper board signs until the metal signs could replace them.

I am having visions of local state transportation officials running to the local printer and having them run a print job of THOUSANDS of cardboard state shapes with different numbers on them. This may or may not have been how this happened. It just seems funny to me.

So, in one day, every map of Indiana was wrong, every road in the state was renumbered (even when they were renumbered to what was its original number), and tens of thousands of cardboard signs were nailed to telephone poles all over the state. AND, this was when the state only had between 3,000 and 5,000 miles of state roads. The system was still being built and expanded, a process that really didn’t end until the 1950s.

The label, “Great Renumbering,” is a term that I just started using. I am not even sure when. But, suffice it to say, it was, to me, an appropriate description of what happened on 1 October 1926. I leave it to you to decide if I should keep using it or not.

2 thoughts on “The Great Renumbering

  1. Of course you can call it the Great Renumbering. That’s what roadfans in other states call their states’ highway renumberings, so there’s precedent. And it was the tiny minority of routes that kept their numbers.

    Liked by 1 person

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