90 Years of Missouri Business: Missouri Showed Me
This year, Missouri Business magazine is celebrating 90 years of publication with a look back at some of our earliest issues.
This month, we remember a 1928 feature article by Missouri native Charles Phelps Cushing. When he wrote the article, Cushing was working in New York City as a photographer. The article focuses on his trip back to Missouri to document how improved roadways were transforming the Ozarks.
He begins his article by describing a “homesick yearning” he felt for his home state upon experiencing the smell of “wood-smoke from a bonfire” while walking down a New York City tenement street where “three ragged slum kids huddled on the asphalt roasting a weazened apple.”
Days later, he was reminded again of Missouri while traveling through Washington, D.C., where he heard “rumors of recent startling transformations in Missouri.” He said the local reaction to the state’s road construction progress was expressed in terms that were fairly derogatory toward Missourians:
“‘What had become, meanwhile, of that celebrated tribe of mossbacks, who used to sit so promptly and so hard upon all progressive projects of an expensive nature? How had they ever been ‘jarred loose?’”
Cushing said he was skeptical as well. So he decided to travel to Missouri and see the new roads for himself. He brought along his camera.
Upon reaching the state, he traveled thousands of miles, crisscrossing the Ozarks “by touring car and motor bus” and finding himself amazed by newly constructed infrastructure and the ease of travel in the region.
“Not once in those thousand miles did he encounter an insurmountable highway obstacle, get mired, get stalled, or break a spring,” Cushing writes of himself, in third person.
He confesses that he underestimated “the native-born ingenuity of the Ozarker’s mind in overcoming obstacles.”
One of the biggest challenges local highway engineers faced was how to cross the many streams and rivers in the region. In some places, Cushing describes seeing makeshift bridges made of wood and stone, while in others, it’s clear huge investments were being made:
“Wherever big bridges were required, no matter how costly, Missouri has built or is constructing them. Even where bridges already were standing, if they weren’t first-class ones they are being replaced now with new spans of the best approved modern type. It took my old state a good while to get going at so tremendous a job. But once she got her mind made up she went out and did the thing handsomely!”
Cushing goes on to explain how new gasoline and automobile taxes were funding this ongoing work. At the time of his writing, the state had invested more than $108 million in the project. He underscores the enormity of that sum by stating that in 10 years, the money Missouri was pouring into transportation work would “equal half the cost of the construction of the Panama Canal.”
As he wraps up his article, Cushing writes, “I wanted Missouri to ‘show me’ – and Missouri did!”