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50 Years of Transportation History

50 Years of Transportation History

Whether you travel by car, bus, train, motorcycle, airplane, or bicycle, the dedicated men and women of the Department of Transportation are working to make sure you do so safely. Across the country, nearly 55,000 public servants are focused on building and maintaining a transportation system that enhances the quality of life for all Americans. Today, we celebrate the Department’s 50th birthday - take a look back at some moments in DOT's fifty year history.

1966: A new Cabinet agency
On October 15, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the “Department of Transportation Act,” creating a new Cabinet agency with five operating elements: the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, and the U.S. Coast Guard. In his State of the Union Address earlier that year, President Johnson urged Congress to “modernize and streamline the federal government” by creating a 12th Cabinet-level agency.


President Johnson delivers his State of the Union Address in 1966.  

1967: First Day of Business
President Lyndon Johnson selected Alan S. Boyd, then Under Secretary of Transportation at the Department of Commerce to lead a new Cabinet agency as the first Secretary of Transportation.  On April 1, 1967, the Department of Transportation began operations.

Secretary Alan Boyd
Secretary Boyd celebrates the official first day of operations for the Department of Transportation.

1975: Breaking Barriers
On March 7, William T. Coleman, Jr became the first African American to serve as Secretary of Transportation. During his tenure, he created the first Statement of National Transportation Policy in U.S. history, a precursor to our 2015 draft framework, Beyond Traffic.

Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and Secretary Coleman
Secretary Coleman is pictured here with Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall who administered the oath of office at the White House Ceremony.

1984: The Trifecta
During her tenure, Secretary Elizabeth Dole led efforts that resulted in the “trifecta” – the first state safety belt laws, air bags in cars, and a national legal drinking age. The “trifecta” went into effect the week of July 11th, and is credited with savings 400,000 lives to date.

1990: Disability Rights
On July 26, President George H.W. Bush signed into the law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This landmark civil rights legislation prohibits discrimination and guarantees equal access to opportunity for persons with disabilities.

Photo Credit Tom Olin
Photo courtesy of Tom Olin

1992: The Interstate Highway Completed
On June 29, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 into law, creating the Interstate System. The Interstate Highway System is completed with the opening of the I-70 near Denver. Visit the Federal Highway Administration’s website to learn more about the History of the Interstate Highway System.

First Highway Project Sign

2003: Impact of 9/11 
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 led to the creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and eventually the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In 2003, both TSA and the U.S. Coast Guard formally transferred from the Department of Transportation to the newly-created DHS.

2009: Distracted Driving
When Secretary Ray LaHood was sworn in as the 16th Secretary of Transportation in 2009, only 18 states had laws against texting and driving. Today, 46 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban texting behind the wheel.

Secretary Ray LaHood

2014: Safer People, Safer Streets
On September 10, Secretary Foxx announced the Department’s Safer People, Safer Streets initiative to enhance pedestrian and bicycle safety. As part of the initiative, Secretary Foxx issued the Mayors' Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets in which mayors, elected officials, and other local leaders from 245 communities across the U.S. signed on to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists in their communities.


Photo courtesy Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center

2016: Cuba
After more than half a century, the first scheduled flight between the U.S. & Cuba took flight. In 2015, President Obama announced that it was time to ‘begin a new journey’ with the Cuban people.

Secretary Foxx in Santa Clara Cuba
Secretary Foxx arrives in Santa Clara, Cuba following the first scheduled flight to Cuba traveled from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on August 30. Secretary Foxx becomes the first Cabinet secretary to visit Santa Clara and the only to visit a city outside of Havana.

2016: The Next Revolution in Roadway Safety
Ninety-four percent of crashes on U.S. roadways are caused by human error or choice. In September, the Department issued new federal policy for the safe testing and deployment of automated vehicles which have enormous potential for improving safety and mobility for Americans on the road.

Secretary Foxx announces new federal automated vehicle policy

Visit www.transportation.gov/50 to learn more about our nation's transportation history. Use the hashtag #DOTat50 on social media to help us celebrate, and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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