Henry L. Bowlby becomes Washington's second Highway Commissioner on August 1, 1909.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 1/31/2005
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7238
See Additional Media

On August 1, 1909, Henry Lee Bowlby takes office as Washington's second Highway Commissioner, succeeding J. M. Snow. He oversees the first significant expansion of the Highway Department, which was created in 1905. During Bowlby's administration the Department begins to design and pave roads for the rapidly growing number of automobiles rather than for horse-drawn vehicles.

Autos Overtake Horses

When Bowlby, described as "a young and handsome engineering instructor from the University of Washington" (Woodin), was appointed by Governor Marion E. Hay, only 124.5 miles of state roads were "improved." Aided by 1909 legislation that gave the state more direct control over highway construction and maintenance (previously left largely to counties), Bowlby organized and expanded the Highway Department's construction efforts.

Most "improved" roads at the time were simply graded dirt or else water-bound macadam (crushed rock). The water-bound surface worked for horse-drawn vehicles, but was quickly destroyed by the increasing number of automobiles on the roads.

As Bowlby noted in his report to the Legislature, highway designers faced a dilemma because tar- or asphalt-bound macadam pavement, which stood up better to automobiles, was considered unsatisfactory for horse traffic. With automobile traffic surging, Bowlby's engineers began for the first time to design and pave roads with automobiles rather than horses in mind.

Bowlby left office in March 1913, and William R. White became acting Highway Commissioner.


Third Biennial Report of the Highway Commissioner for the Period Ending September 30, 1910 (Olympia: E. L. Boardman, Public Printer, 1910), 7-8; Harold Garrett, "A History of Highways," typescript dated 12-14-93, pp. 9-10 (copies at Washington State Department of Transportation Library and University of Washington Suzzallo-Allen Library); "Forty Years With the Washington Department of Highways," pp. 3-4, 7, Washington State Department of Transportation website accessed October 11, 2004 (http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/research/History/40years.htm); Mark S. Woodin, "Bridges, Now and Then (Highway Department, Now and Then)," State of Washington Department of Highways News, Vol. 3, No. 3, September 1953, p. 62.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You