Modeled after ancient Rome’s Golden Milestone, which itself was a gesture meant to unify the disparate people’s of the once-sprawling empire, the Zero Milestone in Washington, D.C. was created as a symbol of the effectiveness of the country’s road system, but in the end its influence never spread past the city limits.
As America’s emerging automobile culture came to prominence in the early 20th century the government put forth a plan to send a massive military convoy from the East Coast to the West, marking the first such movement via the public road system. The transfer would make a statement about the solidarity, ingenuity, and efficiency the road system gave the country, and such a grand gesture demanded an equally monumental jump off point. Thus the Zero Monument was created.
The point from which the convoy launched, just south of the White House, was to be, just as the Golden Milestone, the exact spot from which all other roads in the country would be measured. A makeshift monument was placed in 1919 to mark the Army’s event, and the more permanent monument was added in 1923. The squat concrete pillar was inlaid with a classy brass compass rose on top and America was ready to be mapped.
Unfortunately for the monument’s designers, measurements for the road system stemmed from the spot only within Washington, D.C. while other roads began being “started” elsewhere. Nonetheless, the Zero Milestone stands today as a symbol of America’s often overlooked, but utterly incredible and essential road system’s role in holding the population together.