Fritz Todt was appointed general inspector for German highways

Wednesday 5th July 1933

Fritz Todt was appointed general inspector for German highways. His primary assignment: to build a comprehensive autobahn system. Adolf Hitler handpicked Todt, a civil engineer who was a proponent of a national highway system as a means of economic development, for the position in 1932. The two men were close friends, and Todt remained a Nazi party member throughout World War II. By 1936, 100,000 kilometres of divided highways had been completed, leaving Germany with the most advanced transportation system in the world. Todt estimated in a 1936 speech that “170,000,000 cubic meters of earth have been moved. This would fill a line of trucks extending around the earth four times.” He concluded his speech with an exhortation to the German people typical of Nazi party propaganda. “They are roads unequalled anywhere else in the world in their technical excellence and beauty. Is this a work of technology? No! Like so much else, it is the work of Adolf Hitler!” The autobahns were, in fact, the envy of the industrialised world and a source of both anxiety and awe for Europeans. A Danish newspaper declared, “They are the expression of a national energy that compels the greatest admiration.” What few suspected was that the German road system was the first step to their conquest of Western Europe, as the autobahns allowed the Germans to move troops and personnel faster and in greater numbers than anyone could have imagined. The ease with which the German army moved into France owes much to its facility to mobilise and shift troops faster than the French could. Todt became a national hero for his creation, and the autobahn inspired U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower to foster a similar American interstate highway system. Having been in Germany during the war, he returned to the United States deeply convinced that good highways were directly linked to economic prosperity.

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