Dorri Partain

During a road trip along the developing interstate highway system, our nation’s 36th First Lady was appalled at the number of billboards and junkyards that were springing up and hiding scenic America.

Lady Bird Johnson (1912-2007) had the means to do something about it – the Highway Beautification Act of 1965 was passed by Congress and signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson during a ceremony on October 22. Also known as “Lady Bird’s Bill,” United States Code 23 U.S.C. 131 outlined the “effective control of the erection and maintenance” of outdoor advertising signs along Interstate and National Highway Systems.

At the moment of signing, President Johnson stated, “This bill will enrich our spirits and restore a small measure of natural greatness,” but the 1965 act repealed and replaced an act of Congress passed in 1958. The Bonus Act was the first legislation created to control outdoor advertising along the nation’s highways.

As first proposed, the beautification act would have eliminated outdoor advertising altogether, but push back from the Outdoor Advertising Association of America led to the compromise that allowed billboards in areas of commercial and industrial use. The act also created legislation to control junkyards, promote highway landscaping, and create scenic roads.

Born Claudia Alta Taylor, “Lady Bird” Johnson was a champion of beautification, especially throughout Washington D.C. The blooming trees and landscaped planting visitors see today can mostly be attributed to her campaigns for beauty. Johnson held the position of First Lady from 1963 to 1969.

The six-cent “Plant for More Beautiful Highways” stamp was one of a series of four engraved stamps designed by artist Walter D. Richards and released by the United States Postal Service in January 1969. The remaining stamps in the series promoted planting in cities, along streets, and in parks.

The stamp designs were re-released in 2012 as a six stamp series commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birthdate of Lady Bird Johnson.