Updated:
Original:
Year
1997

Kramer on “Seinfeld” adopts a highway

An episode of the hit TV sitcom “Seinfeld” titled “The Pothole” airs for the first time on this day in 1997; it includes a story line in which the character Kramer adopts a stretch of the fictional Arthur Burghardt Expressway through the real-life Adopt-a-Highway program.

The roots of the Adopt-a-Highway program date back to 1984, when James Evans, an engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation, noticed litter blowing out of the back of a pickup truck he was driving behind in Tyler, Texas. Concerned about the growing cost to the government of keeping roadways clean, Evans soon began asking community groups to volunteer to pick up trash along sections of local highways they could “adopt.” Though Evans got no takers for his idea, Billy Black, the public information officer for the Tyler District of the Texas Department of Transportation, took up the cause and organized the first official Adopt-a-Highway program, which included training and equipment for volunteers. The first group to participate in the program was the Tyler Civitan Club, and on March 9, 1985, a sign was erected to indicate that the group had adopted a two-mile stretch along Texas’s Highway 69. Similar signs began popping up in the area as other groups volunteered to beautify their own stretches of highway. The program eventually spread to thousands of towns and cities across the U.S. and to such countries as Canada, Japan and New Zealand.

Businesses, schools and churches are among the main organizations to participate in the Adopt-a-Highway program (also known in some places as Sponsor-a-Highway). Over the years, however, some controversial groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, have tried to become involved—and thereby receive signs along highways acknowledging their effort. After the state of Missouri rejected a Ku Klux Klan group’s application to join the program, the white supremacist organization charged in court that its free-speech rights had been violated. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Missouri couldn’t prevent the KKK from participating in the Adopt-a-Highway program as long as the group’s members picked up litter.

As for Kramer (played by Michael Richards) on “Seinfeld,” his efforts to clean up the one-mile stretch of roadway he adopted because he was upset about failing highway infrastructure, quickly went awry. First, he repaints the highway, turning it from four lanes into two, which creates chaos among drivers. He then tries to change it back to two lanes and in the process spills paint thinner on the pavement. A mail truck driven by the character Newman (Wayne Knight) generates sparks that ignite with the paint thinner, causing his truck to catch fire.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

An American orbits earth

From Cape Canaveral, Florida, John Hershel Glenn Jr. is successfully launched into space aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft on the first orbital flight by an American astronaut. Glenn, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, was among the seven men chosen by the National ...read more

American colonists practice scalping

In the American colonies, a posse of New Hampshire volunteers comes across a band of encamped Native Americans and takes 10 “scalps” in the first significant appropriation of this Native American practice by European colonists. The posse received a bounty of 100 pounds per scalp ...read more

Ireland allows sale of contraceptives

In a highly controversial vote on February 20, 1985, the Irish government defies the powerful Catholic Church and approves the sale of contraceptives. Up until 1979, Irish law prohibited the importation and sale of contraceptives. In a 1973 case, McGee v. The Attorney General, ...read more

Atlanta Constitution editor is kidnapped

Reg Murphy,an editor of The Atlanta Constitution, is kidnapped after being lured from his home near the city. William Williams told the newspaperman that he had 300,000 gallons of heating oil to donate to the poor. The 33-year-old Williams abducted Murphy, who was well known for ...read more

Battle of Olustee

On this day in 1864, at the Battle of Olustee,the largestconflict fought in Florida during the Civil War, a Confederate force under General Joseph Finegan decisively defeats an army commanded by General Truman Seymour. The victory kept the Confederates in control of Florida’s ...read more

Amir of Afghanistan is assassinated

Habibullah Khan, the leader of Afghanistan who struggled to keep his country neutral in World War I in the face of strong internal support for Turkey and the Central Powers, is shot and killed while on a hunting trip on this day in 1919. Habibullah had succeeded his father, ...read more