The Gas Tax At 100: Oregon Enacts America’s First-Ever Motor Fuel Tax, February 25, 1919

For the first 100+ years of the American republic, road maintenance was strictly a local concern, and citizens (the able-bodied male ones, at least) were compelled to serve a certain number of days per year on a road gang, a process similar to jury duty.  A 1941 Brookings study said that “As late as 1889, the majority of the states depended upon statute labor as the chief source of support for road maintenance…It was the duty of the overseers to notify those assessed for highway work and to instruct them either to appear in person or send an able-bodied substitute or to commute the assessment in money at a rate fixed by law. Various combinations of facilities such as a team, wagon, plow, or horses, if accompanied by a man to manage them, could be substituted for the labor assessment.”