Carl Graham Fisher

There are few people that have had more influence on the current state of cross country travel than one Hoosier: Carl Graham Fisher.

Arguably, we owe the complete system of United States travel routes, whether it be US routes or Interstates, to a young man from southern Indiana that was not only interested in automobiles, but was also a promotion genius.

Carl Fisher was born in Greensburg, IN, on 12 January 1874. In the late 19th century, he became interested in bicycles. He opened a small bicycle shop with his brother. His love of bicycles led to his being involved in racing. This, in turn, led to an interest in the new automobile industry.

Mr. Fisher made his fortune, along with his friend James A. Allison, when he bought an interest in a patent to make acetylene headlights. The company formed to manufacture these headlights, Prest-O-Lite, went on to produce most headlights used on cars at the time. Prest-O-Lite began in 1904. It would be about a decade before the electric headlight became common. Fisher and Allison sold Prest-O-Lite in 1913.

While still owning Prest-O-Lite, Fisher had hands in two things that would change not only Indianapolis, but the entire country.

The first was as one of four people that put together a automobile test track in a large field along the Crawfordsville Road west of Indianapolis. That test track decided to put on a car race in 1909, which only met with disaster, injuries and death. Fisher convinced his partners to make some improvements in that track, paving it with 3.2 million bricks. In 1911, the race was tried again. Today, it is called the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The second was a brain storm. In 1912, Fisher conceived a great coast-to-coast road. That road would become the first Auto Trail, named the Lincoln Highway. It was this route that encouraged a then Lt. Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower to support the construction of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, or Interstate System, when Eisenhower became President of the United States.

After the sale of Prest-O-Lite, Fisher had another transportation brainstorm. He had already created the east-west route. Now a north-south route was in order. Starting in two locations, Chicago and northern Michigan, a series of roads was brought together in two paths to connect to southern Florida. According to sources, it was to allow people of his home state of Indiana to vacation in Florida. This highway was to be called the Dixie Highway.

His two ideas, the Lincoln and Dixie Highways ended up having a junction in South Bend.

Carl Fisher went on to work on other projects, just not as transportation oriented. He did create a city in a swampy area near Miami. That swamp would become Miami Beach.

Carl Fisher died on 15 Jul 1939 after a lengthy illness. Although he had lost his fortune in real estate with the stock market collapse of 1929 and following depression, he continued to work as a promotion man for his former partners.

Carl Fisher left an indelible mark not only on Indiana, but on the country as a whole.

Bonus fact: Neither of his highway brainstorms connected to his original home town, and only the Dixie Highway connected to his adopted hometown of Indianapolis. The Lincoln Highway, however, did connect to the namesake town of his hometown. Greensburg, Indiana, was named after the hometown of the wife of the founder of the town: Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

Advertisements

One thought on “Carl Graham Fisher

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s