Photo courtesy of: University of Michigan Transportation History Collection Lincoln Highway Digital Image Collection
Envisioned by Carl Graham Fisher, the Lincoln Highway is the world’s largest memorial to President Abraham Lincoln. Fisher was an entrepreneur involved with manufacturing headlights for automobiles. He also developed the idea of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,® drove the first pace car for the Indianapolis 500® in 1911, and was an early promoter of Miami Beach in Florida.
Partnering with other industry pioneers, including Henry Bourne Joy, president of the Packard Motor Car Company, and Frank Seiberling, co-founder of the Goodyear® Tire & Rubber Company, Fisher imagined the development of a coast-to-coast highway as a way of showing the public that it would be possible for people to drive automobiles long distances.
The Lincoln Highway Association was formed to map out a route from New York City to San Francisco and to gather private donations to be used for road improvements. The goal was to have the highway finished in time for travelers to use it to attend the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, otherwise known as the 1915 World’s Fair.
The Richard Branson of his time, Carl Fisher was interested in new markets. His creativity took him from selling bicycles as a young man to operating the first automobile dealership. Fisher understood that the automobile was the future of travel and eventually would replace bicycles and horse-drawn carriages.
Fisher helped adapt automobiles to the changing technology of travel. He partnered with other entrepreneurs to produce headlights for automobiles. Early cars did not have headlights, which limited their usage to daylight hours. With James Allison, founder of the Allison Engine Company, Fisher developed and expanded the Prest-O-Lite Company in Indianapolis to produce gas-powered headlights.
Manufacturing gas-powered headlights was dangerous, and it sometimes resulted in explosions. One powerful explosion destroyed the factory, severely damaged a sauerkraut factory next door, and was strong enough to send sauerkraut flying across the street, splattering the outside wall of a hospital. The Indianapolis city fathers then banned the headlight factory from operating within the city limits. Undaunted in his endeavors, Fisher built a new factory on the outskirts of town.