Who is Carl Fisher?

Carl G. Fisher did not live the American dream—he made the American dream.

The dirt poor Indiana boy built his dreams into vast fortunes; nothing was impossible to Carl G. Fisher. He had the vision to see, the daring to plan, and the courage to build.

Overlooked and forgotten by the editors of Who’s Who, Carl G. Fisher is at long last being recognized. A “Practical Visionary,” he created the first Transcontinental Highway, build the Indy 500, developed Miami Beach, and Montauk, New York, known as the “Miami Beach of the North.”

Now Jerry M. Fisher, a relative of Carl’s, has written the definitive biography of the man who carved the playground of Miami Beach from the swamps of a mosquito infested jungle. He was “Mr. Miami Beach.”

He sculpted Montauk, New York, and made Long Island a fashionable place to live. The Indianapolis 500 remains the world’s premier racing event. The Lincoln (Transcontinental) and Dixie highways, awesome accomplishments for their time or any, brought the country into the 20th century the way the railroad brought the country together in the 19th century.

Presidents called him a friend; the Gasoline Alley Gang of Ford, Chevrolet and Firestone regarded him as a pacesetter. Al Capone considered him a nuisance. When Carl G. Fisher drove the pace car for the first Indy 500 in 1911 he was not only setting the pace for that race, but for all Americans who venture onto highways on vacation.



Lincoln Highway

Carl began to dream of a hard-surfaced road across the United States that would be marked for travelers and carry traffic in all kinds of weather.

Carl knew well the deplorable condition of his county's, and the rest of the country's, rural roads.

Around the fire at Blossom Heath, Carl gathered his friends in the automotive industry to urge and argue to them into supporting his new project. "The automobile won't get anywhere until it has good roads to run on" he told them.

"Why can't we build a highway across the continent from New York to San Francisco?"

Carl meant "we" literally. He had no faith in the political system's ability to accomplish the task.

The Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental highway across America. This was an awesome accomplishment for the time, or any, and brought the country into the 20th century the way the railroad brought the country together in the 19th century.

A young Army officer, 28-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Dwight David Eisenhower, led a motor convoy in 1919 traveling on The Lincoln Highway. President Eisenhower later signed the Federal- Aid Highway Act of 1956, remembering his experiences on The Lincoln Highway.

Many would later say, "Carl Fisher was the Father of our American Freeway system, his greatest lifetime achievement".

A central aim of the Lincoln Highway Association’s plan was the paving of roads in Middle America where impassible pools of mud formed after any rainstorm causing one to several days of delay for rural travelers.

Carl Fisher seated on running board of old car; the caption appears to read 'Elkhart Aug. 1915'

A highway sign along the Lincoln Highway to guide travelers.

Widening a New Jersey river bridge creates problems for both travelers and bridge crews in the early 1920’s.



Indy 500

As part of his campaign for the track, Fisher began a concerted effort to warn American automakers that their industry was in danger of losing their business to the European carmakers.

He told them that European companies "can take over the entire American market any time they decide to export cars in sufficient quantity to meet demand".

"If you don't start building cars the public can buy with confidence, you won't even be able to give'em away. The only way to gain the public's confidence quickly is to prove the dependability of your products on the racetrack. You’ll learn ten times as much racing against each other as you will from listening to the complaints of your customers.

Road racing is doomed. The farmers will fight you every inch of the way if you try to test your cars on the open highway. What this country needs is a big new race track designed for automobiles instead of horses."

In 75 Years of Racing, Rich Taylor noted the importance of this decision.

"Carl Fisher was a lot better businessman and a genius of a promoter. In 1910, he made two basic decisions that guaranteed that the Indiana Motor Speedway would be the most important racetrack in the world, and the Indianapolis 500 the most import single race.

First, he made the unprecedented move of holding just one race each year, and that a grueling 500-miler. Then he made sure that he offered the richest purse in racing. In 1912, when he increased the total purse to $50,000 and the first prize to $20,000. The Indianapolis 500 became the highest paying sporting event in the world. His competitors thought he was crazy, but Fisher knew what he was doing."

This film shows the first Indy 500 Race held on May 30, 1911. 

Originally Uploaded on Jun 20, 2009

Published on 28 May 2013
The opening video for the ABC broadcast of the 2013 - Indianapolis 500 -

First trip around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, 1909. Carl G. Fisher, giving the press a hair-raising ride, is at the wheel with W.S. Gilmore, managing editor of the Detroit (Mich.) News, then a member of the staff of the Indianapolis Star, and other Indianapolis newspaper men who were on hand to see Fisher make the spin.

The first race.



Miami Beach

Miami Beach was indeed a jungle of swamps and thickly tangled mangrove forests.

When Fisher and his young wife, Jane, first saw it in 1912, Jane noted "mosquitos blacking our white clothing".

"What on earth could Carl possibly see in such a place? I wondered crossly as I picked my way through the morass in my white shoes. I refused to find any charm in the deserted strip of ugly land rimmed with a sandy beach.

But Carl was like a man seeing visions. He had pulled a stick and peeled it on our way through the swamp, and when we reached the clean sand, he drew upon it a plan of streets and square designs that represented buildings, that damp sand on which he drew now Lincoln Road."

Jane recalled Fisher's excitement, "Look, honey, I'm going to build a city here! A city like magic, like romantic places you read and dream about, but never see."

Carl thought it would be a year or two, but it would take over ten years and many, many millions of his dollars to build Miami Beach.

Palmetto roots were almost impossible to uproot even using mules with chains and grappling hooks.

Shortly before her death, Jane Fisher posed with a portrait

done of her 40 years ago in the salad days.

Carl Fisher’s Alton Beach Company office was at 331 Lincoln Road in 1922.

Miami Beach was publicized as the year-round perfect climate.

Carl G. Fisher, Miami Beach developer, stood on the corner of Lincoln Road and Washington Avenue 25 years ago watching the jungle of mangrove trees being chopped down and said, Gentlemen, Lincoln Road will become one of the most beautiful shopping streets in the world. When the last vacant lot of Lincoln Road was sold in 1937 the price paid was at the rate of $700 a foot; construction now is under way at Lincoln Road and Washington on a site purchased at the rate of $5,000 a front foot. The above Miami Beach News Bureau picture shows Lincoln Road looking west from the spot where Fisher made his prediction. In 1937, Lincoln Road store sales amounted to $9,000,000; this year, $30,000,000, with an estimated $35,000,000 for next year.

“Carl G. Fisher was a fabulously eccentric self-made man...

“His life should be as well-known as Ford’s (or indeed Capone’s) yet it had been lost until this fine book was written. Enjoy.”

- Hubert O'Hearn,
San Diego Book Review

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