Carl Fisher was a guy with big ideas. He’d already built the brick-paved Indianapolis Motor Speedway and started the Indianapolis 500. He drained a swamp in Miami and turned it into a beach resort.
In 1912 Carl Fisher had the great idea to build a transcontinental road for cars, just like the transcontinental railroad for trains. As we saw with Theodore Judah and the transcontinental railroad, the really tough part is getting financial and political backing—and holding onto it. Fisher formed an association to promote his highway; looked for backing from automobile manufacturers (Ford said no dice, for his own reasons); and tried to convince state governors to get behind his idea. It must have been frustrating and exhausting. Frank Seiberling, president of Goodyear, and Henry Joy, president of the Packard Motor Car Company*, did throw their support behind Fisher’s idea. Joy named it the Lincoln Highway. Still, by the time Lt Col Eisenhower took his military convoy across the Lincoln Highway in 1919, it was a hodge-podge of paved sections and dirt sections.
In 1921, the federal government passed the Federal Highway Act, which matched whatever money the states spent on highways. This allowed the Lincoln Highway to be finished and paved.
Of course, there were other highways being built. They all had names, like the Lincoln Highway. It was eventually decided on a federal level that highways ought to be numbered, to be less confusing. For a while there, the poor Lincoln Highway went by 5 or 6 different numbers to identify mere sections of it. Nowadays it’s Route 80 all the way from New York to San Francisco.
Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space
*I like Packards. They used to be affordable classic cars. I once knew a priest who kept a handful of Packards in the church’s garage. He used them to teach troubled neighborhood boys auto mechanics. Father Dave—RIP.