Two staples of twentieth-century American culture share a common progenitor. Ironically, the father of the Indy 500–and Miami Beach–rolled in on two wheels. Carl Fisher and his brothers ran a successful bicycle repair shop in Indianapolis during the 1890s, at the height of the national bicycle craze.
Automobiles began to eclipse bikes in the new century, however, and Indiana was the center of the industry. Fisher and a partner opened one of the first automobile dealerships in the nation, marketing Packards, Stutzes and Oldsmobiles with such publicity stunts as launching a chassis over the city via hot air balloon.
Teaming up with former biking associate James Allison, Fisher made his fortune manufacturing gas-fired auto headlamps, ultimately selling their company “Prest-O-Lite” for $9 million to Union Carbide.
At the same time, Fisher and three partners developed a proving ground where auto manufacturers in the vicinity could showcase their latest models. The first few events around the two-and-a-half-mile crushed stone track flopped, but after Fisher paved the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with bricks, the Indy 500 was off and running by Memorial Day, 1911.
Ever the auto industry impresario, Fisher convinced private and corporate interests to fund an improved roadway between New York and San Francisco. Begun in 1913, the Lincoln Highway generated enthusiasm among the American public, ultimately informing such federal projects as the Interstate Highway system.
Miami Beach was still something of an outpost when Fisher vacationed there in 1913. His initiative to fund the development of the Dixie Highway, running from Indianapolis to Florida by 1916, served the interests not only of the car industry, but Fisher’s own plans to create a tourist destination in Miami Beach.
The resort grew over 440 percent in the first half of the twenties, after which Fisher’s fortunes, along with his health, began to decline. Carl Fisher succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver in 1938, and was ultimately interred in the family mausoleum at Indy’s Crown Hill Cemetery.
This essay was drawn from the following source: McDonald, John. P. Lost Indianapolis. Chicago, Illinois: Arcadia Publishing, 2002.