I Love To Make The Dirt Fly: A biography of Carl G. Fisher 1874 – 1939

I Love To Make The Dirt Fly cover
I Love To Make The Dirt Fly: A biography of Carl G. Fisher 1874 – 1939

I Love To Make The Dirt Fly chronicles the life of Carl Graham Fisher, who is credited with creating the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, being the chief proponent of the Lincoln Highway – the nation’s first transcontinental highway – and developer of Miami Beach, Florida, as America’s winter playground. Fisher was one of the most prolific promoters of his era.

Fisher began his promotional activities hawking newspapers, books, and candy on passenger trains out of Union Station in Indianapolis. He quickly grasped the future of the automobile and opened one of the first showrooms in town. His vision for grand ventures was next demonstrated when he and James Allison obtained the rights to manufacture and market compressed acetylene headlight systems for automobiles in 1904.

In 1908, Fisher was eager to build a proving ground “to establish American automobile supremacy.” He optioned 320 acres for $72,000, brought in four partners and created the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The first auto races were in August 1909, with the first Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day 1911.

Next Fisher funneled his promotional skills on a problem that had plagued travelers for decades bad roads. On September 1, 1912, he announced his plan for a transcontinental highway from New York to San Francisco. His appeal led to the founding of the Lincoln Highway Association in 1913, with Henry B. Joy of Packard Motors as president and Fisher as vice president.

At the same time, he conceived his idea of improving a jungle of mangrove swamps to be known as Miami Beach. Development of land and facilities in Miami Beach took place over more than a decade by the shrewd marketing and promotional activities of Fisher and other like-minded individuals. The hurricane of September 1926 devastated Miami Beach and began the collapse of his Florida real estate empire.

As revenues from his Miami Beach ventures began to mount in, Fisher began to develop his dream of “The Miami Beach of the North” at Montauk, New York, on Long Island’s eastern tip. Some of the grand facilities were in place by the fall of 1926 when his financial domain began to unravel. The stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression forced bankruptcy of Fisher’s Montauk holdings.

Unfortunately, Fisher’s organizational and promotional skills were out-of-date with the economic realities of the mid-1930’s. He died in 1939, but his legacy lives on.

Author Carl Hungness invested a number of years researching Fisher’s life from his Indianapolis bicycle exploits in the early 1890’s to his final development project at Montauk, NY in the late 1930’s. Hungness makes the Fisher story come to life through excerpts from letters and other artifacts housed in the Fisher collection at the Historical Association of South Florida.

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