by Jerry M. Fisher
The Pacesetter: The Untold Story of Carl G. Fisher chronicles the story of Indiana auto pioneer Carl G. Fisher, who created the Indianapolis 500, Miami Beach, and the Lincoln Highway. Carl G. Fisher’s life would be an excellent basis for a mini-series. Fisher, a sixth-grade dropout, made and lost several multimillion-dollar fortunes. His acquaintances were many of the rich and famous from racing personalities to presidents during the first part of the century. Fisher has been called a “Practical Visionary” and a “Prime Mover.”
Jerry Fisher spent over ten years researching, interviewing and gathering every scrap of information about Carl G. Fisher that is revealed in The Pacestter. He used the family scrapbooks, photo albums, personal letters and oral histories. Jerry pulls no punches in this work. Carl is exposed for all to see, warts and all, including two marriages, a divorce, his bouts with alcoholism, his racing exploits, yachting, and his growing circle of friends. This is a great personal story and well-written book by cousin Jerry.
Carl Graham Fisher honed his sales and promotional skills at the bicycle shop he owned along with his two brothers. Some of his acquaintances from bicycle racing were James A. Allison and Arthur C. Newby, who would become partners on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Fisher’s vision for new ventures was first demonstrated when he and James Allison obtained the rights to manufacture and market compressed acetylene gas headlight systems for automobiles, naming the product “Prest-O-Lite.” Prest-O-Lite prospered and in 1913, Union Carbide purchased the company for $9 million. Fisher and Allison would invest their new wealth in other ventures.
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. And the rest is history. Fisher sold his interest in the Speedway to Eddie Rickenbacker in 1927.
Fisher’s travels throughout the Midwest provided his next opportunity, a campaign to build the first transcontinental highway in the U.S.. In September 1912, Fisher conceived his plan for a highway spanning the country from New York to San Francisco. On July 1, 1913, the Lincoln Highway Association was created with Henry B. Joy (Packard Motor Company, president), as president and Fisher as vice president. The author goes into great detail describing the machinations of making the highway a reality.
Fisher also enjoyed wintering at his white mansion on the edge of Biscayne Bay in Florida. It was here that he conceived his idea of improving a jungle of mangrove swamps to be known as Miami Beach. Fisher used his proceeds from the sale of Prest-O-Lite to build this “winter playland for himself and his friends.”
Due to the poor state highway improvements in Florida, Fisher again resorted to his promotional talents to nurture another highway’s birth. His new project was the Dixie Highway, a north-south route from Chicago to Miami. Two routes were chosen to feed into Florida. Progress on the highway was slow for numerous reasons and it was finally completed in the late 1920’s.
The year 1925 marked the start of Fisher’s new dream, a large real-estate development in the north at Montauk on Long Island. In one day, he drew up the plans for his “Miami Beach of the North.” Miami Beach was devastated by a hurricane in September 1926. In order to continue development on Montauk, Fisher was forced to liquidate his Speedway assets. The financial depression of the 1930’s destroyed his dreams.
When Fisher died in 1939 his estate amounted to a little over $52,000. His pall bearers included Barney Oldfield, William Vanderbilt, and Gar Wood.
Carl G. Fisher was truly an automotive pioneer who serves as an inspiration. A large number of Americans enjoy his recreational legacy. This book should be on every auto enthusiast’s bookshelf.
The Pacesetter: The Untold Story of Carl G. Fisher, by Jerry M. Fisher, Fort Bragg, CA, Lost Coast Press, © 1998, ISBN: 1-882897-21-8
Peruse The Pacesetter at Amazon.com
Back to: Book Review – reviews of current and other auto-related books