Carl G. FisherEntrepreneur, developer of racetracks, roadways, and resorts
Carl Fisher grew up in Indianapolis. He quit school at age 12 to work in a grocery store. Within a few years, he had opened bicycle shop, and later launched a car dealership. In 1904, he began the Prest-O-Light company, which sold headlights to most of the car manufacturers in the United States. By 1913, he sold Prest-O-Light for $9 million dollars. During his years at Prest-O-Light, Fisher conceived of the idea of building an automobile testing ground and race track. On Aug. 19, 1909, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway held its first race. But accidents and the deaths of six people caused this first race to be cancelled—the crushed stone and tar track was deemed too dangerous for racing. Fisher then paved the track with 3.2 million bricks. The first 500-mile race, called the International Sweepstakes, took place on May 30, 1911. The Indianapolis 500, as it was later called, became an annual event and the most famous of American automobile races. Fisher's next two enterprises also involved road building. He was responsible for building the Lincoln Highway in 1913, the first transcontinental highway in the United States, which stretched from New York to San Francisco. He was also responsible for the development of the Dixie Highway, completed in 1916, which stretched from Chicago to Miami.
His next venture was the development of Miami Beach, which was then just a mangrove swamp. From 1920 to 1925, he oversaw the transformation of Miami Beach into a vacation resort. He also began work on transforming Montauk, at the tip of Long Island, New York, into a resort—“the Miami Beach of the North.” But in 1926, disaster struck when a hurricane hit Miami Beach. Much of the resort was destroyed, tourism dropped off, and Fisher's finances suffered. By 1932, he was completely bankrupt. This tireless and resourceful businessman died seven years later.Died: July 15, 1939