Athenaeum Copyright © Indiana Historical Society

Editor’s Note: Welcome new contributor, Dennis Horvath (see bio below) a bi-weekly contributor for an “Indy Auto” series. Please feel free to leave comments, suggestions and encouragement. Others interested in contributing, please email

The idea to build the nation’s first transcontinental highway from New York City to San Francisco was proposed one hundred years ago.  Hoosier entrepreneurs Carl G. Fisher and James A. Allison invited automobile and accessory manufacturers to Indianapolis to unveil their plan to build a coast-to-coast rock highway to be finished in time for 25,000 automobile tourists to make the trip overland in cars to the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915.

At the time, the automobile in America was well established, but good roads were not.  Motorists had about 2.5 million miles of road to drive.  Most travel was in urban areas, with travel into the country attempted in fair weather.  Rain quickly turned country roads into thigh-deep mud ruts, making travel extremely difficult.  Many travelers had to enlist the aid of a nearby horse team to extract them from the quagmire.

Fisher recognized the dilemma.  Building on his success as the founder of the Prest-O-Lite Company, maker of carbide headlight systems, and co-founder of theIndianapolis 500 in 1911, he envisioned an ambitious highway project.   He sought and found contributors motivated by the advantage of decent roads.  They rightly believed that, if roads were improved, people would travel more and demand for automobiles would increase.


Fisher and Allison's 1912 invitation

Fisher and Allison’s 1912 invitation


The announcement was made on September 10, 1912 at the Athenaeum.  Within 30 days, Fisher had $1 million in pledges and publicity nationwide.  A few months later, Fisher received a letter from Henry B. Joy, Packard Motor Company president, suggesting that the road be named for Abraham Lincoln.

On July 1, 1913, the Lincoln Highway Association was created and the route was designed to run through or touch 13 states.  TheLincoln Highway was designated with red-white-and-blue striped markers with a large blue “L” in the center.

InIndiana, the highway stretches from Fort Wayne to Dyer.  Changes to the highway came as early as 1925 when the federal highway numbering system was enacted.  Indiana replaced the route with highways U.S. 30, U.S. 33, U.S. 20 and S.R. 2.

Today, the name “Lincoln Highway” has been nearly wiped out, although some communities have chosen to mark this historical route as one of their city streets.  Advocates also have placed historical markers for the Lincoln Highwayand Ideal Section along U.S. 30 near Dyer.  Remnants of the original highway can be found in various sections across the country.

The Indiana Lincoln Highway Association is planning a Centennial Celebration of Carl Fisher’s announcement of the nation’s first transcontinental highway at the Athenaeum and other places, on September 21-22, 2012.  Peruse the Centennial Celebration Event Flyer.

11 responses to “Where the Athenaeum and Lincoln Collide”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    A very informative treatise on the nationwide impact of Carl Fisher and James Allison (also loved the articles on their homes on Cold Spring Road some time ago…)

  2. Donna Winsted says:

    I remember US 30 being called the Lincoln Highway when I was a child in the late 1940s early 1950s, but mostly in Illinois. Both sets of grandparents lived in and near Chicago, and especially in Chicago Heights, IL many areas recalled the Lincoln name along their part of US 30. I do remember the sign in Dyer as well, and if I remember correctly, there was also one at Tieble’s Corner – the intersection of US 30 & US 41. 😀

  3. basil berchekas jr says:

    Remember, as a “kid” going to Chicago to visit relatives, going north on US 41, then turning left on US 30 (The Lincoln Highway), traveling west on US 30 to Crawford Avenue (Pulaski Road), turning right at Olympia Fields (which WAS fields of primarily onion farms and cornfields then), heading north into Chicago on Crawford to Chicago Avenue or Augusta Blvd, then to their house on the west side north of Garfield Park, sometimes visiting the conservatory then…OK, I got too involved there!

  4. Dennis E. HOrvath says:

    It is hard sharing the histroy of the automobile in Indiana without mentioning Carl G. Fisher and James A. Allison. They are part of our auto heritage that I will be sharing from time to time here at Historic

  5. Dennis E. Horvath says:

    I believe the Lincoln Highway in northern Indiana is one of our gems of auto tourism. I have traveled across it many times and still find new items everytime. One of the best resources about Indiana’s Lincoln Highway is Happy motoring.

  6. Tim Jensen says:

    I also love the idea that the landscape architect Jens Jensen was hired to design the “ideal section” of the Lincoln Highway. He wanted a hiking trail along the highway, in addition to woodland and prairie landscape. Unfortunately the Highway wasn’t built the way he envisioned it. How different our highways could have looked.

  7. basil berchekas jr says:

    Jens Jensen was cool and “before his time”…he also designed, or had major input to, the five major “inland” parks of the eventual Chicago parks system (Garfield; I’ve been to their conservatory, Douglas, Washington, Jackson, and Humboldt, among others)..,

  8. Dennis E. Horvath says:

    The Indiana Lincoln Highway Association has a project to restore the Osterman Memorial in Schererville and hopes to include some Jens Jenson designs from the Lincoln Highway archives. As part of our celebration event on September 21, 2012, we will visit the Jensen designed gardens at the Allison Mansion at Marian University. This will be my first experience of his work.

  9. basil berchekas jr says:

    Jens Jensen’s work on Chicago’s “inland park system” including Garfield (where we visited the conservatory several times), Douglas, Humboldt, Washington, and Jackson, are outstanding examples of where he worked as well, along with the trend-setting Olmsteads….

  10. Dennis E. Horvath says:

    I feel refreshed visiting Jens Jensen’s landscape marvels. It’s to see his Indiana work.

  11. Carey Lundin says:

    This was a big, big deal, particularly when Edsel Ford gave a ton of money to make it happen and it was he who convinced Jensen to do the design. Jensen thought that by designing in the prairie landscape it would cause people to become more interested in conservation as they drove along beautiful stretches. Not only did Jensen design the Ideal Mile he also monitored the look and feel of all of the communities along the route.

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