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Honoring America’s First Transcontinental Highway

The Lincoln Highway was the first highway that could be traveled coast to coast, crossing the United States from New York City to San Francisco.

 

Historical Perspective

 

In 1910, the automobile was in its infancy, with approximately 180,000 vehicles registered in the United States. People traveled, but traveling was not easy. The roads that existed were in poor condition, and many were not even connected!

 

With this in mind, entrepreneur and promoter Carl G. Fisher proposed a road that would span the country from coast to coast. An Indiana native, Fisher enjoyed the motorized vehicle. He raced against the likes of Barney Oldfield, and he developed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as an automotive proving ground.

 


(Photo: Alex Bellotti, Commonwealth Media Services)
A statue of Abraham Lincoln and a traveler
greets motorists in Gettysburg.


Carl Fisher also envisioned a system of roads for people to travel. In the early 1910s, he published a bulletin marketing his “new idea” for a coast-to-coast highway, and within 30 days, he had millions of dollars in pledges. Apparently, people wanted to travel. Fisher collaborated with many individuals to get the idea off the ground. One of particular significance was Henry Joy, president of Packard Motor Car Company. In December 1912, Joy gave Fisher a $150,000 pledge for the highway.

 

An excerpt from The Lehigh magazine published in November 1913 commented on the difference between the cost of new construction versus utilization of existing roads: “To completely construct a transcontinental highway would cost approximately 25 million dollars, but there are now many roads in existence entirely suited to the purpose which need only be linked together to form a continuous highway. Two thousand miles of road must be built or permanently improved. Therefore, it is estimated that 10 million dollars would be sufficient to complete the work.”

 

During the spring of 1913, a planning group gathered several times trying to forge the highway’s route, determining through which states it would pass. On July 1, 1913, the group met again and formed the Lincoln Highway Association. The Association decided upon three important factors for the highway: the directness of the route, its proximity to populations and scenic interest.

 

The resulting Lincoln Highway began in Times Square, Broadway and 42nd, New York City, and ended in Lincoln Park, San Francisco, spanning the continental United States in 3,389 miles.

 


Roads in the early days of automobiles made travel an adventure.

 

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