*For my brother-in-law, Paul Owen. Gentlemen, scholar, Hoosier and snappy dresser…
In 1913, nine years before the Lincoln Memorial’s dedication, the country’s first official homage to its 16th president was a highway stretching nearly 3500 miles across the United States, known as the Lincoln Highway.
The Lincoln Highway was the brainchild of headlight manufacturer and Hoosier Carl G. Fisher, who wanted to capitalize on America’s new enthusiasm for the automobile. The Lincoln Highway would eventually become known as U.S. Route 30, which was and remains one of the most important transportation corridors in the United States. Fisher had built a small empire in Indianapolis with the sale of his carbide headlights and wanted to spark the potential of the automobile across the country, first by helping to build the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,then by crossing the cultural gap of the auto from novelty to necessity.
But to create a nation of drivers, you first needed roads and not just neat, narrow rural roads that had to be rebuilt year after year. The country needed wide highways that would inspire auto tourism and span the entire country. That was no small feat: roads in 1910s were, uh, not good.