Coast-to-coast rock highway proposed in 1912

LINCOLN HIGHWAY NEWS IS A BLOG BY BRIAN BUTKO

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The Athenænum in Indianapolis, site of the meeting in September 1912 that launched what would become the Lincoln Highway.

When automobile pioneer Carl Graham Fisher proposed a coast-to-coast highway in 1912, the idea had been around for more than a decade. But Fisher knew how to get things done: he knew the people who could supply materials and funds and promotion on a nationwide scale. Men like Henry Joy, president of Packard, or Frank Seiberling, president of Goodyear, and just about every other manufacturer of cars and parts and highway materials—save Henry Ford.

AAA had advocated for a cross-country highway from its founding in 1902. A few paths were named, and for a time in 1911, there was even talk of a cross-country “Lincoln Way.” The New York Times said it would be “a great transcontinental highway to be built by the States through which it will pass”—but it was not to be.

A year later, the Old Trails Road (also called the Ocean to Ocean Highway, and later used in parts to lay out Route 66) became the first cross-country route to have an organization behind it, from New York City to Los Angeles. That same spring of 1912, AAA sent renowned pathfinder A.L. Westgard to explore three more possibilities: the Northwest, Overland, and Midland trails.

And in August 1912, still a month before Fisher’s meeting, Frances McEwen Belford had a bill introduced in Congress “establishing the Lincoln memorial highway from Boston, Mass., to San Francisco, Cal., ” though the bill died.

Finally, on September 10, 1912, Fisher and his business partner and best pal James Allison held a dinner at the Deutsche Haus (or German House, now the Athenæum) in Indianapolis for fellow industrialists to hear their dream of a “Coast-to-Coast Rock Highway.” On July 1, 1913, that road that would officially become the Lincoln Highway. It wasn’t first coast-to-coast road, but the other named routes paled in terms of marking, mapping, funding, improvements, and promotion. It might more accurately be called the first improved coast-to-coast highway.

As Fisher told them that night, “Let’s build it before we’re too old to enjoy it.” And a year later to the day, a Proclamation was issued by the Lincoln Highway Association describing the route in general terms. Now the real work would begin….

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