The glittery resort city of Miami Beach was nothing more than a strip of wildlife and vegetation until developer Carl Graham Fisher helped transform it.
The Indiana native spent his time and fortune building what would become a thriving coastal community.
Born in 1874 in Greensburg, Ind., Fisher grew up racing bicycles at county fairs, later moving to automobiles. He dropped out of school in sixth grade and opened his own bicycle shop at 17. He aspired to be a wealthy inventor.
In 1904, Fisher struck gold when he went into business with Fred Avery, who had the patent for compressing carbide gas into tanks. Their Presto-O-Lite Corp. of America manufactured automobile headlights. Six years later, he was a multimillionaire.
Still a fan of auto racing, he organized the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 1915, he developed the first cross-country road -- the Lincoln Highway (now known as Route 30) -- which stretches from California to New York. In the 1920s, he changed directions, developing the first north-south road. Dixie Highway, a series of scenic roads, runs from the northern tip of Lake Michigan to Miami.
In 1910, he and his wife, Jane, bought a winter home in Miami. It was the beginning of his love affair with the Sunshine State.
He is noted in Florida for giving developer John S. Collins $50,000 to complete the longest wooden bridge in the state, between Miami and Miami Beach. He rolled up his sleeves, cleaned up the beach and put the city in the spotlight by building lavish facilities and inviting the rich and famous.
The 1926 land bust in Florida and the 1929 stock market crash left Fisher penniless. He lived in a small cottage on Miami Beach until his death at 65 in 1939 following a lengthy illness compounded by alcoholism. He died before he could see the rebirth of Miami Beach.
But Will Rogers remembered him as a Florida pioneer: "Fisher was the first man to discover that there was sand under the water . . . (sand) that could hold up a real estate sign. He made the dredge the national emblem of Florida."
Recommended reading: "Fabulous Hoosier" by Jane Fisher (R.M. McBride and Co., 1947).
- -- Stella Chavez