Lincoln Highway Association Records, 1911-1941 (majority within 1912-1930)
Using These Materials
- The collection is open for research.
- Lincoln Highway Association
- Formed in 1913 by Carl G. Fisher, Frank A. Seiberling, and Henry B. Joy, the Lincoln Highway Association was made up of representatives from the automobile, tire, and cement industries. The Association aimed to plan, fund, construct, and promote the first transcontinental highway in North America. The route ran from New York to San Francisco, and covered approximately 3,400 miles. The Detroit headquarters of the Association closed in 1928. This collection contains: correspondence, particularly between members of the Association and government officials; meeting minutes; reports, bulletins, and newsletters published by the Association; motorist maps of the route; and annotated editions of The Complete Official Road Guide of the Lincoln Highway. Photographs from the Lincoln Highway Association Records have been digitized and are accessible online at the Lincoln Highway Digital Image Collection (http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/linchigh). The Digital Image Collection contains over 3,000 images including views of construction underway, towns and cities, markers, bridges, cars, camp sites, scenic views, and snapshots of Association directors and field secretaries traveling the route.
- 6 linear ft. and 1 portfolio
- Collection processed and finding aid created by Cassandra A. Schmitt.
- Scope and Content:
The Lincoln Highway Association Records date from 1911 to 1993 with the bulk of materials concentrated before 1930. The records are divided into five series: Official Business (1912-1941), Correspondence (1912-1929), Planning (1914-1940), Publicity (1911-1993), Publications (1915-1935), Jens Jensen Drawings (1922-1924) and Miscellaneous.
The Lincoln Highway Association archive was donated to the University of Michigan's Transportation Library in 1937. The archive was transferred to the Special Collections Library in 1992.
Communication was frequent between members of the Association as well as with officials from towns, counties, states, and the federal government. Correspondence and meeting minutes make up an important part of the collection. The Association published reports, bulletins, and newsletters to keep board members and the public aware of the Highway's progress. Maps of the driving route along with mileages were provided for motorists for navigation as were five editions of The Complete Official Road Guide of the Lincoln Highway .
Photographs from the Lincoln Highway Association Records have been digitized and are accessible online at the Lincoln Highway Digital Image Collection (http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/linchigh). The Digital Image Collection contains over 3,000 images including views of construction underway, towns and cities, markers, bridges, cars, camp sites, scenic views, and snapshots of Association directors and field secretaries traveling the route.
- Biographical / Historical:
The Lincoln Highway Association formed in July 1913 for the purposes of building the first transcontinental highway in North America. The idea was promoted by Carl G. Fisher beginning in September 1912 under the name "The Coast-to-Coast Rock Highway". Fisher was behind the creation and paving of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the organization of the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911. He founded the Prest-O-Lite Company, which made carbide headlights for automobiles. Fisher promoted his idea among other businessmen in the automobile industry. He felt that the highway would promote business as well as provide citizens with an enjoyable route throughout the towns and countryside.
Fisher's 1912 estimate for the gravel highway was ten million dollars. Funds would be used to purchase materials with the idea that labor and machinery would be provided by the municipalities the route passed through. Fisher's fundraising efforts were an immediate success. He gained support from the automobile industry as different companies pledged to support one percent of their revenues' to the highway. Donations by individuals in the amount of five dollars also began to arrive. Men such as Frank A. Seiberling of the Goodyear Tire Company and Henry B. Joy of the Packard Motor Car Company were influential in gaining more support from the automobile industry, despite the fact that Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company refused to support the project.
Briefly located in Indianapolis, the headquarters of the Lincoln Highway Association settled in Detroit, Michigan. In July 1913 the Lincoln Highway Association was incorporated and the group of businessmen exclaimed their purpose, "To procure the establishment of a continuous improved highway from the Atlantic to the Pacific, open to lawful traffic of all description without toll charges: such highway to be known, in memory of Abraham Lincoln, as 'The Lincoln Highway.'" The proposed highway was named after Lincoln to honor the fallen president as well as to appeal to American citizens' sense of patriotism and thereby gain support and funding for the project. The new board of directors began planning the route of the highway, beginning in New York City and ending in San Francisco, California. The goal was to find the shortest route from coast to coast while passing through towns and scenic locations to provide an enjoyable drive.
Throughout its history, the Association was organized and administered by businessmen from the automobile industry. The group ran many public events to gain support for the highway and awarded donations with certificates, membership cards, and pins. A system of consuls was developed in order to help manage the situation and communication regarding the highway along the route. The board appointed one consul for each state who in turn named consuls for various counties and towns. The consul system also enabled more people to become involved in the operations of the Association.
When completed, the route ran through twelve states including: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California and spanned approximately 3,400 miles. The route was strenuous and some areas were still treacherous to pass by automobile. The Lincoln Highway Association began constructing "seedling miles," or paved sections, along the route with the support of the cement and steel companies. The Association hoped this would create more support and demand for the Lincoln Highway as well as increase its use and value. The construction of "seedling miles" halted in 1919 when the Association felt the public was fully behind the construction of paved roadways.
The route underwent slight changes to make it more direct as well as easier to pass. Several sections of the route received considerably more attention than others including the "Ideal" Section in Indiana and what became known as the Seiberling Section through Utah and Nevada. The highway throughout Utah and Nevada was a concern as the sparse population, poor infrastructure, and inhospitable geography made travel difficult.
In July 1919, Henry C. Ostermann embarked on the first Army Transcontinental Motor Convoy across the Lincoln Highway accompanied by seventy-two vehicles and 297 men. The group included both military personal as well as civilians. The convoy was used as training, testing of military vehicles, and served as a test of the stability of the roads and bridges on the Lincoln Highway. The trip lasted sixty-two days and included numerous repairs on military vehicles as well as the rebuilding of bridges that did not support the heavy loads. The convoy was successful in convincing the military that paved roads were essential to the country's national defense. In turn, federal funding for paved highways exploded.
In 1922 the Association began construction on the "Ideal" Section between Schererville and Dyer, Indiana. This 1.3 mile stretch had concrete paving ten inches thick and allowed up to four lanes of traffic with its forty foot width. The section was illuminated for night driving. The "Ideal" Section was yet another tactic by the Lincoln Highway Association to gain support and use for improvement of their route. It was during this time that the Lincoln Highway began competing with other transcontinental routes for attention, money, and use.
By 1925 the Federal Highway System was well developed and numbered routes east-west as well as north-south covered the map. The prominence of the federal system lead to a decline for named highways, including the Lincoln Highway. Portions of the Lincoln Highway were marked with numbered federal routes at this time.
The Lincoln Highway Association officially disbanded at the end of 1927 after realizing their mission to begin an intercontinental network of highways succeeded. The organization continued to have informal meetings sporadically for several subsequent years. In 1928, the Boy Scouts of America erected 3,000 markers along the route of the Lincoln Highway. The cement markers were designed by the Association and intended to keep motorist on the route. The red, white, and blue makers carried the Lincoln Highway insignia and directional arrows pointed motorists to the continuation of the route.
The Interstate Highway Act of 1956 further eroded the use of the Lincoln Highway. Routes were redirected outside of towns to decrease traffic. Interstate 80 took over as the transcontinental highway across the middle of the country. Interstate 80 runs along the same basic route as the old Lincoln Highway in many locations, but is straighter, quicker, and ultimately shorter than the original Lincoln Highway. Many portions of the Lincoln Highway lay unused and in ruins today, other portions are still used as local routes through many states, and in some areas the old, abandoned highway can be seen running alongside the current Interstate 80. Only a fraction of the original 3,000 markers remain.
Hokanson, Drake. The Lincoln Highway: Main Street Across America . Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press. 1999.
- Acquisition Information:
- Donated by Gael Hoag and H.C. Ostermann in 1937.
- Processing information:
Processed by Cassandra A. Schmitt, Kathleen Dow, 2007.
- Alternative Form Available:
The majority of the photographs from the original archive have been rehoused and digitized. They may be viewed at the Lincoln Highway Digital Image Collection.
Click on terms below to find any related finding aids on this site.
Associations, organizations, etc. -- 20th century -- Indiana -- Indianapolis.
Associations, organizations, etc. -- 20th century -- Michigan -- Detroit.
Automobile travel -- United States -- 20th century.
Roads -- Esthetic considerations.
Roads -- United States -- Design and construction -- 20th century.
Roadside architecture -- United States.
Scenic byways -- United States -- 20th century.
Transportation, Automotive -- United States.
Lincoln Highway Association.
Chapin, Roy D. (Roy Dikeman), 1880-1936.
Fisher, Carl G. (Carl Graham), 1874-1939.
Jensen, Jens, 1860-1951.
Joy, Henry B. (Henry Bourne), 1864-1936.
Ostermann, Henry C., d. 1920.
United States -- Description and travel -- 1910-
Detroit (Mich.) -- History -- 20th century.
Lincoln Highway -- Guidebooks.
Using These Materials
The collection is open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Copyright has been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan. Contact the Special Collections Library for permission to publish.
- PREFERRED CITATION:
Lincoln Highway Association Records, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Research Center)