Celebrating Abraham Lincoln, Coast-to-Coast

from Motor Land, June 1941.
San Francisco History Center, SFPL.
Today marks the birthday of our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln. Later this month a cinematic account of Lincoln's presidency may win an Oscar at the Academy Awards, but one hundred years ago a group of automobile industry chiefs thought of a special way to commemorate President Lincoln - by naming the first coast-to-coast highway after him.

Carl G. Fisher was the head of the Prest-O-Lite Company which made lights for early automobiles. He was an automobile enthusiast. He raced autos and was behind the creation of the Indianapolis Speedway in 1909. A few years later he came to the conclusion that the United States needed a good road that could take a driver from New York City to San Francisco. He called this road the "Coast-to-Coast Rock Highway." As he pitched the idea to other automobile enthusiasts, the plan took a more concrete form and the name was changed to "The Lincoln Highway" to honor the former president and to introduce some patriotic appeal. The road was backed by big names like Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Packard Motor Company, Hudson Motor Company, Thomas Edison, and President William Howard Taft. One very big name that did not sign on for contributions to the highway was Henry Ford, although Henry's son, Edsel Ford, made contributions many years later.

The Lincoln Highway covers 3,389 miles and has been nicknamed "the Main Street of the Nation." The first "seedling" mile was completed in September 1914, just west of Malta, Illinois. The highway was completed in 1915, just in time for drivers across the country to attend the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. A moving picture of the entire highway was filmed to be shown at the P.P.I.E. 
Letter from the P.P.I.E. Director of Congresses in support of the Lincoln Highway,1912

Wooden posts originally marked the route of the Lincoln Highway, but many of those were damaged or removed as time wore on and the nation's highways were renamed with numbers. In 1928 the Boy Scouts planted 3,000 new concrete markers along the route, some of which can still be seen in San Francisco today.

The 1928 western terminus marker of the Lincoln Highway (Photos: L. Weddle)

The western terminus of the Lincoln Highway is marked by one of the 1928 cement posts. It sits discreetly beside the bus stop for the MUNI 18-line near the Legion of Honor museum. Members and friends of the Lincoln Highway Association will kick-off the West Coast Centennial Tour of the Lincoln Highway from this spot on June 23, 2013. (There will be an east coast tour leaving the day before from Times Square in New York City.) If you would like to follow the Lincoln Highway route in San Francisco or beyond, the association's website provides an interactive Google map that shows the various ways the highway has taken through the years.

1928 Lincoln Highway marker at California Street
and Park Presidio. (Photo: L.Weddle)

For more about the Lincoln Highway come up to the San Francisco History Center on the sixth floor of the Main Library and ask for the San Francisco history ephemera files SF. PARKS. LINCOLN PARK, and these books:
The Lincoln Highway: The Story of a Crusade That Made Transportation History by the Lincoln Highway Association (1935).
The Lincoln Highway: Coast-to-Coast from Times Square to the Golden Gate by Michael Wallis and Michael S. Williamson (2007).
The First Transcontinental Motor Convoy 1919 Via Lincoln Highway (scrapbook-copy) by William C. Greany, Captain Motor Transport Corps., U.S. Army (1919).
Link Across America: A Story of the Historic Lincoln Highway by Mary Elizabeth Anderson (1997).
The Lincoln Highway: Main Street across America by Drake Hokanson (1988)

Finally, here is a film of the dedication of the western terminus of the Lincoln Highway in Lincoln Park, San Francisco, 1915. (via Prelinger Archives at Internet Archive.)