Carl Graham Fisher was born on January 12, 1874 in Greenburg, Indiana, the second of three sons born to Albert H. and Ida Graham Fisher. As a young boy, he had a hard time in school due to a severe astigmatism, which would not be corrected properly until his adulthood. His parents separated when he was twelve, and he moved with his mother to Indianapolis. Fisher left school, and supported his mother by working in a local grocery store.
Fisher worked several jobs in his youth, including selling newspapers and small goods on train platforms. He opened a bicycle shop with his younger brother, repairing flat tires for twenty-five cents. His obsession with bicycles changed with the invention of an even faster contraption, the automobile. He converted his bicycle shop into an automobile dealership, and began to race cars as a hobby, breaking the world record by driving a two-mile course in 2:02.
Fisher used gimmicks to advertise his business, once floating a Stoddard-Dayton car over downtown Indianapolis with a hot-air balloon. His gimmicks caught the eye of Jane Watt, whom he married in 1909. He used his profits from his dealership to buy a patent for an automobile headlight from Percy Avery, and was soon selling headlights to nearly every automobile manufacturer in the United States under the name Prest-o-lite. He ended up selling this company to Union Carbide in 1911 for $9 million.
His interest in automobiles continued to motivate him. Fisher, along with his friends James Allison, Arthur Newby, and Frank Wheeler, bought a farm from the Pressley family on Indianapolis' west side, created a two-and-a-half-mile track to race cars on, creating the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company. The first race was held here on August 19, 1909, and was a complete disaster. One of the cars disintegrated on the crushed stone and tar track, killing six people. Fisher resurfaced the track with 3.2 million bricks, and nicknamed the track "The Brickyard." Soon over 80,000 spectators filled his track to witness "the greatest spectacle in sports."
Fisher and his wife Jane bought a small vacation house in Miami Beach, Florida in 1912. The house's location, just off of Biscayne Bay, was in the middle of a swamp, but Fisher saw another opportunity to gather his wealth.
He had previously helped to create the Lincoln Highway, a dirt road which linked San Francisco with New York City. He used this expertise to create the Dixie Highway, which connected Chicago and Detroit directly to the land he owned in Miami Beach. He built a hotel and casino, but the real estate market he tried to create struggled. As with his earlier business dealings, he pulled a gimmick to attract public attention. He announced that his elephant, Rosie, would be then president-elect Warren Harding's golf caddy during his trip to Miami Beach. The press took pictures of the event, and soon papers around the country brought the name of Miami Beach to the American public. The press returned again when Jane Fisher and several other women posed in bathing suits for the press. These photos created a scandal that was discussed across the country, creating a connection between Miami Beach and an anything goes attitude. The population of the town grew to 440 by 1925, and Fisher's patch of swampland began turning a large profit.
His success in Miami Beach made him bold, and he generated plans to create another resort town in Montauk, New York, at the end of Long Island. However, his success had also created a glut in the resort market, and he began to lose money on the investment. At this time, his womanizing led to his divorce from Jane, and a large hurricane caused major damage in Miami Beach and taking the boom out of the market he had created. In order to pay off his debts, he sold his share of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and some of his property rights in Miami Beach. The Great Depression finally finished off all of his business dealings, and he was left bankrupt.
The company he had created to manage the growth of Miami Beached hired him as a promoter, and he lived the remainder of his life trying to restore the reputation of the community. Carl Fisher died of a gastric hemorrhage on July 15, 1939, in a small house in Miami Beach. His net worth at the time was only $55,000. He was cremated, and his remains stayed in Miami until 1943, when it was moved to the Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.