Fisher Island: The Man Behind Miami’s (Nearly) Private IslandNovember 9, 2016
Fisher Island Swamp to Luxury
Fisher Island Miami Beach, one of the most exclusive and elite places to live in the world, has a rich history dating all the way back to the early 1900s. Before Fisher Island was palm trees, multi-million dollar mansions and a prestigious country club, it was a swampy spit of land nestled between the mainland of Miami and the ocean. But Carl Fisher saw potential among the mangroves, and where others saw swamp, he saw tropical beach living and million dollar real estate opportunities.
Carl Fisher’s Early Life
As a child, Fisher suffered from a severe astigmatism, which caused him to drop out of school in the sixth grade. With his newfound free time, Fisher picked up odd jobs to support his family, which eventually led him to his job at a bicycle repair shop. That in turn led him to bike and automobile racing. Fisher’s passion for cars eventually moved him to create the Fisher Automobile Company.
His big break did not come in the form of buying or selling cars, but in creating a way for cars to be driven at night. At that time, drivers used kerosene to light their carriages when driving in the dark. All it would take to blow out the light was a strong wind, so Fisher found a solution. In 1904, Fisher partnered with Fred Avery and patented the use of acetylene for headlamps in automobiles. It was a huge success, and by 1910 their company, Presto-O-Light, was worth $9 million. They eventually sold the company, and Fisher’s share was a little over $5 million.
Along with this project, he was also involved in many other developments such as the Lincoln Highway and the Indianapolis 500. But it was his involvement in the development of Miami Beach that he’s perhaps best known for.
Carl Fisher’s Love of Florida
In 1909, Carl planned a “boys trip” to Florida on a yacht he named Eph. In an unfortunate turn of events, a storm caused the boat to be stranded in Jacksonville. Fisher and his new wife traveled by train down to Miami and stayed a week. Although their trip was short, Fisher fell in love with the area and was determined to come back, which is exactly what they did: They returned every winter and eventually bought a home on the corner of Brickell Avenue and Southeast 13th Street. While living there, Fisher became less than impressed with the way trash accumulated around his dock. He hired someone to dredge up the land around the dock. Dredging, it turned out, would become paramount in his future endeavors to develop Fisher Island Miami and other Biscayne Bay landmasses.
The birth of Fisher Island
Construction on Fisher Island started in 1919 when Fisher bought it from Dana Dorsey, southern Florida’s first African-American millionaire. In 1925, William K. Vanderbilt traded his yacht to Fisher in exchange for part of the island. The Vanderbilts built their famous mansion there and lived on this single-family island until his death in 1944.
Fisher Island would change hands multiple times between 1944 and 1979, and in the 1980s development of what we now know as Fisher Island got its start. Fisher island opened as an elite club in 1987. The Vanderbilt mansion still serves as a landmark here and consists of the original mansion, pump house, Rosemary’s Cottages and Café Tangier.
Fisher Island: Today, Tomorrow, and Beyond
Today, the “who’s who” of Miami call this exclusive island home. As one of Florida’s only (nearly) private islands, a place only accessible by ferry or helicopter, this tropical getaway does an excellent job of combining rich Florida history with ultra-modern homes, businesses and amenities. Carl Fisher may have had issues with his eyes as a child, but Fisher Island is proof that he did not struggle with vision. His good entrepreneurial sense and his strong work ethic were what enabled him to become the founder of one of the most prestigious islands in the world.