Highway 100 was inspired by Germany’s autobahns.

Engineer Carl Graeser (1875-1944) came to the U.S. from Germany to avoid the draft during World War I. He had a German Shepard named Blitz (‘lightning’ in German) and a wooden leg.

While working for the Minnesota Department of Highways, he envisioned a ‘Belt Line’ highway — a 66-mile road that circled Minneapolis/St. Paul, patterned after the autobahns of his homeland.

Lilac Way was the ‘Showcase’ section of that Belt Line highway.

Carl F. Graeser, Chief Engineer

He prevailed upon Governor Floyd B. Olson directly for a half million dollars of federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) money, and supervised much of the work himself.

Conceived just after the start of the Great Depression

The Belt Line was a joint venture between the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Minnesota Highway Department. A 12.5 mile stretch of Highway 100 Lilac Way was the ‘Showcase’ section of his Belt Line.

Now known as the “Father of the Belt Line”, he was a visionary in highway engineering. 

“He had the record of supervising more people directly, than any other individual ever has, before or since. And that was because he had WPA labor, anyone who was unemployed could go on WPA… he was signing payroll for a crew of 4,000. That’s quite a record, it still stands as almost unbelievable.”

Lee Nelson, retired personnel director, MnDOT. From Twin Cities Public TV documentary, “Highway 100 – Lilac Way

Cliff Swenson, worked on original survey crew

“I think Graeser was a good engineer. But he was different. He was trying to run the crews like the German army. He did a lot of good work. The front office, the central office, couldn’t keep up with his ideas.”

Graeser built the first cloverleafs in Minnesota

The cloverleafs were the answer of modern engineering to the demand for fast, yet safe crossings. Cloverleafs were built at three of the busiest intersections: Highways 55, 12 and 7.

Cloverleaf design improved traffic flow and reduced congestion.

The idea was so new, that Henry R. Grove, who grew up in the area during the 1930s, said “When our farmer relatives would come up to Minneapolis, we would take them down and show them this cloverleaf.

Everybody would laugh and have a great time over it—because whoever designed something like that!?”

Scroll through photos of building Lilac Way’s cloverleaf interchange

  • 1948. Aerial photo of MN’s first cloverleaf at Hwy. 7 & 100 in SLP. Photo: Ver Keljik, MN Historical Society.

  • 1935. Cloverleaf cut down by grader. Photo: Henn. Cty. Libr.

  • 1935. Cloverleaf eliminates left turns. Photo: Henn. Cty. Lib.

  • 1937. Construction of North approach to Wayzata Blvd. cloverleaf. Photo: MN Hist. Soc.

  • 1937. Highway 100 Belt Line construction. Photo: MN Historical Society.

  • 1937. Cloverleaf on Highway 100. Photo: MN History Society.

  • 1937. North approach to Wayzata Blvd. cloverleaf intersection under construction.
    Photo: Hennepin County Library.

  • 1940. View of St. Louis Park, looking south on Belt Line Highway from cloverleaf on Highway 7. Photo: MN Historical Society.

  • 1940. Highway 100 Belt Line construction. Photo: MN Historical Society.

Each of three cloverleafs cost $65,000 in 1935. Adjusted for inflation, that is comparable to more than $1,100,000 in today’s dollars.

Graeser Facts

  • Born in Windish-Marchwitz, Schlesien, Germany on April 24, 1875
  • Developed Belt Line concept, promoted funding, and supervised construction

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Graeser Park in Robbinsdale was named for Carl Graeser. Dedicated in 1939, it was Lilac Way’s largest roadside park. He supervised the building of Graeser Park while living at 4225 Unity Avenue North.

The park reflects the naturalistic landscaping and rustic architecture that characterized WPA-built roadside parks.

What is a German autobahn?
  • 7,500+ miles of federal controlled-access highways system
  • No mandated speed limit for some classes of vehicles
  • Limits are posted (and enforced) in urbanized, substandard, accident-prone, or construction areas
  • Known for high velocity
  • Fast way to travel from city to city
  • World’s third largest superhighway

Here’s a nifty Autobahn infographic.