Harry Miller: Automotive Genius

Harry Armenius Miller

Harry Armenius Miller was the greatest creative figure in the history of the American racing car, whose engines and cars dominated American racing for almost half a century. To understand American racing you must know the story of Harry Miller.

Harry Miller was born on December 9, 1876 in Menomonie, Wisconsin to Jacob Miller, a German immigrant, and Martha (Tuttle) Miller. Jacob was a teacher, musician and an accomplished painter. Harry on the other hand, possessed mechanical aptitude, and much to the dismay of his father, dropped out of high school at age 15 to work in the Knapp, Stout & Co. machine shop.

At age 17, he left to seek his fortune, ending up in Salt Lake City. He returned to Menomonie a year later, but in 1895 left again, this time for Los Angeles, where he worked in a bicycle shop. He married Edna Inez Lewis, and since money was tight for the couple, returned to Menomonie and his old job in the machine shop.

Perhaps it was the steep hill between his home and his job that inspired Miller to build a motorcycle --- a bicycle on which he'd mounted a one-cylinder engine --- which is thought by some to have been the first in the United States.

In the mid-1890s, Miller built the first gasoline outboard engine in the country --- a four-cylinder engine which he clamped on a rowboat and showed his friends how to enjoy on days off. Unfortunately, Miller didn't bother to protect his invention.

By 1897, Edna became homesick and they had returned to Los Angeles where he opened a machine shop. Miller built his first automobile in 1905, something he'd resisted when Edna first suggested it. He was active in the design of engines for inboard racing boats, and airplanes, but he was to make his reputation in the design of racing cars,.

In 1916, Miller's first racing engine came to the attention of Barney Oldfield, a top race driver of the day. The two then collaborated, resulting in the "Golden Submarine," a streamlined racer that brought Miller his first recognition as a car builder.

In 1920, Miller built a 183 cubic inch, straight eight engine which powered a car driven by Jimmy Murphy to win the Indianapolis 500 in 1922. This created a demand for Miller cars through the 1920s. Miller cars won 73 of the 92 major U.S. races from 1922 through 1929. So strong were the engines that 27 of 33 starting positions in the 1929 Indy 500 were Miller-powered.

Success continued through the 1930s and after Miller's death from cancer in 1943. He was involved in development of the rear-engine Tucker automobile.


For more information:
    Built for Speed: The Checkered Career
    of Race Car Designer Harry A. Miller

    by Timothy Gerber
    Wisconsin Magazine of History, Spring 2002
    The Marvelous Mechanical Designs of Harry A. Miller
    by Gordon Eliot White
    Published by Iconografix
    Publication date: 2004
    ISBN: 1-58388-123-9

    The Golden Age of the American Racing Car
    by Griffith Borgeson
    The Miller Dynasty
    by Mark L. Dees

    by Griffith Borgeson
    Published by Motorbooks International
    Publication date: August 1993
    ISBN: 0879388145

    The Miller/Offenhauser Historical Society
    The Miller/Offenhauser Historical Society was organized in 1999 to preserve and publicize the racing designs of Harry A. Miller, Fred Offenhauser, and Leo Goossen. Our goal is to discover, collect, and memorialize the history and products created by these individuals, from about 1917 to 1945.

Back to Online Exhibits
Home | About Us | Calendar of Events | Historical Sites | Gift Shop | History Links

Dunn County Historical Society
PO Box 437, Menomonie, WI   USA  54751