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Harry Miller:
Automotive Genius

A Menomonie native, 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.

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 one of the first in the United States.

In the mid-1890s, Miller built the a  gasoline outboard engine (again, one of the first 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 the development of the rear-engine Tucker automobile.

For more information about Harry Miller:

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
Published by ‎Society of Automotive Engineers; 2nd edition (October 1, 1997)
ISBN-10: ‎0768000238

 

The Miller Dynasty
by Mark L. Dees
Published by Hippodrome Pub. Co.
ISBN-10: ‎0963808400


Miller
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.