Once Upon a Time

Hearses provided final exit for busy buggy firm

This undated photograph shows one of the elegant hearses produced by the E.M. Miller Co. The vehicles were known for their exquisite craftsmanship. | Illustration courtesy of Jack Hilbing
By JACK HILBING
Posted: Apr. 16, 2017 12:45 am Updated: Apr. 16, 2017 12:52 am

E.M. Miller Co. was a major Quincy industrial firm, operating 74 years and employing 300 men at its peak.

The worldwide distribution of its products included buggies (simple two-person carriages), broughams (light four-wheel carriages), landaus (four-wheel convertible carriages), victorias (elegant carriages with a coachman seat), phaetons (sporty open carriages), stagecoaches, heavy mountain coaches, omnibuses, hotel buses and hearses.

Besides stock carriages, the firm made many vehicles to special order. Larger orders included a full set of wagons for the W.W. Cole Circus (1871), 75 stages for the Fifth Avenue Line in New York City (1886) and 20 40-passenger omnibuses for the Chicago Columbian Exposition (1893).

Emerson M. Miller was born in 1836 in Middlefield, Conn. At age 18, he started in the carriage trade.

Coming to Quincy in 1856, he worked for J.H. Weaver. After six months, he went into partnership with Weaver under the name Miller and Weaver. Three months later, he bought out Weaver.

E.M. Miller & Co. was a partnership between E.M. Miller and his brother Sereno D. Miller. S.D. Miller lived in New Haven, Conn., where he had a carriage manufacturing business, partly owned by brother Emerson.

Although S. D. Miller was a partner in the Quincy concern for 43 years, he never took a daily management role in the company.

In 1867, Emerson Miller married Maria Wheat, a daughter of Quincy pioneer attorney Almeron Wheat.

Edson H. Todd, a nephew of Emerson, came to Quincy after serving in the artillery during the Civil War. He got his start by washing buggies for his uncle. Todd progressed to be in charge of the business, including its clerical aspects. He traveled widely as the major sales representative.

Another uncle helped him obtain ownership in the company, and he became a junior partner.

In the early 1880s the firm was at its peak, employing 300 men. At any time, there were 100 omnibuses, 50 landaus and carriages, and about 1,000 buggies in production.

A finished vehicle could be turned out every hour. The company was shipping seven to 10 omnibuses each week. Carriages were top of the line, costing $1,000 to $1,500.

In 1881, the company increased its capacity by putting up a new five-story building to complement its two existing four-story buildings and an existing two-story building at 18-32 S. Sixth.

By 1885, Edson Todd was general manager of the firm. In the early morning of June 25, 1893, Todd shot himself with his war revolver in his bachelor apartment at the Hotel Newcomb.

The suicide was apparently because of personal reasons rather than any business or financial concerns. Shortly after Todd's death, the two Miller brothers bought his interest.

For a few months after Todd's death, the plant was relatively quiet, partly because E.M. Miller was waiting for his brother to come from Connecticut. But 1893 also was a time of stringent financial conditions, and the firm had on hand a larger stock of manufactured carriages than usual.

The partnership between E.M. Miller and his brother was dissolved in June 1899. Keeping the same name for the firm, a new partnership was formed between E.M. Miller and E.K. Stone Jr.

Elbridge K. Stone Jr., born in 1849, worked at the Quincy Street Railway Co. for a number of years. He was named superintendent when his father, E.K. Stone Sr., retired in 1888 because of poor health.

When an outside concern bought the Quincy streetcar operation at the end of 1898, E.K. Stone Jr. resigned. Six months later he was a partner in E.M. Miller & Co.

In 1901, there were discussions with A.R. Young of Rochester, N.Y., to sell the firm. Instead, E.M. Miller Co. was incorporated in February 1902. Stockholders were Miller, Stone, Albert J. Stone, (E.K.'s son), and Alfred Boger (the bookkeeper). In March 1909, E.M. Miller retired and sold his interest to the Stones. Nine months later he died as a result of kidney trouble.

By 1915, young men were buying runabouts instead of buggies. Families were ignoring carriages for limousines. The Stones were ready to close the business. However, B.E. Bulpipp, an undertaker in Taylorville, requested the company to build a hearse body on a motor chassis that he furnished. This started a new phase of the business.

E.M. Miller made hearse bodies on a motor chassis supplied by the customer or the company. The business produced 116 motor hearses in 1916.

The exquisite workmanship that had gone into carriages now went into the elaborate and expensive bodies for automotive hearses.

Four European woodcarvers created custom paneling for the exterior from a special grade of poplar.

Interiors were furnished in mahogany with upholstery made to specifications. Each of the bodies received 16 coats of paint and enamel. All work was accomplished in the factory and took over 40 days.

The company also produced less expensive hearses with aluminum carvings and sidings. For standard models, it would buy 25 Dodge chassis, cut the frame into two pieces, lengthen it 36 inches, and install an extra universal joint with an additional short drive shaft.

The demand grew beyond hearses to cabs, omnibuses, limousines and ambulances. The company also began specializing in auto body finishing and repair work.

By the early 1920s E.M. Miller was employing about 75 men. The advent of steel bodies by other manufacturers resulted in the end of hearse building in 1929, and E.M. Miller Co. was dissolved in 1930.

However, two employees, Joseph Hildebrand and Leo Amen, bought the repair business of the company to form Hildebrand and Amen Co. With a number of the more experienced people from the company, they moved to 812 Maine.

Within two years, Hildebrand bought out Amen and moved the company to 608 Vermont.

Jack Hilbing is a retired U.S. Air Force officer with a doctorate from Stanford University. He has worked with computers in military, industry and academia. He has collected the postal history of Quincy and Adams County for 40 years.

 

Sources:

"A Brother of E.M. Miller Dead," The Quincy Daily Journal, Aug. 27, 1907, Page 5.

 

"A Hundred Thousand Stock: On Hand at E.M. Miller & Co.'s -- Todd's Keys Still Missing," The Quincy Daily Herald, June 29, 1893, Page 4.

 

"An Aged Quincy Resident," The Quincy Daily Whig, Nov. 26, 1898, Page 2.

 

"An Extensive Trade: Quincy Manufactures Known from the Gulf to the Gold Coast," The Quincy Daily Whig, Dec. 25, 1883, Page 21.

 

"A Typical Western Man," The Quincy Daily Whig, Feb. 12, 1893, Page 8.

 

"Change of Partnership," The Quincy Daily Herald, June 26, 1899, Page 3.

 

"Death of E.M. Miller," The Quincy Daily Journal, Jan. 14, 1910, Page 10.

 

"E.H. Todd," The Quincy Daily Whig, June 27, 1893, Page 4.

 

"E.K. Stone Celebrates," The Quincy Daily Herald, Nov. 15, 1900, Page 4.

 

"E.K. Stone May Retire," The Quincy Daily Herald, Dec. 3, 1898, Page 8.

 

"E.M. Miller & Co.," The Quincy Daily Whig, Dec. 30, 1881, Page 3.

 

"E.M. Miller Sells Share in Business," The Quincy Daily Whig, March 27, 1909, Page 3.

 

"Golden Wedding Day of Mr. and Mrs. E.K. Stone," The Quincy Daily Journal, May 19, 1924, Page 4.

 

Hilbing, Frank J., personal notes to author, ca. 1980s.

 

"How Sir Chassis rescued One of Quincy's Industries," The Quincy Daily Whig, Jan. 23, 1916, Page 12.

 

"Increase of Business at E.M. Miller Plant," The Quincy Daily Journal, March 14, 1923, Page 3.

 

Landrum, Carl, "From Quincy's past: E.M. Miller made fine vehicles," The Herald-Whig, Dec. 14, 1969, Page 3C. This also appears in Carl and Shirley Landrum, Landrum's Quincy, Volume 1, Quincy Illinois: Justice Publications Inc., 154-157.

 

"Miller & Co. Incorporate," The Quincy Daily Herald, Feb. 19, 1902, Page 2.

 

"Mr. Miller Sells Out," The Quincy Daily Herald, March 26, 1909, Page 2.

 

"Mr. Stone Retires," The Quincy Daily Herald, Jan. 28, 1888, Page 6.

 

"Nothing New in the Miller Deal," The Quincy Daily Whig, May 12, 1901, Page 8.

 

"On Wheels," The Quincy Daily Herald, Nov. 29, 1885, Page 3.

 

"Passing of John Fowley," The Quincy Daily Herald, Oct. 24, 1918, Page 9.

 

"Review of the Manufacturers: Carriage and Wagon Industry," The Quincy Daily Journal, Jan. 27, 1905, Page 7.

 

"Some Big Papers Filed," The Quincy Daily Herald, July 17, 1893, Page 1.

 

"Startling Suicide: Death of E.J. Todd, From His Own Hand, at the Newcomb," The Quincy Daily Whig, June 27, 1883, Page 8.

 

"The Blaze at Miller's," The Quincy Daily Herald, June 2, 1911.

 

"The First in America: A Quincy Firm Which Has Attained a World-Wide Reputation: Contracts Recently Made by E.M. Miller & Co., Carriage Builders" The Quincy Daily Whig, March 7, 1886, Page 8.

 

"The Story: Of One Man's Life," The Quincy Daily Journal, June 26, 1893, Page 4.

 

"The Street Railway Company," The Quincy Daily Whig, Jan. 28, 1888, Page 3.

 

Theobald, Mark, "E.M. Miller & Co.", Coachbuilt, 2004, coachbuilt.com/bui/m/miller_em/miller_em.htm (accessed March 2, 2017).

 

"Todd's Brother Here," The Quincy Daily Herald, July 11, 1893, Page 1.

 

"Twenty-Five Years: A Quarter of a Century of Successful Business: The Extensive manufactory of Messrs E.M. Miller & Co.," The Quincy Daily Whig, Dec. 20, 1880, Page 5.

 

"Vehicles Line of City Sees Many Changes," The Quincy Daily Journal, Jan. 30, 1921, Page 28.

 

"Wood Carvers' Work Masterpieces in the Building of Bodies," The Quincy Daily Whig, Feb. 4, 1917, Page 11.

 

 

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