George B. Miller and the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co.

By Staff
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Photo courtesy Waterloo Gas Engine Co.
A Waterloo Gas Engine Co. advertisement from the February 1910 issue of The American Blacksmith featuring George B. Miller.

Many gas engine collectors probably don’t know much about George B. Miller, a man who was key to the success of the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co. Miller was born in 1872 in Waterloo, Iowa. His father, George W. Miller, was hailed by the 1915 History of Black Hawk County Iowa and Its People as a “representative citizen,” who, as a civil engineer in the early days of Waterloo, helped survey most of the town. George W. was a leading industrialist, and one of the original founders of the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Co. in 1893. Two years later, after the company saw some financial troubles and John Froehlich’s departure, Miller was one of the key figures in the reorganization of the company as the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co. George W. Miller died in 1897. His son George B. was practicing law at the time, and in 1899 decided to buy into the company that his father helped establish. By 1903, Miller was serving as the Secretary-Treasurer for the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co., a position he held until he was elected president in 1909. It was during his time as president that Miller was able to take the company to new heights. Louis W. Witry, the “father” and inventor of the Waterloo Boy engine, had given the company a dependable product, and Miller worked hard to sell that product. Witry joined the company in 1897, and helped develop the Waterloo Boy around 1906. The company’s sales plan was simple enough: besides trying to sell engines directly, offer the Waterloo Boy engine to as many jobbers and dealers as possible — hence the over 50 known names found on Waterloo style engines. It was also under Miller’s guidance, with Witry’s engineering genius, that the company developed the Waterloo Boy tractor. Miller remained president of the company until it sold to Deere & Co. in 1918 for an astonishing $2,000,000. Articles at the time said Miller planned to retire after the sale, but within a year he started the George B. Miller & Son Mfg. Co., with his son George Deforest Miller, to again manufacture gas engines and agricultural equipment. Despite a major fire at the Miller factory in 1922, the firm lasted until about 1930.

Besides his work with the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co. and the George B. Miller & Son Mfg. Co., Miller at times had his finger in similar companies, including the Waterloo Motor Co. (builder of the Duryea car), the Waterloo Foundry Co. (builder of the Big Chief engine and tractor), and the Iowa Spreader Co. (later known as the Iowa Spreader & Engine Co.). From 1915 until the company’s close in 1918, he was also listed in the Waterloo city directories as vice-president of the Caldwell-Hallowell Mfg. Co. This company was started in 1910 by George B. Miller’s father-in-law James Deforest Caldwell and other members of the Caldwell Family. Mrs. J.D. Caldwell’s maiden name was Miss Margaret E. Hallowell, no doubt creating the name Caldwell-Hallowell. The Gas Engine magazine, May 1910, commented on the organization of Caldwell-Hallowell and its new factory, which was to be located on the same property as the Waterloo Gas. Engine Co. “It is stated that the two concerns are separate organizations with no connection between the two companies.” Most likely Caldwell-Hallowell never actually manufactured anything, and only sold Waterloo Boy-style engines like so many other companies at the time.

Outside of the engine and farm implement world, George B. Miller was involved in real estate development around Waterloo, including the Leavitt-Johnson-Miller Building Co., and was at one time chairman of the Blackhawk National Bank. Miller also served as a county supervisor from 1918 until his death in 1947 at age 75. His obituary commented on how civic-minded he was, supporting various fraternal and social organizations in Waterloo and the Chamber of Commerce.

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