Emerson M. Miller was born on December 5, 1836 in Middlefield, Connecticut.
His family later relocated to Springfield, Massachusetts where he attended
public school. After graduating from high school he joined his brother
Sereno D. Miller at New Haven, Connecticut where he learned the
coachbuilding trade as an apprentice.
At the age of 21 Miller embarked on a westward journey financed by
working short stints at various coachbuilders located along the way. After a
brief stay in Kansas City, Missouri he boarded a Missouri River steamer in
May of 1856 and traveled to Quincy, Illinois where he took a job with J.H.
Weaver, proprietor of a carriage and wagon repair shop located at 18 S.
Sixth St. After six months on the job he entered into a partnership with
Weaver under the style of Weaver & Miller. Ninety days later a
misunderstanding with his partner prompted Miller to buy him out and until
its dissolution in 1930, the business was conducted as E.M. Miller &
Emerson’s brother, Sereno, was an early investor in the firm and although
he remained a resident of New Haven, Connecticut, he played an active part
in the firm’s financial affairs. E.M. Miller soon relocated to a much larger
four-story structure located down the street at 132 South Sixth Ave. Early
in their history Miller established a South and Central American sales
network, enabling them to become one of the largest carriage manufactories
in the Midwest with between 75 and 150 hands manufacturing landaus,
broughams, victories hotel buses and hearses.
On Dec. 27, 1873, the Denison Daily News (Denison, Texas) published the
“Gov. L. S. Owings has just received over M. K. T. (Katy) Railroad, five
elegant single buggies and one two-seat barouche, for the accommodation of
the traveling public. They are all gotten up in the latest style, with
patent leather tops, etc., and are highly ornamental. The Governor has also
purchased new harness and can now furnish a turn-out unsurpassed in the
state. These buggies are from the celebrated manufacturers, E. M. Miller and
Co., of Quincy, Illinois and are splendid examples of their work.”
The September, 1874 issue of the Hub included the following:
"E. M. Miller & Co.'s Works, Quincy, Illinois
“Messrs. E. M. Miller & Co. have, in Quincy, Illinois, one of the largest
and most prominent carriage-factories in the West, and although their
buildings are but partially new, and not so convenient, perhaps, in their
arrangement as if they had been put up at one time, the shops are well
worthy of a full description.
“The firm was formed eighteen years ago. At the time of our visit they
employed 65 men, but since then they have more than doubled this force,
reporting at this time a total of 135 hands, with 20 fires running. The
variety of work built by them is very considerable, and includes many
patterns of open and top buggies, four and six-passenger phaetons and
Rockaways, sulkies and skeleton wagons, democrats and express work of all
kinds, sewing-machine wagons (now quite a specialty), and omnibuses and
“The total number of vehicles built by them during the year 1873 was
twelve hundred, and this number is still more surprising when we know that
it included, besides other heavy work, 40 hearses and 50 omnibuses. The firm
has a capital of $100,000. 'The factory occupies four buildings, as shown in
the cut accompanying....
“Building A, the first to the left, in the accompanying; illustration,
fronts on Sixth-street. It is of brick, four stories high besides basement,
and is occupied as follows: The entire basement, 60 x 92 feet, is used as a
smith-shop for light work, for which purpose it is well adapted, being well
lighted and ventilated. Twelve forges are run at present, under the
superintendence of Mr. J. B. Fox, the foreman. There are two other
smith-shops in the establishment, for heavy work and jobbing, which will be
mentioned further on.
“The ground floor of this new brick building occupied by the wood-shop,
for bodies and carriage parts, and contains 16 benches. On the floor above
are three rooms-one for general woodwork, the second for the bodies and
hearses, and the other for rough-stuffing light bodies. The wood-shop is
superintended by Mr. W. H. Houck. In the upper story is a repository for
omnibuses, hearses, and general storage. A hatchway extends to this floor
from the basement. Between this building and the next shop is the
“Building B, or the third from the left, fronting also on Sixth-street,
measures 60 x 55 feet, and is four stories high, besides the basement. In
the latter is a second smithshop, which is devoted exclusively to ironing
heavy work. Four fires are now in use in this department. The rear of this
basement is used for the storage of coal and lumber. On the first floor of
the same building are the main office, the stockroom, and a "department for
boxing and fitting up."
“The second floor is divided into two sections, one being used for
coloring bodies, and the other for cleaning and leading carriage-parts. The
third floor includes rooms for coloring and varnishing carriage-parts and
finishing them, and one for rubbing down the bodies in their varnish coats.
The finishing varnish-room for bodies is in the fourth story, together with
a minor repository and fitting-up room. The painting department is under
charge of Mr. I.C. Camel. A hatchway and single stairway connect the
different floors of this building.
“The small building marked C is 25 x 55 feet, and two stories high, the
first floor being occupied by the jobbing smith-shop repairs, with four
fires; and in the second floor is the trimming-shop, superintended by Mr. I.
“Building D, to the right, formerly the so-called "National Hall,"
measuring 50 x 120 feet, and 22 feet between the ceilings, is used as the
grand repository for new work, and here, at the time we visited, we were
shown a collection of 125 vehicles, embracing, we think, a larger variety of
styles and patterns than we have ever seen in any private repository. The
repository connects with Building B by a bridge at the fourth story. The
harness-room is in the same building.
On a late 1870s visit to Quincy, the W.W. Cole Circus commissioned Miller
to update their rolling stock with a number of new circus wagons which were
ready when they returned the following season.
The August 22, 1890 issue of the Ava Advertiser, Jackson County, Illinois
“At Quincy, the other morning, while lowering a carriage on a large
elevator in E.M. Miller & Co.'s carriage shop, the cable broke, and Mr.
Miller, Joseph Seidell, the foreman of the factory, and William Bandanner,
one of the workmen, were precipitated to the cellar, a distance of thirty
feet. Seidell and Bandanner escaped with slight injuries, but Mr. Miller was
very seriously if not fatally hurt, receiving a broken leg and an injury of
Emerson eventually recovered from his injuries and in 1899 his brother,
Sereno D. Miller, sold his share in the firm to E.K. Strong. Under Strong,
Miller began to specialize in funeral vehicles although their popular line
of pleasure vehicles continued to be offered into the mid-teens.
The May 7, 1916 issue of the Waterloo Times-Tribune (Waterloo, Iowa)
included a photo-feature depicting a Cadillac “8” Funeral Cortege:
“While motor driven vehicles have slowly bud steadily replaced the horse
in practically every line of transportation service, the funeral cortege,
surrounded by its time-honored customs and traditions, clung to the old
ideas with a persistency which balked, for a time, the advance of motor
“Of late the motor funeral cortege has gained a foothold in the cities
and the idea is being gradually adopted elsewhere. The horse-drawn hearse
and its train of horse-drawn vehicle will soon go the way of the rest of the
horse-driven equipage and in its place will move the auto cortege.
“The above picture of a Cadillac “8” funeral cortege marks the advance of
the motor idea in Waterloo.
“The new hearse, one of the first and finest in the state was delivered
to the Morris Motor Car company early last week for the Bradley & Wescott
“The hearse represents an investment of about $5,000. The body was built
by the E.M. Miller company of Quincy, Ill., and was mounted on a Cadillac
chassis at the Cadillac factory in Detroit. The car is equipped with an 8
cylinder motor and is finished in a battleship gray with mahogany finish on
the interior. The picture above shows a Cadillac “8” closed car for the
minister, the hearse and a Cadillac “8” seven-passenger closed car for the
pallbearers. The motor hears and its train of auto equipage was used last
week in Waterloo for the first time.”
E.M. Miller offered a number of traditional-looking funeral vehicles
starting in 1914. They preferred to use Dodge chassis but as indicated
above, would mount their coaches on any customer-supplied chassis. Coaches
built by E.M. Miller were referred to as Miller-Quincy coaches by the trade,
so they wouldn't be confused with vehicles produced by Bellefontaine, Ohio's
A.J. Miller Co.
In 1921 Miller offered their customers the choice of their own assembled
Continental-equipped six-cylinder chassis or one of their own choosing,
typically Cadillac, Dodge or Reo. A number of limousines were offered with
room for 7 passengers and either 6 or 8 windows per side, depending on the
wheelbase and chassis selected.
Offered through 1924, the Miller-Quincy sedans and limousines rode on
their assembled 130” wheelbase chassis and were powered by a 50hp
Continental 8R 6-cylinder engine with disc wheels as standard equipment.
Miller’s catalog showed both rear and side-loading combination coaches
that could be converted for use as an ambulance, funeral coach, or mourner's
limousine in a matter of minutes. Their 8-column carved-panel funeral coach
was still available in either classical black or two-tone silver or gray.
Their 1922 catalog included an unusual all-white 4-column glass-paneled
rear-entry ambulance with matching white wheel discs and spare-tire carrier
that looked like an aquarium on wheels. Their 1923 catalog showed a stylish
limousine-style ambulance with a stained glass cross fitted inside a
beautiful leaded-glass side window as well as a nice-looking
contrasting-colored carved panel 8-column hearse.
The limousine-style professional car was prominently featured in the 1924
E.M. Miller catalog and their assembled chassis now included 4-wheel
hydraulic brakes along with a Continental six-cylinder engine. The
attractive Miller coaches could be ordered on the pricier Cadillac V8
chassis as well and could be ordered in side or rear-loading versions. Other
chassis available in the mid-to-late 1920s included Chrysler, Dodge, Hudson,
Lincoln and Velie.
The October 29, 1925 issue of the Waterloo Evening Courier (Waterloo,
Iowa) carried the following Associated Press feature:
“Hearse Styles Change To Resemble Limousine
“Quincy, Ill., Oct 29 - AP – Man’s last earthly ride had undergone some
style changes in recent years. The ornate hearse is out of date and most
citizens now go to their final rest in a vehicle not greatly different from
the family automobile.
“One of the country’s largest hearse makers, located here, manufactures a
plain coach resembling a limousine but with the door in the rear. Except for
the vehicles sent to Latin American countries and a few to large cities
having numerous foreign residents, this is the approved type of funeral
carriage for Americans of all classes.
“This firm ships to Mexico, Cuba and South America. The Mexican wants his
funeral carriage burnished with gold, lined with purple, and painted with
light grays. The Cuban like the full ornamentation, the angel figures, the
drapery, a platform for the casket, with a canopy above supported by winged
“The horse-drawn hearse was discarded about 15 years ago. The hearse
manufacturers build the bodies and mount them on various makes of
The very popular landau or leather-back treatment appeared on Miller's
most expensive funeral coaches from 1925-1927 and included nickel-plated
landau bars, an oval window and stylish pull-down blinds in all of the
casket compartment windows.
Like many other small builders, E.M. Miller coaches of 1927-1929 were
still on the square side, lacking the complex curves and long & low look
campaigned by the industry's style leaders.
For 1927 they offered an additional leather-back landau roof treatment.
Customers had the choice of a small landau bar, small oval window
combination or a much larger landau bar with a large rounded corner rear
quarter window. The landau bar and window treatment was also available
without the padded roof and could be finished in any color desired. Their
old-fashioned 4-column glass-sided funeral coaches and invalid cars
continued to be advertised, yet their time had passed.
In 1930 Autobody reported that E.M. Miller & Co. had been dissolved and
that two of the firm’s employees, J.E. Hildebrand and Leo F. Amen had formed
the Hildebrand & Amen Co. to:
“take over the body-repairing and -rebuilding
business that was conducted by the E.M. Miller Co. in connection with the
latter company’s building of automobile hearses and ambulances.”
The new partners relocated to 812-814 Maine Street, Quincy, and hired
some of Miller’s most experienced mechanics. While at Miller J.E. Hildebrand
was in charge of the repair and rebuilding department and Leo F. Amen had
been his longtime assistant.
© 2004 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com with special thanks to Thomas A.