National Automobile Museum honors Bill Harrah’s legacy
“In the Harrah culture, there were organizational standards for all aspects of daily operations throughout departments to ensure the best business practices…the days of Bill Harrah are now rooted in history,” said Jackie Frady, executive director of the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nev. Her comments appeared in the organization’s September 2011 edition of Precious Metal, courtesy of The Harrah Automobile Foundation, 10 S. Lake St., Reno, NV 89501-1558 (Jackie Frady).
The 28-page magazine is a major salute to what would have been the 100th birthday of the man. Sadly, while in his 60s and at the peak of his collecting frenzy, he succumbed to an aneurism during surgery.
A pioneer in the gaming business, Harrah was addicted to gambling, but overcame that bout. Maybe collecting old cars was a curative. We may never know. However, there is no doubt that in his day, he was the leading collector with about 1,400 vehicles to his credit. These were not just any types of cars. There was a method to his collecting.
His collection was opened to the public in February 1962 “in Sparks, Nevada, with 325 cars…. Bill Harrah collected cars of which only one was built or only one remained in existence, the first and last of a series, and cars that had notable engineering features, history, or owners,” says the magazine. In less than 3-1/2 years, 250,000 people visited the collection.
The hobby was astounded when Harrah purchased the entire Winthrop Rockefeller collection in 1975 for a then-whopping $947,000. This included 68 motorized vehicles and three that were horse-drawn. One of the gems in the Harrah collection that had preceded the Rockefeller purchase was the 1908 Thomas Flyer that had won the 1908 New York to Paris Automobile Race and, due to the win, was credited to be “one of the most historically significant American cars.”
Those of us who watched the rise of Bill Harrah’s collection were shaken in 1980 when Holiday Inns obtained Harrah’s Hotels and Casinos, including the car collection. The magazine treats the succeeding years on a pleasant note, with the formation of the museum. This became reality thanks to “generous donations from the City of Reno Redevelopment Agency, the State of Nevada, and many individuals and organizations.” As such, Bill Harrah’s dream continues to grow.
If you can obtain a copy of the September edition of magazine, do it soon. It’s a keeper.
For details on the museum, go to www.automuseum.org or call 775-333-9300.
And now, for your viewing pleasure, some of Bill Harrah’s legacy. (Photos are from Rodman Bingham of Menlo Park, Calif., and are presented here through the courtesy of his wife, Marguerite, and their daughter, Patrice Offenhauser.)
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