The History Behind Miller’s Harness Company

Joseph Miller, who built his father’s humble harness shop in Manhattan into one of the nation’s largest suppliers of fashionable saddlery, riding apparel and other equestrian equipment, died on June 12 at his home in Manhattan. He was 93.

His death was confirmed by his son Daniel.

Mr. Miller was president and chief executive of the Miller Harness Company from the late 1940s until 1975, when it was sold to another company. By then, its logo — with the LL in Miller in the shape of high English riding boots — was known worldwide in equestrian circles.

It was in 1912 — when horse-drawn wagons and fancy carriages still plied the streets — that Mr. Miller’s father, Mayer, opened the shop at 123 East 24th Street. Mayer Gostkovsky, as he was known when he arrived in America, had been a master harness maker in Russia.

Joseph Miller began working at the shop in the mid-1930s, soon after graduating from James Monroe High School in the Bronx. Eventually, under his leadership and with the support of his brother Jack, Miller Harness expanded into a five-floor business, with factories and suppliers in England, Germany, Argentina, Japan and India. Mayer Miller died in 1962. Jack Miller, the company’s executive vice president, died in 1994.

Although the internal combustion engine took its toll on the business, gas rationing during World War II kept it out of bankruptcy. And in the 1950s, as it attracted more and more horse fanciers around the world with its upscale products, Miller Harness became a multimillion-dollar annual business, specializing in equestrian haute couture and offering more than 10,000 items for horse racing, sport riding, fox hunting, dressage and polo. While selling mainly to adherents of the English style of riding, the Millers also outfitted the cavalries of Venezuela, Colombia, Haiti and Cuba.

The likes of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Rockefeller family members and movie stars became customers. And, together with H. Kauffman & Sons, an equally well-known tack shop and horse haberdashery a few doors down, Miller Harness made the block on East 24th Street “the equine epicenter of New York,” as The New York Times described it in 1975.

Daniel Miller recalled that a woman once walked her horse onto the store’s freight elevator and rode up to the office floor to confer with his father about a martingale — a leather strap that prevents the horse from throwing its head so high that the rider is hit in the face.

Joseph Miller was born in the Bronx on Oct. 12, 1917, the youngest of four children of Mayer and Augusta Rosenberg Miller. After serving in the Army Signal Corps in the Pacific during World War II, he returned to New York and soon married Lillie Chasnoff. Besides his wife and his son Daniel, he is survived by another son, David, and five grandchildren.

In 1975 Miller Harness was sold to MPO Videotronics, which later sold the rights to the company name to another distributor of equestrian products.

An old wooden horse used to stand outside the company store. But the store and the horse are gone. No longer do riders, who once tied their steeds outside, find their way to 123 East 24th.

Original Article by The NY Times 2011