Bill Harrah built his auto collection by buying the best cars produced worldwide. His century of cars is truly a horseless carriage collection of unsurpassed quality with many rare and experimental autos that delighted both him and those who see what is left of his collection. Over his lifetime he collected 1,440 cars. The autos he amassed included the 1907 Thomas Flyer that won the New York to Paris Auto Race in 1908.
After he died asset rich but cash poor, Holiday Inn bought his car collection with a plan to sell it off. The $200,000,000 Harrah left was not enough to keep his collection together. The thought of selling his cars was an unpopular idea that led to a public outcry. The people of Reno wanted the collection preserved intact. To solve this dilemma Holiday Inn donated 175 cars to the museum that opened 11 years after Harrah died. The rest of his cars were sold. These kept autos became the reason why the National Automobile Museum is the finest car museum in the United States and Reno’s top attraction since its inception.
I talked to the man who developed the Heritage Corner in this museum. It’s all about Bill Harrah, a man who loved cars. The man assured me that this display was accurate about the museum’s founder because he redesigned it only 2 months ago as a tribute to Bill Harrah. He assured me the Heritage Corner became his special COVID year project. Most of the information below is included in it.
Bill Harrah was born in Pasadena, CA but grew up in Venice, CA. He drove for the first time at the age of 8, a 19ll Hudson. He studied Mechanical Engineering at UCLA but had to quit because The Depression happened. He moved to Reno in 1937, opened a bingo parlor, and began to build an empire there and at Lake Tahoe nearby. His first real casino at Lake Tahoe opened in 1955, and by 1973 it was the largest casino in the State of Nevada with 250 hotel rooms containing unique his and her bathrooms. His became the first gaming company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. A shy man who disliked public speaking, Bill Harrah didn’t just buy cars. He collected airplanes, boats, vintage clothing, and the cars of the famous. He delighted in automobile restoration and this tradition continues at the National Automobile Museum. I was told that all the cars there are drivable if fluids are added. Harrah is buried in Hailey, ID. There are still 14 Harrah properties in existence. The one at Lake Tahoe is the oldest. It delighted guests as the first diamond hotel in the United States.
One fact I learned while looking at the National Automobile Museum and its Edsel was that Edsel Ford created the Mercury brand in the late 1930s to compete with Buick, Oldsmobile, and De Soto. I didn’t know this. Harrah is missed but other collectors prosper in his place and keep his memory alive. He was a true car pioneer and the collection he doted on featured the product that is at the root of our economic growth. Millions of Americans labored in car manufacturing plants in a developing industry that provided lots of jobs. See this collection!