By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – The rich history of a manufacturing icon in the city was celebrated on April 24 as A.G. Miller Company Inc. noted its centennial.
Rick Miller, the company president and the third generation of his family to lead the business, explained his grandfather, Adolph Gustav Miller, started the shop in 1914.
His grandfather had learned the metal fabrication business in Europe and had immigrated to the United States, Miller explained. In 1910, he moved to Springfield for a second time to work for the Knox Motor Company. There he was credited for having developed the technique of fashioning fenders from a single sheet of metals as well as creating the first water-cooled automotive radiator.
In 1914, after a stint for at the Stevens-Duryea Automobile Company, Adolph Miller formed his own company to be a job shop for the growing auto business in the Springfield area, his grandson explained.
One of those companies was Rolls Royce that had established its only American automobile plant in Springfield. Miller said Rolls Royce sent over the engines, but the rest of the car was fabricated and assembled here. His grandfather’s company made fenders and other parts of the “Springfield Rolls.”
Part of the company’s success was Adolph Miller’s interest in adopting new tools and technology. Rick Miller explained his grandfather’s use of the “English Hammer,” a tool to shape sheet metal and achieve curves, brought attention to the company.
Although the 1920s was a positive time for the firm – it grew to more than 130 employees – the Depression nearly killed it, Miller explained.
“It went down to two employees,” he said.
Struggling to re-group during the rest of the 1930s, the company regained its footing during World War II, Miller said. Growth continued during the 1950s and 1960s.
Adolph Miller died in 1968 and his company was led by his son Frederick, who was succeeded by his son Rick as president of the company in 1989.
Today, the company is one of the many advanced manufacturing facilities in the Pioneer Valley. Miller said the company employs highly skilled craftspeople that excel in fabricating high precision low to medium volume items for other companies.
For the anniversary celebration Nelson Picard was at the controls of a computer controlled laser-cutting machine that was cutting out shark-shaped bottle openers from one-quarter inch stainless steel. Picard said he was impressed with the level of technology at the company having been employed at a shop operating a conventional punching machine.
In recent years, the company has worked with researchers from Massachusetts Institute of technology and the California Institute of Technology in making containers for a project measuring gravitational waves.
Miller described his business as “solid,” and said that it has lost business to manufacturers in China. Now employing 37 people, he said that finding the skilled workers the company needs is a “very big concern.” Since last December, he has been in a partnership with Putnam Vocational and Technical Academy to prepare students for the precision manufacturing field and to train instructors as well.
With a smile, Miller said he hopes the company will be around for another 100 years.