William F. Harrah will always be remembered in Reno as a gaming pioneer who loved cars -- his two most-famed legacies being Harrah's Hotels and Casinos and his automobile collection.
To those who knew the gaming pioneer, Harrah was a tough competitor, a loyal friend, an innovator, a visionary, a leader and a perfectionist who believed in doing things the right way. He treated people with class and hired experts to execute his own futuristic ideas.
Others knew Harrah through automobiles, such as AutoWeek publisher and Harrah biographer Leon Mandel, who described Harrah as "the most committed car guy of his age." Mandel said Harrah could have built America's best car, but instead he built America's best car collection.
Harrah, born in Pasadena, CA, learned to drive at the age of eight, drew cars by the age of nine, owned his first car at 16 and would have pursued dreams of becoming a mechanical engineer if the Great Depression hadn't interfered with his education at UCLA.
Harrah began his collection in 1948 with what he thought was a 1907 Maxwell. It turned out to be a 1911 Maxwell -- a fact he learned during his first tour with the Horseless Carriage Club. He also learned that modifications to increase the car's speed had also changed its authenticity.
He immediately turned his interest from speed to authenticity. From then on, librarians and researchers guided Harrah's restoration shops in every step and detail.
His world-famous car collection, library and restoration shops simply evolved -- from his insatiable appetite for cars and his growing contacts among other committed car guys with similar values for perfection. He first opened his collection to public view in 1962.
At the time of his death, the meticulous Harrah left an enigma -- 1,400 of his beloved cars were stored in three warehouses in Sparks, NV, but there was no direction
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from Harrah as to the disposition of the cars. The grand opening of the National Automobile Museum (The Harrah Collection) was the result of efforts by Nevada citizens who formed a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.
Holiday Corporation, which purchased Harrah's in 1980, donated to this nonprofit organization 175 cars valued at $18 million and representing every era of the automobile since its invention, along with the extensive research library worth $3 million. Community leaders rallied behind the driving force of Museum Chairman Benedict J. Dasher and built a state-of-the-art museum facility to display the Harrah automobiles, which opened in November, 1989.
The final answer to the enigma of William F. Harrah's automobiles is found in the Museum. It tells the story -- the story of the man who loved cars with a collector's passion, and the story of the impact those cars had, and still have, on our society.