S. Miller Harris, 91, of Eagle shirt firm

S. Miller Harris
S. Miller Harris
Posted: June 17, 2013

S. Miller Harris, 91, longtime chief executive officer of Eagle Shirtmakers, a Philadelphia firm his great-grandfather founded in 1867, died of pneumonia Sunday, June 9, at home in Spinnerstown, Bucks County.

Mr. Harris joined the shirt business, designing and manufacturing Eagle Shirts, in 1946.

The firm was established by Jacob Miller. It operated a store at 800 Market St. as well as a factory at 26th and Reed Streets. The company later moved to Quakertown.

Mr. Harris was known for pioneering the Ivy League look, which featured shirts made from multicolored oxford cloth and neat, button-down collars. The garments were prized for their crisp, conservative appearance.

In the 1960s, he collaborated with adman Howard Gossage to create the first Eagle advertising campaign in many years. The ads portrayed Eagle Shirts as a brand worth remembering and the company as detail-oriented, friendly, and approachable. The ads ran mostly in the New Yorker.

Looking for ways to expand the business, he flew to Paris and met with the couturier Pierre Cardin. He obtained a license to produce shirts under the Cardin label, and in doing so gained access to the designer shirt market.

Mr. Harris ran Eagle Shirtmakers until 1985, when it merged with a series of larger corporations. By the mid-1990s, the brand had disappeared as a family-run enterprise.

Mr. Harris returned to his roots, though, and obtained one of the first American licenses to design, manufacture, and sell Viyella shirts, made of the British company's luxurious year-round fabric.

When the Viyella license expired, Mr. Harris, then 90, launched a new brand, Jacob Miller Shirtmakers, named for his great-grandfather. It is still in business in Spinnerstown.

Mr. Harris told relatives his proudest achievement was his 70-year marriage to the former Mary Louise Snellenburg. The two knew each other from dancing class at the Oak Lane Review Club 80 years ago.

Mrs. Harris is a granddaughter of Nathan Snellenburg, who founded N. Snellenburg & Co. The department store once occupied an entire block on Market Street between 11th and 12th Streets.

Both graduated from Cheltenham High School - he in 1938, she in 1941. Mr. Harris then graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor's degree in English in 1943.

After their marriage in 1942, his wife joined Mr. Harris at Cornell, where he was editor of the campus newspaper. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Mr. Harris scooped the Ithaca Journal in reporting the news because the campus paper had a morning edition and the city paper did not.

The novelist Kurt Vonnegut Jr. wrote for the college paper with Mr. Harris. Vonnegut called Mr. Harris his mentor. They became friends and corresponded throughout their lives. Vonnegut died in 2007.

A first sergeant in the 69th Army Infantry during World War II, Mr. Harris served in France and Germany from 1943 through 1944. Known for his dry wit, he liked to say, "If it weren't for the killing, I would have never left the Army."

Mr. Harris was a devoted father and role model to his four children despite maintaining a busy work schedule.

He remained committed to Cornell, writing his class column for the alumni magazine for 60 years. When he asked classmates to write an essay describing their senior year, more than 100 responded. With help from editor Adele Robinette, he edited the essays, which were published in 2001 as A Compendium of Memoirs by Cornell University Press.

Cornell honored Mr. Harris in 2009 with its William Vanneman Award for outstanding class leader.

An insatiable reader, Mr. Harris was also a man of great style with many interests. As a young man, he wrote short stories that were published in Collier's Weekly and Harper's Magazine; one, about war, was included in the anthology A Short Wait Between Trains in 1991.

He also collected books and wine, and was a self-taught gardener and gourmet cook.

He and his wife led a full life together.

After three of their children moved away, he orchestrated frequent family vacations and large Thanksgiving gatherings so relatives could remain close.

Surviving, in addition to his wife, are daughters Jill, Susan Laun, and Prue Harris Gershman; son S. Miller "Mickey" Jr.; 10 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

A memorial gathering will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 16, in Flourtown. Call 215-280-5302 for details.

Donations may be made to Cornell University, c/o Class of 1943 Scholarship Fund #042022, Box 223623, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15251, or via www.giving.cornell.edu.

Condolences to the family may be offered at www.goldsteinsfuneral.com.

Contact Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8102 or bcook@phillynews.com.

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