Although many individuals were responsible for the founding of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, none is likely more important to the Bank’s establishment than Jo Zach Miller Jr., who led the Bank as its governor from January 1916 to June 1922.
Born in 1863, on a farm southeast of Austin, Texas, Miller was left fatherless at age eleven. Raised by his mother and the uncle for whom he was named, Joseph Zachery Miller, he would become a self-made man. After attending school at St. Louis University, Miller returned to Texas where he became prominent in banking over the following three decades.
In 1910, Miller came to Kansas City where he began working as a vice president for Commerce Trust Company. Four years later, he was chosen by officials in Washington to serve as chairman of the Kansas City Fed, a post that involved all aspects of founding the Bank, including hiring staff and securing necessary office space. Before accepting the appointment, Miller had to divest all bank holdings and assume a comparatively modest salary of $7,500.
Less than two years later, when it became clear that Miller was ideal to oversee the Bank’s day-to-day operations, he switched jobs with Charles Sawyer to serve as the Bank’s governor. As Bank governor (president), Miller was known for many quirks, including his refusal to own an automobile and his meticulous bookkeeping, but, most prominently, he was known as a hard worker who never took a day of vacation and who was dedicated to the Kansas City Fed and its banks and communities of the Tenth Federal Reserve District.
Miller supervised the construction of the Kansas City Fed’s headquarters at 925 Grand Blvd. and the creation of branch offices in Denver, Oklahoma City, and Omaha. “When the Bank became properly housed in the new building and the various departments were working harmoniously and with adequate room and working facilities, Gov. Miller’s greatest ambition was achieved, and he began looking forward to a vacation of which he had deprived himself during his connection with the Bank,” reads a Bank history authored around the time of Miller’s departure in June 1922.1
Miller went on to be involved in numerous local business efforts before a lengthy illness led to a thirteen-month stay in St. Mary’s Hospital, which stood on the 1 Memorial Drive property that is now home to the Kansas City Fed’s headquarters. He died at age eighty-seven in 1951.
A Kansas City Times editorial published a few days later on February 19, 1951, called Miller “one of the salty characters of Kansas City. An intense individualist, a man of deceptively modest appearance, but of immense force, where ‘J.Z.’ sat was the head of the table.”
Miller, the editorial said, “was of the hardy pioneer type that laid the foundations for American progress. The West, in which his lot was cast profited greatly from the shrewd independence of men like him who for so many years kept the nation’s economy on an even keel.”
Todd, Tim. Confidence Restored: The History of the Tenth District’s Federal Reserve Bank. 2008.
Written by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. See disclaimer.