Bill Milliken ’34 has had plenty of success in his 101 years, but he’s been immortalized for his best-known mistake. To many auto racing fans, he is known only as the name behind Milliken’s Corner, the turn in Watkins Glen, New York, that earned its name when he flipped his Bugatti during the village’s first road race in 1948.
“The Watkins Glen raceway was certainly a big part of my life,” says Milliken. “I raced there for a decade and a half and served the track in various capacities over the years. The most important part was the wonderful friends I made.” In September 2010, alongside racing legend Mario Andretti, he was named a Legend of the Glen by Watkins Glen International Raceway, an honor reserved for auto racing’s elite.
The induction was part of a yearlong celebration of Milliken’s 100th birthday that included an event at the International Motor Racing Research Center and his induction into the Western New York Motor Racing Hall of Fame. Despite his accolades in the world of auto racing, Milliken’s influence extends far beyond the racetrack.
After graduating from MIT in 1934, Milliken helped develop the Boeing B-17 heavy bomber, which was used in World War II, and participated in the Boeing B-29’s first test flight.
He later became an accomplished author: his book Race Car Vehicle Dynamics was published in 1994, and his 2006 autobiography, Equations of Motion, was championed by Jay Leno in the March 2008 issue of Vanity Fair magazine. He also founded the vehicle dynamics department at the Cornell Aeronautics Laboratory in 1956 and started the engineering firm Milliken Research Associates, which is now run by his son, Douglas Milliken ’77.
“I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with my father for so many years,” says Douglas Milliken. “Dad established Milliken Research by taking on hard problems in vehicle dynamics and delivering useful solutions. We’ve transitioned the company from the age of slide rules to personal computers.”
Milliken has been married to his wife, Barbara, since 1953. In addition to Douglas, they have a daughter, Ann; a second son, Peter, died in 2001.
“I never had a dull moment at MIT,” he says, recalling that he earned a degree in mathematics with a focus on aerodynamics. “An aeronautical treasure chest was opened for me, spewing out nuggets of aerodynamic information at a bewildering rate.”