Miss Lotta Miles on Porcelain sign, one of the most expensive signs in history

Who was Miss Lotta Miles from Kelly Tires?

Miss Lotta Miles was a campaign front woman for Kelly Tires, a rubber tire company founded by Edwin Kelly and Arthur Grant in 1894 out of Springfield, Ohio. Originally named Rubber Tire Wheel Company, Kelly’s business sold solid-rubber carriage and buggy tires. The company was sold to the McMillin group in 1899 for $1 million and was renamed Consolidated Rubber Tire Company. As the automotive industry began to emerge, the McMillin group shifted focus to producing pneumatic (air filled) automobile tires around 1908, and added a line of tires called “Kelly-Springfield” around 1911. They also poured a lot of money into a campaign featuring Miss Lotta Miles - a stylish woman who drove motorized vehicles while holding on to her fashionable headwear. This was a more invigorating deviation from the current trend of the time that was the Gibson Girl, which you can read more about HERE. Let’s get into who Miss Lotta Miles was, and her impact on one of the oldest American-made tire brands.


As we learned HERE, rubber and latex had been used by the Olmec people several thousands of years ago to make waterproof materials, baskets, etc. With the Industrial Revolution, rubber became a major player when Charles Goodyear (1800-1860) of Trenton, New Jersey perfected a way to cure an entire mass of rubber instead of just the outside. The term “vulcanized” is used for this method of curing, making the finished rubber product with some cushion that didn’t harden when cold nor melt under hot outside temperatures. Goodyear died a poor man not seeing the extent of his inventions impact, and The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company wouldn’t be founded until 1898 by Frank Seiberling in Akron, Ohio.

Springfield-natives Edwin S. Kelly and Arthur W. Grant both found themselves interested in trying to make rides in carriages smoother. Grant was able to get patent for a successful solid rubber tire using wire in the frame, and had the B.F. Goodrich Company test out his invention. The design was a success.  Edwin Kelly was able to procure the means to take rolls of rubber from Goodrich and cut them to Grant’s design. Rubber Tire Wheel Company opened in 1894, but was riddled with debt and mishaps. Kelly and Grant agreed to sell their company to the McMillin investment group to get them both out of debt. Kelly stayed on as Vice-President until 1905, while Grant decided to take his buy-out and leave the tire business entirely.

Advertising for Kelly Springfield tires by Consolidated Rubber Tire Company

McMillin didn’t start manufacturing pneumatic auto tires until 1908, which is a little behind the rest of the industry. McMillin introduced Kelly-Springfield tires around 1911, and the line was so successful, that the name of the company was officially changed to Kelly-Springfield. With the name change came a new advertising campaign in 1914 with an attractive woman named “Miss Lotta Miles” that was geared to capturing men’s attention and to lure women to driving the new horseless carriages.

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The first Lotta Miles was an aspiring Broadway performer named Jean Newcomb. Jean had successfully landed as Ada Stirling’s understudy for the role of Georgina in “Over Night” (January, 1911) by Chicago-born playwright Philip Bartholomae. Later the same year, Newcomb landed another understudy gig with The Red Window (November, 1911). Being cast as Miss Lotta Miles between those two plays changed the game, and Newcomb didn’t work on stage again until What It Means to a Woman (November 1914), leading to a long and successful career as Broadway performer until the 1930s.

Jean Newcombe as Miss Lotta Miles for Kelly Tires
Jean Newcombe as Miss Lotta Miles for Kelly Tires starting with Harper's Bazaar, September 1911 (left)

The largest, and most complex Miss Lotta Miles came with Florence Reutti who was pulled into show business in the 1910s thanks to her older sister, Henrietta. Henrietta met Walter J. Hanson, son of Aimee Hanson, the niece of industrialist Leland Stanford and wife Jane… the founders of Stanford University. Aimee Hanson was convinced her son, Walter was ensnared by the gold-digging seduction of a vaudeville floozy. After Harriet and Walter eloped to get married, elder Mrs. Hanson tried to have her son committed for incompetence, she cut off his annual allowance, and attempted to have their marriage annulled.

Florence Reutti court at Lotta Miles for Kelly Tires starting around 1914
Florence Reutti Court at Lotta Miles for Kelly Tires starting around 1914

While Walter was disposed until the courts determined his competence, Henrietta filed a separate lawsuit against Mother Hanson, providing enough scandal to overshadow the career of Henrietta Reutti Hanson in show business. This pushed Florence Reutti into the spotlight, and in 1914 she was cast as the next Miss Lotta Miles. It’s understandable that even as new women modeled for Kelly-Springfield, Florence Reutti continued to use the pseudonym “Lotta Miles” for the rest of her career. Even after she married Raymond Anthony Court, Florence used a variety of names including Florence Court, Carlotta Miles, and numerous other variations. The advertising campaigned launched Florence’s acting career on Broadway starting with the comedy musical Fifty-Fifty, LTD. (1919) that had former Lotta Miles Jean Newcombe playing the part of Minerva Crosby.

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Future Oscar-winner Edith Norma Shearer came into the role of Miss Lotta Miles in the 1920s. Born around 1902 (we’re told) in the Westmount suburb of Montreal, Canada. After winning a beauty contest at age 14, Norma’s mother sold the family’s piano to fund a trip to New York. Ziegfeld Follies said ‘no,’ but both Norma and her sister were able to find background stage work until Shearer landed a job popping out from inside of a pneumatic tire. Being Miss Lotta Miles opened Norma to a world of possibilities, and eventually she left New York for Hollywood to work in flickers (aka, moving pictures, and later… talkies). While working, Shearer met the young and dashing “Boy Wonder” of Hollywood, Irving G. Thalberg. Thalberg was just in his mid 20s when he earned the position of Head of Production after the great melting of Metro Pictures Corporation, Loew’s Theater chain, Goldwyn Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer Pictures that all together formed Metro-Goldwyn-Myer (MGM) Studios.

Norma Shearer as Miss Lotta Miles for Kelly Tires starting around 1920
Norma Shearer as Miss Lotta Miles for Kelly Tires starting around 1920

Shearer and Thalberg were married in September 1927. Two years later, Norma Shearer would star as Jerry in the movie The Divorcee, opposite Robert Montgomery and Chester Morris. Norma would become the first actress to be nominated for an Academy Award 5 times with one win, an honor shared by Nicole Kidman and Susan Sarandon. So you don't need to leave this page to Google it:  Meryl Streep has 21 nomination and 3 wins; Katharine Hepburn has 12 nominations and 4 wins; Bette Davis has 11 nominations and 2 wins.

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Between these three women, other Miss Lotta Miles ads and looks came from Wisconsin Art Institute’s Louis Mayer (1869-1969) and The Saturday Evening Post and Collier's illustrator James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960). Flagg is most known for the Uncle Sam “I want you” army recruitment poster. Among other illustrators and guest Lotta Miles, Kelly Tires was able to continue the campaign even without any official model. 

Illustrated Miss Lotta Miles for Kelly Tires in the 1910s and 1920s

Whether it was paid for or not, the last of the character brings us back to Florence Reutti (or Florence Court) who found work at Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic at the The Jardin de Paris - the rooftop bar after-show comedy review above the theater of Ziegfeld’s Follies. You can find out more about New York’s lost late night rooftop theaters HERE.  Lotta or Carlotta Miles would perform next to Will Rogers, Fanny Brice, and W.C. Fields. From there, she went on to star in “”I’ll Say She Is” by the Marx Brothers.  It was a musical comedy that was a defining moment for the Brothers, and the success of their national tour eventually lead to their first film, The Cocoanuts (1929).

Marx Brothers I'll Say She Is show 1920s featuring Miss Lotta Miles

In 1935, the aforementioned Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company bought Kelly Tires from the McMillin investment group, and even though they continued the “Lotta Miles” tire brand until the late 1930s, the use of Miss Lotta Miles, the spokeswoman, ended. Goodyear kept Kelly as a separate subsidiary until 1999 when Kelly was fully integrated into Goodyear North America, who continues the brand today.

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You can find a vast array of Kelly Tires and Kelly-Springfield advertising within a reasonable asking price. Most of the post-Lotta Miles advertising features the appropriately named Kelly green color on the signs for Kelly-Springfield tires. For the Lotta Miles signs, there are 4 basic styles that we would love to see, and 3 of them are pictured below. The yellow metal signs are the earliest, originating around the 1911-1913 era. They can be in rough shape, and still brought nearly $1,400.00 in 2019. They don’t come up for sale often, so keep an eye out. The second is the long red flange from the same 1910s era. These also can be in rough shape, but still managed to clear $5,000 - $8,500.00 in 2015. People are holding on to these tight, and in the 2024 market, we’d expect the prices for both these signs to be near doubled in price.

Kelly Tire signs featuring Miss Lotta Miles metal and porcelain signs and prices

The third type is the most famous (infamous?) Kelly Tires Lotta Miles single-sided porcelain sign. These 42” versions come from the early 1920s, and will bring in tens of thousands of dollars. However, the original signage configuration was made of 2 single-sided porcelain signs set back-to-back, held together with a hanging bracket. That configuration can bring hundreds of thousands of dollars. Lastly, there are 24" double-sided flange versions of this same sign. So beware, because most of those reproductions. As always, if you need help identifying a sign you’ve run across, please feel free to send us an email HERE with pics.

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