He had served as a ranking Commerce Department official under President Jimmy Carter and bankrolled the campaigns of his second wife, former congresswoman Jane Harman (D-Calif.).
In Washington, Dr. Harman — who had a fortune estimated at $500 million — shaped the city’s cultural landscape. He donated $20 million to build the 775-seat Sidney Harman Hall, which houses productions by the Shakespeare Theatre Company and the Washington Ballet. He also started the Harman Family Foundation, a charitable organization that gives money to benefit the arts, and was a major benefactor to the Phillips Collection in Dupont Circle.
Often described as a Renaissance man, Dr. Harman was a fitness maven — he walked 18 holes of golf into his 90s — and harbored diverse academic interests. He was chairman of the Academy for Polymathic Study at the University of Southern California, where he lectured on architecture, economics and law. Referring to his advanced age, he often joked he was “a smash in the school of gerontology.”
At social gatherings he would impress friends by reciting from memory Shakespeare’s “band of brothers” soliloquy from “Henry V” and sections of President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address.
Although seldom shy about displaying his knowledge of literature and history, it was his skill in science and technology that launched his lucrative early career.
He had gone to work in the late 1930s for David Bogen & Co., a New York firm that manufactured public address system loudspeakers. He and a fellow engineer, Bernard Kardon, found that with slight modifications, Bogen amplifiers could be used to play 78-rpm records with astounding clarity.
In 1953, they left Bogen and founded a stereo business, Harman Kardon, with an initial investment of $5,000 each. Their invention, the first integrated high-fidelity receiver, became an enormous success and made top-quality home sound systems available to the masses.
By the mid-1950s, Dr. Harman bought Kardon’s half of the company and later expanded the business into the manufacture of speakers, amplifiers, microphones, recording equipment, touch-screen entertainment systems and automobile dashboard navigation devices.
Today, Harman products — including brands JBL, Mark Levinson and Infinity — are found in Chrysler minivans and Mercedes-Benz coupes, the Kennedy Center, the Sydney Opera House and Madonna’s recording studio. The Apple iSub, a transparent Harman Kardon subwoofer that resembles a plastic jellyfish, is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.