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We delve into the archives of the Harley-Davidson Museum to discover the history of the iconic H-D® black and orange

It’s an instantly recognizable combination – vivid orange and striking black. But what’s the story behind the use of these strong colours in Harley-Davidson® branding?

Unfortunately, no records have been found that tell us why black and orange were selected by Harley-Davidson. But what we do know is how and when the colours first came into use.

Harley-Davidson parts and accessories had been on the market since 1912, and spare parts even before then. But it was around 1920 that retail parts and accessories packaging began to appear in a burnt orange colour, with black text and graphics. The use of the two colours on parts packaging expanded over the course of the 1920s, but no evidence from this time provides the exact reason for the choice. 

Branching out

Conversely, for decades black and orange was not the sole colour scheme for the well-established Harley-Davidson Bar & Shield logo. In fact, rules for the bar and shield were broader for many years, and colour combinations, fonts and designs varied. During this same period, black and orange remained almost entirely in the domain of parts packaging, while sometimes appearing in printed marketing items and apparel. 

The use of the iconic colours on Harley-Davidson apparel began in the 1930s. Caps and sweaters sometimes included the “silver wing” embroidered patch, which presented the Bar & Shield logo in black and orange with silver wings spread to the sides. In some years, the sweaters themselves were offered in the two colours among many others. Black and orange began appearing regularly on Harley-Davidson apparel on jackets, jerseys and shirts in the late 1960s. 

A new look

Harley-Davidson took its official logo in a different direction in 1963, with a modernized take on the original Bar & Shield. Sometimes informally called the “diamond” logo, it was extended horizontally to better fit the shape of a motorcycle gas tank. The version used in printed marketing was often black and orange. All the while, parts packaging continued to employ black and orange. 

The Bar & Shield as it is known today came into regular use for the 1976 model year. Since then, the design of the logo has adhered more to a standard, including the colour combination. The use of the colours became more common across apparel, advertising, communications and other branding.

Today, black and orange are universally thought of as part of the Harley-Davidson identity. And it all started with Genuine Harley-Davidson Parts and Accessories.