Harley-Davidson Museum™ staff share the stories of some special objects
We find out what motorcycle artifacts hold a special place in the hearts of the staff at the Harley-Davidson Museum™ in Milwaukee – among them a document integral to the Company’s global success and a revolutionary motorcycle.
Bill Rodencal, Vehicle Collections Specialist
1915 Model 11-J Twin
People often ask me what my favorite motorcycle in the collection is, and my stock answer is, “What day is it?”
We have such a robust collection of motorcycles that it’s difficult for me to pick one. I usually maintain a top five list, and the 1915 Model 11-J is always in the top three. I regard it as the nicest 1915 on the planet – it was a groundbreaking model year for the Motor Company in which it introduced both its first electrically equipped machine and three-speed transmission.
These two advancements allowed Harley-Davidson® to offer full electrical lighting and higher road speeds for the first time. Coupled with the powerful 61-cubic-inch 45-degree twin, they would give the automobile industry a run for its money.
The Archives example still retains its original seat, hand grips, Renault grey finish, and highly polished nickel trim more than 100 years later.
Bill Jackson, Manager of Archives and Heritage Services
Just after the Museum opened in 2008, I received a call from Arthur H. Davidson, son of the co-founder. He was 94 years old at the time. He offered to donate some “old junk” to the Museum.
When I arrived at his house, he showed me the passports his parents used to travel around the world. This passport is dated 1915 for “remaining in England and Scotland” and states the “object of visit” as being “on motorcycle business.” This was a time of rapid growth in Western Europe for the young Motor Company.
On a later tour of the Museum, Arthur asked if we knew why his father was so fervent about recruiting new motorcycle dealers. It turned out that the elder Arthur and his wife Clara loved to travel. But in the course of seeing America and other countries, he recruited ever more dealers and local sales managers to help him.
The dealer network that resulted from Arthur’s travel is one of the key reasons H-D® is the oldest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. Those early dealers began the tradition of keeping motorcyclists riding as much as possible. But the biggest buzz was hearing that story from Arthur. His humour and knowledge were something I’ll always remember.