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OUR FAVORITE THINGS

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Our Favorite Things | Harley-Davidson USA
Favorite Artifact

BILL JACKSON,
H-D ARCHIVES

Shortly after the Museum opened in 2008, I received a phone 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 particular passport is dated 1915 for “remaining in England and Scotland” and states the “object of visit” as being “on motor-cycle 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. Having an historical gap filled in during a casual conversation was unexpected, and meeting Arthur was wonderful. His humor and knowledge were something I’ll always remember.

At first glance, my favorite object is pretty simple. No chrome, no leather, or any of the other spectacular materials found on our vintage bikes.

KRISTEN, EXHIBITS AND CURATORIAL

My favorite object isn’t much of an eye-catcher. No chrome, no leather, or any of the other spectacular materials found amongst our vintage bikes. In fact, it’s rather mundane; a simple piece, about four inches high and made of worn cardboard, with a small red loop of string. It is die-cut to the shape of the Harley-Davidson Bar & Shield logo, and has two layers, hinged at the top.

Slide the cover up, and it reveals something a little more intriguing. This was a hangtag given out to customers and fans of the company’s famed Wrecking Crew—the factory-sponsored race team—ahead of the big road race held in Marion, Indiana in September of 1919. This race was important not only because it was the first major event held after WWI ended, but also because the Harley team swept the competition, taking first, second, and third. Printed inside are schedules for trains connecting Marion with Chicago, Cincinnati, and the East Coast. It also notes the team lineup, identified by the different color sweaters each wore, including winners Red Parkhurst, Ralph Hepburn, and Otto Walker.

What gets me though can’t be seen in the just the object itself—it’s a portal into a bigger story. A 1919 newsreel of the Marion race is in the collection at the Library of Congress. Several times in the grainy old film people appear with the hangtag pinned to their coat or suspended from their belt. For me, this humble paper object has the power to connect us to people who were at that race nearly one hundred years ago. I think about how they cheered, and what they saw, heard, and even smelled as the bikes crossed the finish line.