Our Favorite Things | Harley-Davidson USA

From The Archives

OUR FAVORITE THINGS

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Favorite Things, Leigh Albritton

LEIGH ALBRITTON,
REGISTRAR

A significant item in the collection, for me, is a small photograph donated to the Archives in 2012 by a woman from Texas. The photograph depicts her father on his newly-purchased 1940 Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The woman included a note with the photo describing that her father used the vehicle as transportation to his work until he was inducted into the US Army in 1941. 
The vehicle remained in storage until he met his future wife in 1943, and it was subsequently sold for needed cash. Much later in life, when her father was ill and in hospice care, the daughter chose to display this photo in his room. The medical team was interested in the photo. The woman believes that due to the photo the medical team “treated him better because they came to view him as a real person who had a life prior to the old man lying in a bed in their care.” When people ask me what my favorite item in the collection is, I choose this photo & accompanying story because it is a simple, yet powerful, example of how meaningful the association with the H-D brand is for people and how it has made a difference in peoples’ lives.
Favorite Things, Jeff Mitchell

JEFF MITCHELL,
SENIOR EXHIBIT TECHNICIAN

Shortly after I joined the staff at the Harley-Davidson Museum, I first noticed my personal favorite artifact inconspicuously displayed to the public in our open storage. It was a motorcycle helmet, adorned with an enormous set of horns. The helmet was paired with a photo of its proud owner, on his Harley, with a big, friendly smile and that impressive yet comical thing on his head. That man was Arlen Strehlow.
I came to learn that Arlen was a beloved HOG member and a true icon in the local riding community.  A few years later, as I was getting to know a new friend in town, my work at the Museum came up.  Somehow we got on the subject of that helmet and I learned that before he passed away in 2007, Arlen had been an important figure in my friend’s family. I saw that this object, which resonated with me, has a deep significance to my friend, her relatives, and our town.  It’s nice to know that this institution, with all its stories of engineering achievements and races won, is also a place to remember the friends and family members who have played such a big role in the lives of our guests.  It’s a real privilege to help tell their stories and to provide a gathering place for motorcycle enthusiasts and their loved ones for years to come.
Favorite Things, Kimberly Thomas

KIMBERLY THOMAS,
H-D ARCHIVES

The year 2010 set me on a road of discovery.  After reading a magazine article and uncovering a validating card held in the dealer card collection of the Archives, I became intrigued by the story of a man who had broken through barriers, because of his love for Harley-Davidson.  Mr. William B. Johnson from Somers, New York became Harley-Davidson’s first African American dealer in 1920 because he loved the product and he became the first African American member of the AMA because he loved to ride and compete.  He accomplished both because he had neighbors who believed in him enough to back him and help him make his desires reality.

In 2011 I was fortunate enough to travel to Somers to: conduct research on Mr. Johnson; meet with members of the Somers Historical Society, who in their generosity loaned artifacts from Mr. Johnson’s shop to the Harley-Davidson Museum for a temporary display; meet a member of Mr. Johnson’s family; and meet people who had worked for or rode with Mr. Johnson.  What I came away with was that this was a man who had been and still is respected and revered.  I had experienced an example of a life well-lived.

In 2017, I was honored to represent the Company at a program during Westchester County’s William B. Johnson Day celebration.  I met more of Mr. Johnson’s family and a man who grew up riding with Mr. Johnson who shared very vivid and kind memories.

What an adventure and all from an article in a magazine and a little white card!

Favorite Things, Bill Jackson

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.

Favorite Things, Kristen Jones

KRISTEN JONES, EXHIBITS & 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.