JohnnyB's Harley Book Report


100 Years of Harley-Davidson
by Willie G. Davidson

Of all the products and events Harley-Davidson's 100th birthday is bound to spawn, here's one we can get our teeth into. Even if you don't particularly care about Harley-Davidsons or motorcycles at all, Wille G. Davidson's access to H-D's dusty old attic, along with his very personal involvement, makes for an only slightly microcosmic history of the last hundred years of the U.S.--a tale nicely told by 350 photos spread over 288 pages of nice, thick stock--many of them vintage, many never seen before. The book contains 26 full-color spreads of Harley's milestone bikes, but it's the black-and-whites of the Harley people over the years that resonate. Here we are in the teens in puttees and bowlers, our wives and girls in long skirts and long-sleeved blouses. Later, in the Depression, we make direct eye contact with legendary racers in the prime of their youth, now long dead. (Speaking of racers, Doug Chandler is id'ed as Chris Chandler in one photo. Hope the fact-checkers were more thorough elsewhere in the book.)Second-generation Davidsons Gordon, Walter Jr. and Allan with Dud Perkins in San Francisco, 1929, while on an 8,000-mile tour.

Willie G's story really is a classic fairy tale.

Willie G's style might be a little homespun, but here it fits, as he lays out the basics of growing up a grandson of one of Harleys founders in Milwaukee-- visiting the factory as a kid, going to work eventually as a designer (his first project was the tank badge on the '57 Sportster)--also an abbreviated version of the bullets Harley's dodged along the way to stay alive. Remember the Toad in American Graffiti? That's just who Willie G. looks like in 50's period photos; American Gothic teenager. He is big into motorcycles from the start, cruising around to dragstrips and rallies with a keen eye always focussed on what people are doing to their motorcycles.

Babe Tancrede, Benny Campanale, 1935 By the late 50's, Willie G is changing along with the rest of the country, club uniforms giving way to t-shirts and black leather. Post Vietnam and later--when you often met the un-nicest people on Harley-Davidsons--Willie G. grew a beard and clung to his boyhood image of the H-D crowd as one big happy family--which was just the thing to do.

As it turned out, of course, the current and ongoing cultural phenomenon of middle America trying to capture a taste of that rebellious period in U.S. history is what's pulled H-D back from the abyss. While mainstream motorcyclists of the day feared the "one-percenters" would destroy the brand (and maybe motorcycling along with it), the "outlaw bikers" are precisely the people whose legacy wound up preserving H-D. The modern Harleyite is nowhere without a full array of black leather Motor Clothes and Genuine H-D Accessories to get the full effect. 

1912. That's me on the far right. Willie G's story really is a classic fairy tale. Born a prince, he nearly lost the kingdom before prevailing over long odds at the last minute to win it back again--through clean living, hard work, the love of a good woman and a band of loyal merry men. That traditional way of doing business has served Harley-Davidson and Willie G. very well over the last century--and good luck for the next hundred, H-D.John and Willie G. Davidson, 1952

$65 from Bulfinch Press
(Or, 36 bones from

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