When we think of Harley Davidson, we visualize a bearded, leathered, and tattooed biker dude astride a Fat Boy motorcycle. Some of us may see Marlon Brando – the Wild One – on a Harley Electro-Glide, or Easy Rider Peter Fonda riding his Captain America Harley chopper.
When we consider the Harley Davidson logo, the last thing we see in our mind’s eye is a little old lady painting a logo onto the first two Harley Davidson machines in 1904. That is exactly how the Harley Davidson logo started – by the Davidson’s Aunt Jane.
About Harley Davidson
Harley Davidson manufactures and sells customized, cruiser, touring, street, trike, and other designs of motorcycles with a lot of history under the rider. In 1901, William Harley dreamed up an engine designed to fit onto a bicycle.
In 1903, the first production Harley Davidson racing motorcycle went on sale to the public. By 1905, a Harley Davidson motorcycle had won a 15-mile race in Chicago. The rest, as they say, is history.
A Bike by Any Other Name
In terms of design variation, Harley Davidson takes the proverbial design ball and runs with it, offering variations on variations.
The Harley Davidson logo stands for, among other things. Designers who are even willing to go back in time and re-create a good thing. But for the motorcycle illiterate, there are (generally speaking), four genres of bikes.
Harley Davidson will elaborate on one of their models to create the ride of a rider’s dream. All the dreamer has to bring is a lot of money and a list of add-ons or designs that Harley can put together to personalize the riding experience. Add to the tailor-made machinery, a leather outfit, a pair of Levi’s, and The Rebel cap retailing for $500, and you too can be Marlon Brando.
First appearing in the 1930s, the cruiser design focuses on the rider’s comfort. The captain’s chair reclines so that feet are forward rather than down and the hands are somewhat elevated. The engines were originally designed for comfort and ease with shifting but left a lot to be desired in terms of horsepower. Power cruisers are beefed-up options for those riders desiring a little more power.
Designed for long-distance touring, riders sit upright behind weather and wind protection and large capacity gas tanks. Passengers are well accommodated and so is baggage, including saddlebags. These big bikes can weigh up to 900 pounds. The only thing missing is a roof.
Harley Davidson Logo Design & History
No matter what motorcycle image comes to mind, the Harley Davidson logo evokes the American “freedom of the road” mentality.
The first legally recognized Harley Davidson logo was officially registered at the US patent office in 1911.
It is known as the Bar and Shield logo. Although the logo has been varied over the years, logo designers have, for the most part, kept fidelity with the original.
Harley Davidson Logo: The First
Good old Aunt Jane Davidson: in 1904 she helped out the lads – her two nephews, including William Harley – by adding the finishing touches to their first two motorcycles with her hand-painted red striping detailing the words “Harley-Davidson Motor Company” on the fuel tanks.
Jumping forward in time to the 1960s and 1970s, the company manufactured golf carts, snowmobiles, and travel trailers in addition to their trademarked motorcycles. As a result, the logo was modified by dropping the words “Motor Company” and leaving the logo to read simply, “Harley-Davidson.” The words “Motor Company” were added back to the Harley-Davidson logo in the 1980s when the company got rid of its non-motorcycle interests.
Harley Davidson Logo: The Classic
Perhaps it was the clear branding of this first patented Harley Davidson logo that enabled the motorcycle company to survive the Great Depression. The first logo featured a bar with the words Harley Davidson in capital letters.
Behind the bar is a standard shield, shaped like a policeman’s badge, with the word “Motor” above the bar within the shield and the word “Cycles” below the bar, again within the shield. The logo featured three colors: black, white, and orange.
Harley Davidson Logo: The 50th Anniversary V-Medallion
In 1953, Harley-Davidson celebrated their 50-year anniversary by changing the classic Harley Davidson logo into a medallion. A central bar featured the name “Harley-Davidson” in a script font, with a large capital V (for V-2 engine) behind it.
Behind the bar and between the arms of the V, a modified shield displayed “50 Years” above the bar and “American Made” below the bar. The top of each arm of the V protruded above the circular border of the medallion, and the lateral edges of the bar extended beyond the circular border as well.
Harley Davidson Logo: Monochromatic Classic
Logo designers for Harley-Davidson returned to their senses in 1965 when they reverted to the original and highly successful design – the Bar and Shield. No one can argue with the elegance of simplicity; the colors were swapped out for black and white.
Harley Davidson Logo: Number 1
In 1971, the Number 1 logo was introduced to market the FX Super Glide motorcycle. Borrowed from the earlier days of motorcycle dirt track racing, this logo is simply a stylized number 1 with white stars on a blue background at the top of the number. Red and white stripes extended horizontally down the body of the number. The base of the number is where the block letter brand, “Harley-Davidson,” is located.
Harley Davidson Logo: 100th Anniversary
Thank heavens 2003 rolled around and gave Harley Davidson logo designers an opportunity to save buyers of Number 1 logo-laden products and memorabilia.
Although the Bar and Shield had always been around, this Bar and Shield logo is centered over a stylized pair of wings. Below the shield is the 100. On either side of the shield in the same latitude as the bar is the year 1903 to the right and 2003 to the left.
Harley Davidson Logo: 105th Anniversary
Logo designers decided to do a bit of blending for Harley-Davidson’s 105th birthday in 2008 by combining a medallion, a pair of wings, a Bar and Shield and a pair of years.
The classic central shield is black and orange; the center of the medallion is black, circled in white, and trimmed with a black stripe around the circumference of the medallion. The wings are curved upward like the kind you see on the Viking helmets of opera singers. “105 years” is at the top and “1903 * 2008” rests in the bottom curve of the medallion.
Harley Davidson has used its logo and its permissions wisely. Dealers are allowed to make variations on the original logo. Harley owners – The Harley Owners Group (HOGS) – design variations on the brand name and logo to signify their affection for and relationship with the motorcycle.
As well, the Harley-Davidson logo appears on motorcycle accouterments such as clothing, shoes, decals, luggage, and home decor.
The Monochromatic Classic is the image for when pavement meets steel. The subliminal evocation of riding America’s highways and byways suggests the necessity of owning a touring or cruiser type bike.
The V-Medallion logo departs from the original and speaks to the originality of the custom design bike. The Number 1 logo screams dirt bike racing or street spinning and might make the street bike model a big kid’s request for Christmas.
The 100th Anniversary logo is reminiscent of an airplane captain’s shirt pin, or perhaps the insignia on an airport baggage porter’s cap. One isn’t completely sure if they should head out on the road or fly in the sky.
No matter how many times one might blink, look away and then look back. The 105th-anniversary logo is straight out of a Wagnerian opera. Brunnhilde rocked opera houses in her Viking helmet with wings on either side; Bugs Bunny was hysterically funny as Brunnhilde in drag. Given those images, one can see how the Classic Harley-Davidson logo stands at first place.
The Classic orange, white, and black Bar and Shield logo is brilliant. Some things cannot be perfected and need not be burdened with marketing attempts to fit as many messages onto an evocative symbol as possible. It is not the logo that needs to be changed, it’s the product.
Although the owners and admirers of Harley-Davidson motorcycles are rapidly aging and will eventually retire from the ride. Whatever Harley Davidson does to appeal to the younger, upcoming generations. They will probably not need to worry about the Classic Harley Davidson Bar and Shield logo.
The old saying, “don’t fix it if it isn’t broken,” certainly applies to this marvel of marketing. Perhaps those who design logos at Harley Davidson should figuratively jump on their touring bikes and cruise back through the streets of time to the First logo. Sometimes it’s the old-timers who are the most successful.