Harley-Davidson: History, Mythology, and Perceptions of America’s Motorcycle
May 18 – October 20, 2019
Join us during the summer of 2019 for a remarkable journey on America’s Motorcycle!
The story of Harley-Davidson serves as a parallel narrative of 20th century American culture and history. The company originated in the industrial age, was the eventual victor in a hard-fought business and racing struggle with rival Indian, and experienced low points as well as triumphs. The machines themselves developed in response to America’s cheap fuel and vast distances. Now, around the world, Harley-Davidson enjoys a cult-like status. The brand has for decades evoked strong emotion among both motorcyclists and observers.
Riding a Harley-Davidson is a complex and provocative experience – far more than the look and rumble of the V-twin engine. Harley-Davidson is an innovator, a touchstone of American pride and independence, a fascinating marketing mechanism, an undeniably excellent motorcycle, and a national cultural institution.
1912 Harley-Davidson photo by John Sterling Ruth
1912 Harley-Davidson photo credit: John Sterling Ruth
We will examine Harley-Davidson through seven key themes:
Harley As An American innovation
Harley versus Indian
The ‘American Motorcycle’—why Harley?
The Situation is in Doubt: Decline and AMF years
Rebirth: The 1981 buy-back, a painful housecleaning and the success years
“I don’t give a damn about my bad reputation:” Harley, Outlaws, American society, and other motorcyclists
The future is in gear
We plan to illustrate Harley’s story by having one view of approximately thirty-four important and beautiful examples of the brand.
A special thank you to our guest curators for this exhibit: Rob Kain and Dave Russell.