The iconic badge, which has been around for over 100 years, has become an identifying marker for an entire subculture of motorcycle riders, who prefer their bikes big. The logo is even a colossal money maker for the company, used to sell a remarkable number of products, from clothing and coffee mugs to bed sheets and beer.
Keep reading to learn about the Harley-Davidson logo history, and some of the reasons the brand became a household name.
Harley-Davidson logo history
Harley-Davidson’s origins date back to 1901, when 20-year-old aspiring engineer William S. Harley began drawing blueprints for an engine tacked on a bicycle frame. The idea of a motorized bike wasn’t entirely new, but in the U.S., they weren’t readily available to the public.
Over the next several years, Harley and his teenage friend Arthur Davidson (who also thought bicycling was way too difficult) spent countless hours in a tiny wooden shed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, building and improving their version of a motorcycle engine.
By the end of the decade, Harley graduated college and all three Davidson brothers (including newbies Walter and William) built motorcycles full-time for the newly established Harley-Davidson Motor Company.
With a real factory, and interest in motorcycles ramping up, Harley-Davidson turned to branding.
In 1908, the company’s now-famous Bar and Shield logo first appeared on the toolbox of the 1908 Harley-Davidson motorcycle. By May 1910, the badge was used on parts packaging and marketing materials.
Legend has it, the Davidson boys’ aunt Jane helped inspire the logo when she painted “Harley-Davidson Motor Company” on the group’s woodshed workshop during the early years, but unfortunately why a shield was chosen for the badge has seemingly been lost to time. Shields, crests and other heraldic symbols are incredibly popular in automotive logos (think Porsche, Cadillac and Alfa Romeo), so one could surmise Harley was just following suit.
There’s not much explanation for why orange and black would be incorporated into the logo some 12 years later, either, other than it was part of a packaging redesign. However, the colors would become part of the identify for Harley-Davidson, which by this time had become the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer, with nearly 30,000 bikes built and dealerships in 67 countries.
The word hog has become synonymous with motorcycles, like Kleenex with tissues. But if you have ever wondered where the nickname came from, look no further than Harley-Davidson.
The story goes, a Harley-Davidson racing team nicknamed the “hog boys” used to dominate the motorcycle racing circuit in the 1920s. The crew had a live pig as a mascot, and would take the pig on a victory lap after every win. From then on, the term “hog” would be used to describe Harleys.
In 1983, Harley-Davidson formed the Harley Owners Group, a club for Harley-Davidson enthusiasts, building on the “hog” nickname and once again promoting Harley as a lifestyle, not just a product.
HOG has its own logo, with an eagle, which symbolizes freedom, patriotism and Americana.
The Harley-Davidson logo over the years
With its popularity and branding, there have been many versions of the Harley-Davidson logo over the years.
It has frequently appeared with wings, in front of flames, on skulls and other biker favorites. An “Oak Leaf” design is another popular adaptation.
Then there’s the fan art and tattoos on the arms of fans.
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At one time, about a decade ago, Harley-Davidson made about 6 percent of its revenue on licensing its logo for products like toys, hats and even underwear. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the brand remains a household name today.
To learn about more car logos, visit AAA.com/LogoLegends.