In 1904, three years after their initial attempt to construct a motorcycle, William Harley and Arthur and William Davidson built and
sold two machines. Painted gloss black, both machines received
hand-painted red striping with the words “Harley-Davidson Motor
Company” on their fuel tanks. This early logo was created and
hand-applied by the Davidsons’ Aunt, Jane Davidson.
Image Copyright Harley-Davidson
The origins and creator of the famous “bar and shield” logo has been
lost to history. However, the logo first appeared in 1910 and was
officially registered with the U.S. Patent Office in 1911. The bar and
shield logo often appears in early advertising campaigns, and has been
used in a wide number of variations over the years, usually with the
traditional black and orange colors.
Changes and Variations
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Harley-Davidson manufactured golf carts
and snowmobiles. The company also bought a travel trailer company. As a
result, the emblem was modified to read simply “Harley-Davidson,”
omitting the traditional words “Motor Company.” Those words were
adding back into the logo in the 1980’s after the company sold the
travel trailer company, and stopped producing golf carts and
In the mid 1970’s, Harley-Davidson was bought by the American
Foundry and Manufacturing Company (AMF). During the years that
followed, Harley-Davidson switched temporarily to a more generic, red,
white, and blue “Number One” logo; however, the traditional bar and
shield emblem remained on various parts and vehicles, and in
Harley-Davidson’s advertisements. The “number one” emblem is still in
use on some items today, while new emblems have been introduced and
have become popular, such as designer Willie G. Davidson’s “skull”
designs and the stylish “skull and wings” motif.
Today the Harley-Davidson bar and shield emblem is one of the most
recognized logos in the world – known and acknowledged even by
non-motorcycle owners. The company generates income selling the use of
its logo to manufacturers such as clothing, toy, and helmet makers.
Tattoo galleries, too, pay to use the emblem. Sales of the emblem
generate income for Harley-Davidson; for example, in 2004, the company
made 41 million dollars just by licensing its logo to others.
Motorcycle clubs also use the logo in their emblems, as do
factory-authorized dealers. The groups may employ all or part of the
H.D. emblem in creating their own variation. (Note: the logo can only
be used by arrangement and with the expressed, written consent of the
Harley-Davidson Motor Company.)
The traditional and non-traditional Harley-Davidson logos are used
on the many of its accessories sold by the company every year.
Accessories account for one-third of the company’s gross revenue and,
unlike the large automobile manufacturers, Harley-Davidson spends more
money marketing products to their buyers after the sale of the
vehicle than before. Logos is used on everything from jackets to
brackets. This includes clothing like caps, T-shirts, vests, pants,
gloves, helmets, boots, and fanny packs; motorcycle parts like
backrests, wheels, mirrors, and gauges; and other items like luggage,
saddlebags, and lights.
Photograph courtesy of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company Archives.