Saturday, October 1, 2016

Harley and the Davidsons

Having recently finished all the episodes of Foyles War, and seeing that this historical drama was running on the the Discovery Channel, and liking Harley Davidson motorcycles, I decided to watch it.

 The founders of Harley Davidson Motor Cycle Company, William A. Davidson, Walter Davidson, Sr., Arthur Davidson and William S. Harley

Now, let me note, I like Harley Davidson motorcycles.  I don't own one. And I don't really know all that much about the company's history or those who founded the company. So, this review is an odd one in that I'm reviewing a topic I really don't know very much about.  That's important as I understand that this television drama takes liberties with its story, but I'll miss a lot of them (other than to be suspecting that I'm seeing them).  However, the concluding snippets at the end would suggest that some things I thought were liberties were not, so again, for a review of its accuracy, a person probably can't rely on this.

 Harley Davidson motorcycle on flat track, 1919.

This drama follows the company and its founders from the creation of their very first motorcycle until the introduction of its 1934 model which more or less introduced the motorcycle we recognize today.  In other words from 1903 to 1934.  FWIW, I know enough about the company to know that the film was accurate in these regards. The first Harley was built in the shed behind one of the founder's parents home, and in 34 Harley did introduce what was then a radical new motorcycle in spite of the ongoing Great Depression.

Beyond that, I think that the drama takes a huge number of liberties.  Harley was their engineer, but the story doesn't make it clear that he graduated as an engineer from the University of Wisconsin before the company truly took off.  Harley is shown getting married, which he did, but the fact that he and his wife had several children is oddly omitted.  His wife, Anna Jachthuber (nee) is shown being critically ill for a time, and I don't know if that's correct or not.  Arthur Davidson is correctly depicted as the company's marketing genius.  That he had several children is also omitted.    Arthur Davidson and William Harley were really the two main designers of the motorcycles, so what role Walter Davidson senior or junior had I don't know, other than that they had some.

Indian Motorcycles and its business leadership is depicted as evil in the film, which doesn't reflect reality.   It was just a slightly older (two years) competitor with Harley for a long time. Apparently the makes of the film thought they needed some sort of long lasting rivalry as a plot device.

So, while there are accurate details (the relationship with a Japanese company, albeit brief, did occur) there are a lot of departures from the truth as well.

Well, on to material details.

I understand that the makes of this film studied the early motorcycles at Harley's museum and I believe they are accurately depicted.  It is neat to see these (scary) early bikes depicted in such large numbers.  Various details like that are well depicted.  Clothing is predicted accurately, although the wearing of it isn't always.  Walter Davidson, for example, is shown often wearing an open collar banded collar shirt with no starched collar attached and no tie. That just wouldn't have happened in that era.  An early female motorcycle club racer is inserted in the plot for the 1930s, which is unlikely. The frequent insertion of horses, however, is accurate and nicely done.

All in all, it's entertaining, but probably not very accurate history. 

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