Branding iron: Harley opts for variety

Traditional orange-and-black bar-and-shield isn’t the only emblem the company puts on its motorcycles

The bar-and-shield emblem in black and orange is Harley-Davidson's traditional logo, but it applies a variety of styles and fonts on its various motorcycles | Larry Edsall photos

While wandering along the rows of motorcycles offered this past week at Mecum Auctions’ 29th annual Las Vegas vintage and collector motorcycle bid-a-thon, I came across more than half a dozen Harley-Davidson machines parked side-by-side-by-side. 

But what struck me wasn’t the number of Harleys — of the 1,500 or so motorcycles on the auction docket, something like 350 of them were Harleys. What struck me was how different the badging was on each Harley fuel tank.  

To say that Harley-Davidson is iconic among motorcycles is more than an understatement. But compare that with another iconic brand, Ford, with the writing in its blue oval based on Henry’s own signature. Or consider Apple; the apple with the bite missing is the corporate emblem. Another example: Coca-Cola; you either get “Coke” in a particular roman font or “Coca-Cola” in more of a cursive style.

One more: Ranchers in the American West were jealous of the unique brands they placed on their cattle. But here’s Harley, the most iconic and best-known of all motorcycle brands, and there seems to be an endless variety to the way the company puts its name on its products.

Here are just a few, and note that while a couple of them appear to be identical, they are not, because one version is a decal and the other is a raised metallic-finished badge. Also note that in one case, a 1969 Harley-Davison XLA, the Harley badging was superseded by that of the U S ARMY, and in another, a 1989 FLHTP Electra Glide, by the Boston Police Department:

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


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