The 1910s were changing times for an emerging company. Motorcycle technology, photographic technology and the city of Milwaukee were all in transition, and a Harley-Davidson company photographer was there to capture it all. His images were used for several purposes; in company marketing campaigns, to showcase new motorcycles, and to document events. Even though these work-for-hire images had a practical purpose, the man behind the camera used an artistic eye and personal perspective to capture the company’s people and products.
Less than one year ago, two wooden boxes containing over 400 glass plate negatives from 1915-1916 turned up in storage at the Milwaukee County Historical Society. They were part of a larger collection of images that were transferred back to the Harley-Davidson Archives years earlier, and these new discoveries were then added to that collection. Exposed! Is a time capsule of growth and progress for the young company as it expanded its reach through advertising, racing, and connecting with its riders. The first-time exhibition of these rare photographs runs from October 18, 2013 – January 1, 2014.
Other facts on the exhibit:
We will show over 40 images in this show, with text panels similar to what we show in the Museum. The location is the bridge between the Archives building and the Museum building. These photos were left behind at MCHS when the rest of the photos came to H-D. They were only discovered recently. This acquisition included over 400 photographs that have not been seen in nearly 100 years and have never been published. This photography “time capsule” captures a wide array of activity taking place at the company during that time. Subject matter includes: technical close-up photos, employee portraits, staged photos showcasing products that were used in creating marketing literature, factory exterior, and the race team at Dodge City, Kansas in 1916. The negatives are 5″x7″ glass plates, which are fragile but yield very high quality prints. The detail is really incredible – for example, in one scene, a woman is eating out of a sardine can that is balanced on the tank. You can read the weight printed on the side of the can. Harley-Davidson has a long history of employing company photographers, but it is unknown exactly who took these photos. The glass plate negatives have been scanned and will now join our collection of more than 150,000 historic images.