The Origins of Harley-Davidson's Iconic Branding

Harley-Davidson has some of the most recognisable branding out there. Founded in 1903, it withstood the turmoil of The Great Depression and, to this day, is one of the most prominent brands in motorcycle culture. Their iconic shield and bar logo with striking imagery can be seen on the motorcycles and apparel sold by the brand.

Once mainly famous within motorcycle culture, many high-profile celebrities have worn Harley-Davidson apparel in recent years. It has thus created a wild demand from consumers who want to get their hands on authentic vintage Harley-Davidson garments.

But where did the H-D imagery come from? Who is responsible for creating the iconic illustrations that allow you to spot a Harley-Davidson piece from a mile away?

Janet Davidson:

Janet Davidson is the aunt of Harley-Davidson founders William and Arthur Davidson. She, famously, is the designer of the iconic “Bar and Shield” logo that we all know and love.  The first logo, designed in 1910, had the company name written in tall and tight lettering inside a bar crossing a shield. This logo is slightly different from the bar and shield logo known today as it has evolved over the last 100 years. Nonetheless, Janet is responsible for creating one of the most recognisable logos in the world.

Paul Smith:


 [Paul Smith, taken from (2023)]

Paul Smith is an illustrator credited for creating the legendary Harley-Davidson imagery depicting an eagle perched upon the bar and shield logo. He has designed multiple graphics for Harley-Davidson over his 30-year graphic design and illustration career. The eagle is by far his most famous work for the brand. Created in 1974, the eagle imagery dominated the marketing for H-D throughout the 80s. The logo was designed to capture the American dream; the American Eagle is regularly used to symbolise freedom and American values. It highlighted the brand's resilience, surviving The Great Depression, two world wars and many other difficulties.


[The Eagle - Paul Smith (1974). (2023)]


You can find the legendary work of Janet Davidson and Paul Smith on many pieces of vintage Harley-Davidson apparel.

Grab your own piece of American motorcycle culture. Shop our range of Harley-Davidson t-shirts and sweatshirts below.

Harley-Davidson at American Madness.