Coca Cola and Harley-Davidson. Two iconic American brands that are etched in the national consciousness. Other than their classic Americana feel (and perhaps occasional sponsorship deals), these companies don’t have too much to do with each other, but they converged at a crucial time in the formation of Harley-Davidson’s brand identity.
Bill Jackson, an archivist at Harley-Davidson, shared a story that links the two brands at a pivotal moment in Harley history—when Harley-Davidsons became known as “hogs.”
It started in 1919. World War I, which had brought motorcycle production and sales to a standstill, had ended, and some motorcycle manufacturers wondered if motorcycles would be completely displaced by the automobile industry. On a leap of faith, a group organized a 200-mile road race for motorcycles. The event took place over Labor Day weekend in Marion, Indiana. The turnout, it turned out, was better than expected; over 15,000 riders from all over the country rode their bikes to Marion to participate in the event. This was no small feat given the state of transcontinental roads at that time, and is a testament to the fact that avid motorcyclists are always looking for an excuse to ride.
The 1919 race was a huge success, and team Harley-Davidson swept the top three categories, effectively “hogging” the trophies. Fast forward to 1920, and riders enthusiastically returned to Marion for round two of festivities. A young Harley rider named Ray Weishaar set a new record at an average speed of 71 miles per hour and took home the top prize. Weishaar had adopted a pet piglet named Johnny on a whim hours before the race. Johnny the baby hog became the unofficial mascot of 1920’s Team Harley— Team Harley, or the “Harley Hogs” even did a victory lap with the piglet.
So where does Coca-Cola fit into this story? After the race, a photograph that Jackson describes as one of the most iconic images in Harley-Davidson history, was taken of Weishaar wearing a Harley-Davidson shirt and sharing a Coke with Johnny. After the photo circulated in newspapers, journalists referred to the Harley Hogs, and the name stuck. It helped that Harleys continued to dominate, hogging top race prizes.
“Hog” eventually came to be associated with motorcycles in general, but Harley-Davidson has remembered its position as the original hog; its aptly-acronymic Harley Owners Group (HOG) is the largest manufacturer-backed bike organization. Now that’s a story to share over a Coke.
Photo via Coca Cola