"The Bee" Book Feature
This book feature by Patti Wenzel appeared in "The Bee" (Phillips, WI) on Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Motorcycles made them famous
Separately Bill Harley and Arthur Davidson were two young boys with a love for engines.
Together, along with Davidson's brothers William and Walter, Harley-Davidson became the biggest name in American iron—the motorcycle legend everyone would love to own.
Considering the impact Harley and the Davidson's have had on American culture, its surprising that there haven't been more children's books focusing on the history of this great company.
"Harley and the Davidsons: Motorcycle Legends" (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2006) is the perfect book to introduce children to these American dreamers.
Part of the Badget Biographical Series, "Harley and the Davidsons" is a 100-page history book written for children between 8-12 years old. It was commissioned by the WHS as a resource for the state-sanctioned Wisconsin history curriculum in elementary schools.
Author Pete Barnes, a fifth-grade history teacher from Ohio, puts together a compelling story that also teaches a lesson. Not just a history lesson, but a lesson in pursuing dreams and persevering in the face of bad times.
The book opens with 10-year-old Arthur and Bill dreaming of building a motorized bicycle that will make their trips home from the local fishing hole easier and faster.
They tinker and study the remedial engines available in the late 1880s and recruit the older Davidson boys to help with the fabrication of parts. While both have to obtain jobs to fund their quest and help their families survive, all four young men keep at their dream until they have a bike worthy of the Harley-Davidson name.
Barnes discusses the social times surrounding Harley and the Davidsons, how World War I, the depression of the 1920s , the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II forced changes in marketing, manufacturing and how the emergence of Japanese business practices forced the second generation of Harleys and Davidsons to sell the company.
But like any good children's story, "Harley and the Davidsons: Motorcycle Legends" comes with a happy ending. The return of the company to family ownership under grandson Willie Davidson and the full glorious legend these spectacular bikes evoke.
The book is typical of a elementary schoolbook, including vocabulary lists and a bibliography for further study.
There are also a wide selection of historical photographs of the boys, the first Harley-Davidson factory, William Davidson racing and promoting the motorcycles and other Wisconsin sites.
One surprise in the book is the introduction of another childhood friend of Bill Harley's—Ole Evinrude. Yes, the very same Evinrude who created and founded Envinrude Outboard Motors.
This book is essential for anyone who is a fan of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles and Wisconsin history. It is a perfect storybook for any child and I would recommend anyone teaching Wisconsin history at Phillips or elsewhere check out this book for their students.
"Harley and the Davidsons: Motorcycle Legends" is available for loan at the Phillips Public Library or through the Wisconsin Historical Society Press for $12.95."