Numerous photos from the early days of motorcycling depict riders wearing what were most likely the everyday hats of the period. There were also undoubtedly adaptations from the world of horseback riding, given the other adaptations of motorcycle riding gear.
In those early days of riding, there was not the same attention to head protection as there is today! This could best be attributed to the lower speeds of the vehicles, smaller density of traffic and a lack of evidence of what sometimes resulted from the use of improper safety gear.
The earliest appearance of headwear in Harley-Davidson catalogs can be traced to 1915, when a variety of goggles were advertised in the accessories catalog. Through the 1910s, several different and distinct headwear items could be purchased from the catalog Harley-Davidson Accessories, each with a different purpose.
Among them were the "Heather Jumbo Knit Cap" (75 cents), the "Aeroplane Cap" ($1.50), as well as a unique piece called the "Tourist Hood" ($2.50), an item meant for "cross country driving and fast traveling" that was to keep dust and dirt out of one’s hair on the road. Eye protection was never forgotten, with a wide selection of goggles and riding glasses available by the early 1920s.
Some of the more unique "helmets" that were to become popular with riders in the 1930s and 40s were actually little more than satin skullcaps that were stylishly colored and patterned, with the tried and true Bar & Shield logo on the front. And, of course, there was the classic motorcycle cap that became synonymous with riders, the kind that Marlon Brando wore in The Wild One.
Caps of that style were available for many years from Harley-Davidson ("Classy Caps" in the 1937 accessory catalog), and later versions were available with the "winged wheel" logo, winged Bar & Shield and many other emblems. Hardshell helmets first appeared in Harley-Davidson accessories catalogs in 1958, usually referred to as "safety helmets."
In those days, you could have your helmet in any color you desired, so long as the color was white!
Photographs courtesy of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company Archives.