Motorcycle Types Cruiser Early Headwear & Helmet History

Early Headwear & Helmet History

Motorcycling 1915-1958

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.

Ron Lieback
Ron Lieback
One of the few moto journalists based on the East Coast, Ron Lieback joined the motorcycle industry as a freelancer in 2007, and is currently Online Editor at Ultimate Motorcycling. He is also the author of "365 to Vision: Modern Writer's Guide (How to Produce More Quality Writing in Less Time).

2021 Indian Challenger Lineup First Look: Photos, Prices, and Colors

The performance-oriented Challenger bagger lineup from Indian returns for 2021, with three models to choose from. All three 2021 Indian Challenger models get the...

2021 GasGas Motocross Lineup First Look (Specs and Photos)

When under Spanish ownership, GasGas was never known as a motocross brand. However, under the guidance of Pierer Mobility AG and Bajaj Auto—the owners...

2021 Indian Chieftain Lineup First Look: 3 Big-Inch Baggers

There are three baggers in the 2021 Indian Chieftain lineup, with just a few changes to the motorcycles this year. There are new colors,...

2021 GasGas Trial Lineup First Look (8 Fast Facts: 3 TXT Racing Models)

The first GasGas motorcycles of the Pierer Mobility AG and Bajaj Auto era have arrived. Those who were expecting wholesale redesigns of the line...

Lieback’s Lounge: This Will All Pass [Thoughts on Simic and Motorcycles]

There is a menace in the air Of tragedies in the making. These lines are from "Late September," written by the American minimalist poet Charles Simic....

Racing Classic Motorcycles: First You Have to Finish by Andy Reynolds [Review]

Author Andy Reynolds’ new book, Racing Classic Motorcycles: First You Have to Finish, is about a man livin’ the classic motorcycle racing dream—with some...