Harley-Davidson Hummer | The Strange History
1957 Harley-Davidson Hummer

Harley-Davidson Hummer History

The history behind the Harley-Davidson Hummer is a strange one. Its history is rooted in World War II and politics, as well as the business of selling motorcycles.

The Hummer name is actually generic for all American-made single-cylinder two strokes from The Motor Company, though the actual “Hummer” model name was used only from 1955-1959 (“Hummer” came from Dean Hummer, a Harley-Davidson Dealer from Omaha who led national Harley two-stroke sales).

The little Hummer – originally called the Model 125 or S 125 – was sold by Harley-Davidson beginning in 1947 as a 1948 model and stayed in the lineup until 1953, when it was replaced by the Model 165 – a 165cc version.

The original Model 125 Hummer arrived with a two-stroke 125cc single-cylinder air-cooled engine hooked to a three speed transmission. The front suspension was odd, and featured a giant rubber band in the girder front fork and a rigid rear end.

In 1951, the bike got telescopic front forks, making the models with girder forks even more collectible today. Designated the model S, 10,117 units were sold in its first year, out-stripping even the popular FL model. By the end of its run, more than 100,000 were sold.

The motorcycle was based on the design of the German DKW RT125, which was in production in Europe since 1939. But Harley-Davidson wasn’t the only one of the post-war copycat builders of RT125 clones – the BSA Bantam, Yamaha YA-1, and Soviet-built Moskva, all drew heavily on the DKW RT125 for inspiration.

The strange part of the Hummer’s history arrives during the end of Word War II. Harley-Davidson expert Jerry Hatfield describes this in his article “Medium Rare Harley-Davidson” in the Fall 2006 issue of Vintage Motorcycles magazine.

Hatfield says as part of the post-war settling of political and economic issues, German patents were stripped of their usual legal protections. This allowed manufacturers in the victorious Allied countries and, for that matter, the defeated Axis nations to build products based on the German originals without fear of patent infringement actions.

Hatfield explained it thus: “Here’s the real deal. America, Britain, and their allies didn’t have a sense of humor about World War II, so when the Germans lost the war, they also lost their patents. This is why the late 1930s DKW design was treated to a postwar styling redo in Milwaukee and launched as the 1948 Model 125 (England’s BSA did their own postwar cosmetic update as the Bantam).”

These days, a Hummer reasonably original form and in decent shape in running order can command an auction price in the thousands of dollars.