Jean Davidson’s Harley-Davidson Family Album

Jean Davidson’s Harley-Davidson Family Album Review | Rider's Library

In 2003, there was a flurry of books about Harley-Davidson all timed to hit bookshelves during the year of The Motor Company’s Centennial celebrations. We have reviewed some of them here, such as: Willie G. Davidson’s “100 Years of Harley-Davidson,”  Tod Rafferty’s “Harley-Davidson, the Ultimate Machine,”  “The Timechart History of Harley-Davidson,” and “Harley-Davidson-the Legend,”  to name a few.

Of all the books that were published for the H-D Centennial, perhaps none is a more personal and informal look at the history of Harley-Davidson than that of founding father Walter Davidson’s granddaughter, Jean Davidson.

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How personal, you may ask? At the front of Jean Davidson’s Harley-Davidson Family Album, Davidson traces back the family tree of both the Davidson clan and the Harley clan to the 19th Century. Enhanced by very early family photos dating back to the late 1800s, the book traces the earliest roots in North America of the two families of immigrants; the Harley family from England, and the Davidsons from Scotland. That is the kind of historic depth you just don’t find in other Harley-Davidson centennial books–not even Willie G’s superb book.

Davidson’s book provides an unusual level of insight into the personal connections between the founders of the company—Arthur Davidson, William A. Davidson, Walter Davidson and William S. Harley—and into each individual.

With dozens of photos from both the company archives and personal collections of Jean Davidson, Sarah Harley and Mary Harley, granddaughters of William S. Harley, many of which were previously unpublished, the story of the company and the families that built it is told with unique, vivid detail. From the barrel of Gettleman beer performance incentive Walter Davidson would arrange for the factory workers for jobs well done to the inspiration of the “Silent Gray Fellow” moniker, the book reveals many little-known details.

Jean Davidson’s Harley-Davidson Family Album traces the progression from the original founders to the second generation, through World Wars, through good times and bad. The company’s history in racing, affinity of celebrity owners, struggle for its identity and reputation, sale to AMF and buy-back all the way up to the 100th Anniversary are covered in quick two-page chapters.

At only 128 pages, it is one of the shortest volumes on Harley-Davidson history among the many that came out around the time of the company’s Centennial. But with its unique content and insights, it may be one of the most interesting and collectible.

Book Data:

  • Title: Jean Davidson’s Harley-Davidson Family Album
  • Author: Jean Davidson
  • Published: 2003
  • Publisher: Voyageur Press, Inc. 123 North Second St., PO Box 338, Stillwater, MN 55802, USA.
  • ISBN: 0-89658-629-4

Rider’s Library—note to readers: many of the books that we’ll feature here may be out of print and some may be difficult to find. That could be half the fun. The Internet should make the search relatively easy but ironically, none of the books featured in retro-review for the Rider’s Library section were found with the help of the Internet. They all were found at book stores, used book stores, antique shops, motorcycle shops, yard sales and so on. Of course, check in with Ultimate Motorcycling for reviews of the latest in motorcycle literature, as well.

Photo from Jean Davidson's Harley-Davidson Family Album