The greatest innovation in World War 1 among the ‘Big 3’ motorcycle companies trying to secure government contracts, was the offer by Harley-Davidson to provide training schools to military mechanics. The schools would instruct recruits on how to repair motorcycles in the field and in military workshops…and of course the demonstrators they provided to work with were Harley-Davidsons!   It was not only brilliant marketing to the military, training was also truly necessary for maintenance and repair, as military recruits were generally ignorant of mechanical matters, or had never worked on a motorcycle before.

“Studying the different parts of the motor at the School for Motorcycle Mechanics. 5-8-19” The motorcyle in this case is a Harley-Davidson Model 18-F, the standard military machine offered in green! Harley-Davidson switched its color from Renault Grey to Olive Green in 1918, and didn’t use other colors for several years after the War was over. [National Archive]
The military couldn’t simply drain American industry of skilled mechanics to keep its motorcycles, trucks, tanks, and planes running.  Since the run-up to WW1 was so sudden, and the relationship of the military to machines relatively recent (barring the navy of course, which had been using steam engines for 50 years already), an offer from an independent company to set up a mechanics’ training scheme must have been a welcome offer.

“Tearing down a motor at the School for Motorcycle Mechanics. 5-8-19” [National Archive]
Yet another effect of training thousands of recruits to work on Harley-Davidsons was  creating familiarity and brand loyalty with Harley-Davidson motorcycles.  It can’t be a coincidence that Indian’s peak year was 1911, when it was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, while Harley-Davidson’s peak years were yet to come.  H-D would never be the ‘world’s largest’ though, as European, then Japanese manufacturers held that title forever after.

“Explaining the parts of a motorcycle at the School for Motorcycle Mechanics” [National Archive]
Enjoy these remarkable photos from the National Archive, which have never been published as far as we know. They’re an amazing glimpse into motorcycling 100 years ago!  Follow our articles in the National Archive series from 1918! 

“Instruction on the operation of a motorcycle at the School for Motorcycle Mechanics” Note – it must have been a chilly May day in Milwuakee, where this photo was taken – the riders wear matching knit caps! They might have been provided by family, or by a knitting scheme set up by soldier’s support groups back home.  The machine is a well-used 1918 Model 19 with electric lighting and a Klaxon horn, and of course a Harley-Davidson sidecar [National Archive]
“Instruction on the parts of the motorcycle at the School for Motorcycle Mechanics” Note – the light was poor in the room, with just a few light bulbs and a window at one end. Stay awake, boys! [National Archive]
“Putting the motor on the framework of the motorcycle at the School for Motorcycle Mechanics” [National Archive]
 

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