This Week in Travel History – Jules Verne and Harley-Davidson

Each week we’re taking a look at profound moments within amazing trips taken by interesting people. See what happened this week in travel history and come back every Monday and Friday for more historic moments.Watch last week’s Zoomcast about a motorcycle odyssey from Alaska to Argentina.

Week of February 8-14

Watch episode 2 of This Week in History

Birth of a Harley-Davidson Founder

Arthur Davidson entered the world on February 11th, 1881, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Story goes as a kid he loved to fish so much he could hardly peddle his bike fast enough to get to the lake and so he started figuring out ways to motorize his bicycle. True or not, one thing for certain was that he and his friend, William Harley, did spend a lot of time in the shed at his home tinkering with bicycles, which ultimately led to the two of them starting one of the world’s most famous motorcycle companies.

Arthur loved to explore and some people thought part of the reason he started the company was simply an excuse to travel. Every trip had a purpose, though, as he was to find dealerships for the H-D bikes and the worldwide network he began building became the backbone of the company’s success. He famously took one trip from Milwaukee to New England in 1907, well before most roads were paved. He would travel all over Europe, too, building the dealership network and finding sales managers at every stop.

Bill Jackson, manager of archives at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, had the good fortune of receiving a serendipitous phone call from Arthur’s son just months after the museum opened in 2008. “It was the founder’s 94-year old son asking me if I wanted to go to his home and look through some very old photos, plus his parents passports,” Bill exclaimed. “I dropped everything and drove right over.”

Many of Arthur’s treasures reside beside more than 450 bikes and thousands of treasures in downtown Milwaukee’s H-D Museum today, a place that famously had its groundbreaking ceremony not with a traditional golden shovel but with a legendary motorcycle racer doing a burnout on his Harley-Davidson XL883R Sportster.


Harley-Davidson Museum

Arthur Davidson’s journey was only the start. Harley-Davidson has become an internationally loved brand with devoted fans who have customized their rides with everything from rhinestones to the massive “King Kong” bike. You can see many of these bikes and more of the history at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. While the museum is temporarily closed due to Covid-19, you can explore biker lore through Virtual Gallery Talks held every Thursday in 2021.

The manager of archives at the museum, Bill Jackson (and the guest on our Zoomcast for this week) talked through some of his favorite historic pieces from the museum archive:

Arthur’s family passport

Arthur Davidson's family passport.
Arthur Davidson’s family passport. Image courtesy of the Harley-Davidson Museum.

Arthur used this for his worldwide travels that built up the dealer network and solidified H-D as the brand it is today. By 1920, H-D dealerships were in 67 different countries.

Photo of Arthur in his traveling gear

Arthur Davidson.
Arthur Davidson. Photo courtesy of the Harley-Davidson Museum.

Riding a motorcycle from Milwaukee to New England is no small feat, and when Arthur took his journey, most of the roads weren’t even paved.

Photo of the founders

Harley-Davidson founders and a few other workers outside of the flagship factory.
Harley-Davidson founders and a few other workers outside of the flagship factory. Photo courtesy of the Harley-Davidson Museum.

One of Bill’s favorite photographs, the four founders and a few other people pose in front of the building that would eventually be torn down to create the main factory building and then would become the headquarters of the company. Bill loves how in an era when all photographs seemed formal and posed, this one shows the guys in a light, fun-loving moment.

Easy Rider Bike replica

Easy Rider Replica.
Easy Rider Replica. Photo courtesy of the Harley-Davidson Museum.

This famous bike shows the incredible level of detail motorcycle restoration enthusiasts put into their work – right down to the buttons which came off of an old car.

Motorcycle that floated from Japan to Canada after the 2011 tsunami

Motorcycle that floated from Japan to Canada after the 2011 tsunami.
Motorcycle that floated from Japan to Canada after the 2011 tsunami. Photo courtesy of the Harley-Davidson Museum.

This bike was in a storage container that was picked up in the devastating tsunami. Harley-Davidson found the owner and wanted to give him a new bike. In the face of the tragedy the bike owner turned down the offer and asked instead that his old bike be displayed in the museum as a remembrance of the disaster and a symbol of resilience. 


Early Inspiration for Steampunk

Week of February 8-14

Old Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

On February 8th, 1828, on an island in France’s Loire River, Jules Verne was born and began the first of 77 trips he would take around the sun. 

As a twelve-year-old, Verne talked his way into a cabin boy gig on an ocean-going ship. His father got wind of his escapades, intercepting him at the first port and told the precocious kid: “from now on you will travel in your imagination only.” Verne wrote prodigiously, penning fantastic, futuristic tales of cosmic, atmospheric and underwater travels. 

Verne’s Voyages Extraordinaire was mind bending in breath and volume. The collection of 54 novels penned over four decades included some of the most recognized science fiction and travel fantasy ever bound, including Around the World in Eighty Days, 20,000 Leagues Under The Seas and Journey to the Center of The Earth. In time his alluring prose would be heard on radios, televisions, stages and silver screens. He is one of the most translated authors of all-time.

Verne remains alive in many ways today. Many say his creations were the inspiration for the steampunk subgenre of science fiction. His work inspired generations of astronauts, undersea explorers, spelunkers, scientists and of course, writers. Ray Bradbury, one of the most celebrated writers of the 20th Century might have put it best: “we are all, in one way or another, the children of Jules Verne.”


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