— Sponsored by Nissan, Atlas Obscura
CARNIVAL AUDIENCES IN THE FIRST half of the 20th century gathered around the Wall of Death to watch the fearless Bessie Stringfield ride her Harley-Davidson up its cylindrical wooden walls. Stringfield would take off at high speeds, riding practically on her side, round and round the silo-shaped contraption while spectators held their breath. But death-defying tricks were nothing for the fearless rogue who would one day become known as the “Motorcycle Queen of Miami.”
Stringfield had begun riding motorcycles as a teenager, on a bike she borrowed from a neighbor. When she turned 16, her mother gave her an Indian Scout. She’d later opt for a Harley-Davidson and would go on to own 27 bikes over her lifetime. In one photo, she stands confidently under a palm tree, her baby-blue button-down shirt tucked neatly into spotless white pants, tucked into baby-blue cowboy boots, perfectly complementing the gleaming navy bike behind her.
Harley-Davidson, Inc., H-D, or Harley, is an American motorcycle manufacturer founded in 1903 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Along with Indian, it was one of two major American motorcycle manufacturers to survive the Great Depression. The company has survived numerous ownership arrangements, subsidiary arrangements, periods of poor economic health and product quality, and intense global competition to become one of the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturers and an iconic brand widely known for its loyal following. There are owner clubs and events worldwide, as well as a company-sponsored, brand-focused museum.
Harley-Davidson is noted for a style of customization that gave rise to the chopper motorcycle style. The company traditionally marketed heavyweight, air-cooled cruiser motorcycles with engine displacements greater than 700 cc, but it has broadened its offerings to include more contemporary VRSC (2002) and middle-weight Street (2015) platforms.
Harley-Davidson manufactures its motorcycles at factories in York, Pennsylvania; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Kansas City, Missouri (closed May 2019); Manaus, Brazil; and Bawal, India. Construction of a new plant in Thailand began in late 2018. The company markets its products worldwide, and also licenses and markets merchandise under the Harley-Davidson brand, among them apparel, home décor and ornaments, accessories, toys, scale models of its motorcycles, and video games based on its motorcycle line and the community.