When did Harley-Davidson, the Coca-Cola bottle and a piglet join forces for a key historical moment?

Before we get there, we have to go back to the birth of H-D and motorcycle racing.

Harley-Davidson sold its first motorcycle in Milwaukee in 1903. Within two years, company founders were on Midwestern race tracks. The early motorcycle market was crowded, and one of the best ways to get your young company on the map was to beat your competitors on the race track. By the mid-1910s, the Harley-Davidson factory racing team had earned the nickname “The Wrecking Crew” because of its dominance.

But racing, motorcycle sales and a lot of other things went nearly dormant during World War I. Manufacturers and dealers alike succumbed to war economics. Some wondered if motorcycles were headed for extinction, to be displaced entirely by the automobile.

To the surprise of many, racing was the spark that re-ignited post-war motorcycling. Organizers took a gamble and established a 200-mile road race in Marion, Indiana, over Labor Day weekend of 1919. Hopefully, riders would return to the highways and attend. (Motorcyclists having plenty of excuses to ride is why motorcycles are still around).

Fortunately for the industry, more than 15,000 motorcyclists converged on Marion. Some came from as far as the West Coast. And for the stalwart 21st Century biker, remember, that’s over 2,000 miles on a motorcycle with no interstate system and no rear shock absorbers.

The race was dominated by team H-D, taking the top three positions. With such a great success, everyone returned to Marion a year later. That race was won by the colorful Ray Weishaar at a blistering average speed of 71 miles per hour, a new record. In the hours leading up to the race, Weishaar adopted a piglet from a local farmer and named him Johnny. Johnny was immediately named the team’s mascot. Among the many photos taken after Weishaar’s victory was the image of Weishaar jokingly offering Johnny a celebratory sip of Coke from the famous Coca-Cola bottle, which was just a few years old at the time.

The photograph has become one of the most iconic in Harley-Davidson history. In fact, the use of the word “hog” as it relates to H-D, started in this era. A motorcycle journalist began to remark on team H-D “hogging” all the race track records. Some say another journalist began calling the racers “The Harley Hogs” after the Weishaar photo. In later years, “hog” became a more common slang term for the motorcycle, as in “Nice hog, man.” Today, it’s the official name of the Harley Owners Group, the world’s largest factory-sponsored motorcycle club. Little Johnny had more influence than he could have known.

Coca-Cola Motorcycle

Harley-Davidson Motor Co. Archives, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The Weishaar/Johnny photo isn’t the only story obscured by time and bad biker movies. An oft-forgotten vehicle is the noble Package Truck. Think of a motorcycle with a sidecar chassis. But instead of a passenger cockpit, the chassis carried a cargo trunk. Package Trucks hold an honored place in the heritage of Harley-Davidson, having been used by postal carriers, florists, dry cleaners and just about every other type of business with a serious need to pick up or deliver their wares. In the spirit of H-D owners loving to customize their rides, cargo trunks often took on totally unique shapes and sizes. Among the one-of-a-kind custom carriers created in exotic shapes and varieties was a cow-shaped carrier used by a dairy.  Others were more utilitarian than artistic. Package Truck buyers included Coca-Cola bottlers, but the extent of their use is undocumented.

Shown in the photo is a Package Truck proudly serving Coke bottles for a Milwaukee, Wisconsin Coca-Cola bottler in 1930. Package Trucks are among the longest tenured vehicles in H-D history, having spanned 1915 – the same year of the Coke bottle’s birth, incidentally – to 1957.

It is not known how much the bumpy roads shook up the bottles of Coke.

Bill Jackson is manager of archives and heritage services for Harley-Davidson Motor Company.