This authenticated photo of the pair disproves the popular claim that the following popular photo is of them.
Although the photograph is a genuine one dating from that time period, the backstory commonly attached to it is not. This image first appeared online when it was posted to a web site dedicated to old photographs of Harley-Davidson motorcycles by Ross Hollibaugh. While Hollibaugh wasn’t completely certain about the image’s origins, he claimed that it showed two of his relatives posing at a Harley-Davidson dealership in Minnesota, not the titular founders of Harley-Davidson:
“I was enjoying your page with all the old Harleys and remembered that I have a photo of my cousin’s grandfather and his grandfather’s brother each sitting on the brand new 1914 Harleys that they purchased in 1914. I am not sure, but I believe the photo may have been taken at the dealership (probably not really a dealership back then, but the guy must have been an HD distributer) in Wanamingo, MN. Wanamingo is 6 miles from Zumbrota. I still have family in both Wanamingo and Zumbrota. My cousin still has the original receipt for his grandfather’s bike and he scanned a copy of it for me. You can see on the invoice that Lars Johnson of Zumbrota, MN purchased his bike for $245 and only put $10 cash down. Lars was my cousin’s (Steve Johnson) grandfather.”
The provenance of the photograph aside, a picture taken in 1914 couldn’t capture William Harley and Arthur Davidson (who were both 33 years old by then) unveiling their first motorcycle, as the initial production Harley-Davidson motorcycle had come out in 1903, and the first Harley-Davidson dealership had been opened a year later. By 1914, Harley-Davidson had entered the world of motorcycle racing.
We weren’t able to locate a comparable image of Harley and Davidson on motorcycles in 1914, but a photograph of them taken in 1924 clearly shows that the two men seen in the 1914 photograph displayed above are not the famous founders of Harley-Davidson: