There are more miles on Harley-Davidson’s Freedom Jacket than there are on many of the motorcycles it represents. In fact, it might prove to be the most well-travelled jacket in history, and it’s come home to Milwaukee as Harley-Davidson’s 110th Anniversary celebration reaches its end.
To celebrate that 110th company birthday, Harley-Davidson threw an international party with rallies and media events in Tibet, Austria, New Zealand, South Africa, Germany, Mexico City, Australia and Italy.
That globetrotting came to an end with a massive celebration in H-D’s birthplace of Milwaukee. While no single Harley-Davidson employee or representative attended every one of those events, the Freedom Jacket did.
Earlier this year, on that first special media ride through Tibet, Harley-Davidson reps and reporters from the Far East were enjoying a demo ride. While stopped, the H-D folks asked a worker along the side of the road to sign one of the rider’s classic, bomber-style leather jackets with words that meant “Harley-Davidson” to him.
That stranger painted the Chinese symbol for “Freedom” on the cow hide in red road paint. In every stop since, additions of different varieties were added. Patches, signatures, arm bands, pins and small works of art spread across the leather as the jacket passed from company officials and military heroes to celebrities and Pope Francis I.
During an interview I did with Bill Davidson (Harley-Davidson Museum official and great grandson of the company’s co-founder) during the New Zealand rally, he explained that the Freedom Jacket inspired thoughts of freedom in most people who came across it.
“(The jacket) was just something that came about spontaneously,” Davidson said. “It shows how closely people associate our brand with freedom. And, it became a symbol for how we came together during this 110th anniversary.”
As the clock wound down to the final year-end rally at Harley-Davidson’s birthplace and headquarters in Milwaukee, the Freedom Jacket ended its global journey back home again.
It’s no doubt destined for a permanent home in the Harley-Davidson Museum. But, before the jacket was hung up for history, it was donned by 16-year-old Harley Owners Group member Parker Anderson during the Milwaukee rally’s 6,000 bike parade.
The Appleton, Wisc. native said he was overwhelmed when H-D reps chose him out of countless thousands to wear the symbolic jacket.
“It was such an honor,” Anderson said after riding alongside me during the parade. “I haven’t been riding that long, and to be able to wear this jacket and ride in this parade with my dad – I’ll never forget it.”
Certainly, it’s no accident the powers that be chose a 16-year-old to carry the jacker into its final ride. With 110 years already behind the company, H-D now looks to bring in a new generation of riders capable of riding their bikes to HD125, HD150 and beyond.
Special thanks to the following sponsors and benefactors for making the HD110 World Tour possible: Harley-Davidson, Crave Online, IndieGoGo, Meguiar’s Car Care Products, The Iron Horse Hotel – Milwaukee, The Langham Hotel Auckland, Auckland Motorcycles and Power Sports, Hilton Daytona Beach, Hotel Casa Camper – Berlin, South African Airways, Margate Hotel, Protea Hotel President – Cape Town, Mexico City Marriott, Harley-Davidson Latin America, Samsung Galaxy, Harley-Davidson Europe, Sheridan Golf Parco de’Medici, Hilton Milwaukee City Center, Milwaukee Harley-Davidson, Todd Hall, Steve Harpst, Burbank Boxing Club, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Carla Gehrig, Eric Rogell, Traycee King, Joy Sapieka and Nicholas Kearney.