Image courtesy THE AMERICAN CITY magazine
The other night, thumbing through back issues of The American City magazine from 1918 (I’m a bit behind in my reading) I came across this full-page ad for Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and — look! — it featured the Memphis Police Department (“one of the best police departments in the South”) on their gleaming new Harleys.
The ad claimed that a motorcycle patrol such as the one pictured here — the shot was taken outside the old police headquarters on Adams, with the Shelby County Courthouse and St. Peter’s Cathedral in the background — would “lower the cost of greater police efficiency.”
That’s rather awkwardly worded, if you ask me, but the ad went on to explain that “a policeman on a motorcycle can do so much more” — though they still didn’t really explain: more than what? Sorry, but you still haven’t sold me.
So they gave some specific examples, implying that these are things that can only be done on a two-wheeler: chasing speeders, running down “motorized crooks” (which makes the bad guys sound like cyborgs), enforcing parking rules, regulating traffic, messenger work, emergency calls, and bringing relief or reinforcements.”
Now, it seems to me that any of these police duties could also be performed just as easily with a car, so I’m surprised that the copywriters failed to point out something fairly obvious: the “cool” factor. Then as now, a motorcycle cop, with his dashing uniform and roaring Harley, was much cooler than somebody driving around in a black-and-white Ford or Chevy. Good grief, has everyone forgotten the show CHiPS? (Actually, I think they used Kawasakis on that show; look, you’re missing my point here.)
But I guess the readers of The American City, a rather dull magazine mainly written for city planners, would be more interested in the ho-hum cost efficiency advantage, so there you have it.
I wonder what happened to all the fine Harleys featured in this ad? I hope a few ended up in museums somewhere ...