“Here’s Hoping the ‘Hound’ and His Friends had a Good Time”: The Hollister Gypsy Tour of 1947 and the rise of the “Outlaw” Motorcyclist

Randy McBee

On the Fourth of July weekend in 1947 motorcyclists assembled in the small town of Hollister, California, for an American Motorcycle Association (AMA) sponsored “Gypsy Tour” or rally. Like other AMA rallies, the one at Hollister included races, a hill climbing competition, and various social events. But before it had ended, and during its immediate aftermath, the press used words like “terror” to describe the weekend’s events. Staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, C. J. Doughty, wrote the initial article that described the rally as “the outburst of terrorism” that led to the “wrecking of bars, bottle barrages into the streets from upper story windows and roofs… high-speed racing of motorcycles through the streets,” as well as complaints about “indecent exposure.” The “momentum of their activities,” according to Doughty, “gained strength during the Fourth of July. By evening they [motorcyclists] were virtually out of control.”[1] Doughty estimated that four thousand cyclists attended the rally, nearly sixty persons were injured (three seriously), “scores of arrests were made,” and a “special night court session was convened to punish those charged with reckless driving and drunkenness.”[2]


“Cyclist’s Holiday: He and Friends Terrorize Town” [Fig.1]

Over the next two weeks stories about the rally would circulate and eventually get picked up by Life magazine, which provided its readers with a brief summary of the rally with the same sensationalism that characterized Doughty’s initial report. The four thousand riders in attendance “quickly tired of ordinary motorcycle thrills,” the magazine argued, “and turned to more exciting stunts.” They raced “their vehicles down the main street [and] rammed into restaurants and bars.” The police “arrested many for drunkenness and indecent exposure but could not restore order.” Still more damning was the photograph above the caption of a motorcyclist, Eddie Davenport, reclining back on his pre-war Harley with his legs stretched forward, disheveled and in a drunken stupor with a beer bottle in each hand and dozens more scattered about the ground surrounding his cycle.[3] He wore baggy dungarees, his baseball cap was sitting cockeyed, and he had a bedroll strapped to the back fender of his bike, suggesting that he had only recently arrived and would soon depart.

The attention the rally has attracted from scholars and other writers has generally led to two responses. One group has focused on Doughty’s article and the Life magazine photograph that sensationalized the rally and gave rise to an “outlaw” motorcyclist. He was an outlaw in some studies because the AMA barred him from membership even though he still insisted on participating in AMA-sanctioned races, or he was an outlaw because of his lawless and disorderly behavior. While these accounts have generally downplayed the rally’s significance, they also have done little to challenge Hollister’s image as a drunken brawl and further promoted the rally as the defining moment that transformed the motorcyclist into a national threat that led inexorably to motorcycle clubs like the Hells Angels.[4] Other scholars have focused on the film representation of the rally, The Wild One (1953), and highlighted the teenage delinquent who attracted increasing attention in the postwar years. Starring Marlon Brando as Johnny Strabler, the leader of a motorcycle club called the Black Rebels, the film revolves around a small town in California, the terror its inhabitants faced from marauding motorcyclists, and Strabler’s interest in the Sheriff’s daughter played by Mary Murphy. Brando sported the leather jacket, dungarees, and white t-shirt that became the style of countless rebels in the postwar years, and it was a style with which Hollywood quickly became enamored. In her history of the teenager, Grace Palladino notes that “no one knew what teenage rebels looked like until Marlon Brando played the sullen leader of a motorcycle gang in the 1953 hit, The Wild One.”

While the indifferent teenager and the “outlaw” biker have shaped our memory of Hollister, those icons have overshadowed how the motorcyclist’s working-class roots influenced the public’s response to the rally and the role the motorcycle played in promoting the rebel’s image. Accounts of Hollister, for example, did not simply describe the participants as motorcyclists or cycle riders but as vagrants and transients. Transient was linked to any number of men—bums, hoboes, tramps—who had a complicated and ambiguous relationship to work that highlighted their social and physical distance from the communities they were accused of invading.[5] Their disconnectedness not only challenged the ideas of citizenship on which the small-town was based but was at the root of the anxiousness with which some of the town’s residents questioned these riders and why others embraced them. In sum, I argue that the mixed responses to the motorcyclist at Hollister and at the subsequent rallies that attracted similar attention had less to do with the disorderly behavior these riders were accused of and more to do with their tenuous relationship to the communities they were accused of invading and their relationship to wage labor. In the eyes of the residents of these small towns these men were not simply motorcyclists, but transients, vagrants, and tramps, men whose day-to-day lives found their inspiration outside the world of wage labor rather than in it.

The motorcyclist’s connection to transients was further exacerbated by an emerging style known as the Western Bob—a style that referred to the rider and to his bike. A “bobbed” or “chopped” bike was generally a Harley-Davidson with nonessential parts removed (chopping) or modified (bobbing) to lighten the load and to increase the bike’s speed and maneuverability. “Chopping” or “bobbing” the bike made it lighter and better suited for on- or off-the-road riding and for drag racing and stunt riding at Hollister than a stock Harley or a bike weighed down with additional accessories and lots of chrome (what was known as a garbage wagon).[6] The Western Bob was also a particular style of dress—the jeans, leather jacket, and T-shirt—that became the signature look of numerous 1940s-1950s rebels. These riders and their bikes favored a noticeably indifferent style and attitude that was accentuated on or off their bikes by a conspicuous slouch or posture that emphasized a body at rest—a body that effectively highlighted the motorcyclist’s assumed disdain for wage work and what appeared to be his apparent escape from it. Motorcyclists had been linked to bobbed cycles since at least the 1920s, but Hollister introduced the nation to these bikes and their riders and marked the rise of a style that set the American rider apart from the British lightweight bikes that were flooding into the U.S. market after WWII. It was a style that contributed to the controversy surrounding the motorcyclist at Hollister, but it was also one that defined the rider as uniquely American.

The initial response to the Hollister gypsy tour from the AMA and the writers at Motorcyclist was to advise caution and to object to the mainstream press’ coverage. Writers at American Motorcycling (the official publication of the AMA) and Motorcyclist admonished its readers to consider carefully the sensationalism that was rampant in newspaper and radio reports about the rally and to weigh the evidence objectively. The writer at Motorcyclist went so far as to explain that all mention of Hollister was withheld from the July 1947 issue because “we had to have time to secure unprejudiced first hand reports on the affair.” “We know,” the writer added, “that much modern newspaper practice glories in the sensational and some reporters are trained to studiously distort and varnish in order to create lurid stories for their readers.”[7]

The motorcycle press also pointed to nonriders who participated in the rally and contributed to the supposed mayhem. The Motorcyclist and American Motorcycling argued that local “toughies,” also referred to as a “much larger group of non-motorcycling hell-raisers,” shared the blame for Hollister’s problems and pointed as well to “mercenary minded bar-keepers.” The outside “toughies” were thought to be intentionally unruly, expecting that the cyclists would be blamed for any ill-advised behavior and published accounts of arrests do include Hollister residents.[8] The motorcycle press also implicated bar-keepers because they viewed the rally merely as a way to fill their coffers, and they unscrupulously sold their wares with little concern for their effect on the motorcyclists or the town. Surprisingly, the press reported that barkeepers in Hollister stopped selling beer as the motorcyclists became unruly to end the bottle barrages that were allegedly wreaking havoc in the downtown area, although they continued to sell whiskey under the assumption that the motorcyclists could not afford to drink it, a subtle but clear indication of the average motorcyclist’s humble origins. [9]

Yet both publications also admitted that there was cause for concern and blamed a “small minority” of motorcyclists or what the AMA referred to as a “sad band of parasites.”[10] “Let’s be realistic in this matter,” asserted the writer at Motorcyclist. “Unfortunately there was foundation for the story and we would be unwise to attempt to side-step the facts.”[11] The writer at American Motorcycling actually referred to the gypsy tour as the “Hollister holocaust,” even as he championed the need to be objective. “We are simply doing what we should do—setting forth all of the material that has been gathered through a careful and thorough investigation based on official reports from enforcement officers.” The small minority both writers criticized consisted of the “same old element that so frequently besmirches motorcycle gatherings.” In the words of the writer at American Motorcycling, they were “hell-raisers,” “real bravados,” and the “few riders” who “decided to make a race track out of the street.” There was a “certain type,” the writer lamented, “who can only be happy when he is drinking and raising Cain.”[12]

The “certain type” the AMA complained about was not described as an “outlaw” in American Motorcycling, Motorcyclist, or in any of the articles that appeared in the Hollister Free Lance during the rally or during its immediate aftermath. The label “outlaw” would appear about a year later after a rally in Riverside, California attracted similar complaints and responses. One article described the rally as an “invasion,” this time claiming that five thousand “wild riding” motorcyclists “thundered and roared up and down Riverside streets for three days before harried police officers finally turned the tide and restored some semblance of order …” Like at Hollister, the motorcycle press denounced the media’s coverage as biased and concluded by reiterating their objection to the “lawless and inconsiderate action on the part of motorcyclists”—what it labeled a “lunatic fringe” of riders who were presumably responsible for the disorder. In the magazine’s initial article about Riverside they were also described as “outlaw riders” to emphasize their unruly behavior. An article from the Pasadena California Independent that was reprinted in Motorcyclist explained that the “‘outlaw’ riders moved into town and proceeded to paint it a bright red.”[13] Complaints about disorderly behavior were still prominent a month later when Motorcyclist attempted again to challenge negative depictions of the motorcyclists, but a motorcyclist was now an outlaw simply because he was not a member of the AMA. The “future of motorcycle sports,” argued a Riverside County Sheriff’s report, would only be ensured if “the American Motorcycle Association recognized motorcycle clubs and the ‘outlaw’ motorcycle clubs” were able to reach “an understanding.”[14]

Articles about Riverside that appeared in Motorcyclist also narrowed down the definition of “fringe.” Motorcyclist’s initial story about the rally described the “trouble makers” as a “small minority” and provided a “confirmation quote” from Riverside’s Police Chief, Sheriff, and Undersheriff who characterized the offending riders as “representing not more than 2% of the cyclists.”[15] A month later a County Sheriff report argued that a “change in attitude and acts of the one percent [my italics] of irresponsible, intemperate and sometimes vulgar motorcyclist hiding behind the cloak of decency of the ninety-nine percent of motorcyclists must be accomplished.”[16] The idea of a 1%er is generally linked to the AMA’s public relations campaign for 1961 that divided motorcyclists into two camps: the “fringe” element of motorcyclists whose behavior and riding habits were worthy of scrutiny and the remaining “‘99%’ of riders who conduct themselves in a manner that brings credit to the sport.”[17] The 1%er emerges first out of the controversy surrounding Riverside in 1948 and well before most of the clubs that will become infamous for their anti-social and violent behavior are established.

Hollister’s residents responded with both dismay and support for the motorcyclists but collectively challenged the idea of a “fringe element.” At the time of the rally and during its immediate aftermath, The Hollister Free Lance published a handful of letters from the town’s residents and other witnesses. One of the letters was from R.E. Stevenson, who was from the neighboring town of Salinas (about twenty miles southwest of Hollister) and had visited Hollister for a day of shopping on Saturday July 5. Stevenson began his letter by explaining that it had always been a “pleasure to come to Hollister to shop—until I came over Saturday.” The town, he objected, was “overrun with lawless, drunken, filthy bands of motorcycle fiends and it was impossible for law abiding citizens to drive on your streets.” Stevenson claimed that he had been told that neighboring communities had loaned Hollister additional police officers to quell the disturbances, but he complained that the “noisy racing continued and drunks slept in the gutters, streets, alongside business buildings and in vacant lots.” Stevenson wondered why Hollister would “tolerate such things?” and why Hollister’s “trustees would allow such disgraceful happenings?” He concluded his letter by describing the “motorcycle convention” as a “real disgrace” and asked, “What do the home folks think?”[18]

Two days after Stevenson’s critical letter appeared, the Free Lance published a letter from Ruth Reynolds who characterized Stevenson’s “account” as “a routine piece of misrepresentation.” Like Stevenson, Reynolds admitted that the rally “was noisy” and “often annoying,” and she did not blame “Mr. S” for “criticizing the demonstration.” But the town was “damage free” and “not overrun” as he had suggested. “Two blocks of the main street were largely impassable,” she explained, “but the remainder of our streets were free from obstacles.” “Many of them [the motorcyclists] were drunk,” and “some of the riders appeared to be dirty,” but “many of them [also] gave evidence of having recently taken a bath.” Indeed, for all of the talk of lawlessness and disorder, Reynolds emphasized that “there were no shootings, assaults, fights, holdups, murders, incidents of arson, mayhem or rape reported. None of the citizens of Hollister was molested by the cyclists—if anyone was, he has not complained of it.”[19]

To further make her case she singled out the yearly rodeo in Mr. Stevenson’s hometown of Salinas and the men whose behavior was not all that different than the motorcyclists at Hollister and Riverside. “Our Salinas shopper,” Reynolds began her letter, “might well pick his hometown skirts out of the mud before he writes any more letters to the editor such as the missive, laden with adjectives that appeared in your Monday issue.” “While he may have been offended by the somewhat noisy mob that cluttered up his personal shopping district,” she continued, “I wonder what his reactions were to the indescribable havoc that roared up and down Main Street in Salinas on a Saturday night during the recent rodeo.” Reynolds confessed that she did not stay “long enough to vouch for the state of cleanliness, lawlessness or intoxication of the participants.” But she “was impressed by the bodies that littered Main Street shortly after midnight.”[20]

Comments about the Salinas rodeo would remain conspicuous in discussions about Hollister over thirty years later as residents continued to defend the motorcyclists. Johnny Lamento, a retired local racer from the Hollister area, who was twenty during the weekend of the rally and participated in some of the drag racing, admitted that on Saturday afternoon (July 5) some participants were tossing bottles on to the pavement and “spinning circles in the street with their machines.” But, he added, “the guys weren’t vicious … [and] it really didn’t get that much out of hand.” His wife (who was his girlfriend at the time of the rally) explained that support for the motorcyclists depended upon the individual’s perspective. “A lot of merchants enjoyed having the rally come [to Hollister] because the riders brought a lot of money to town,” a point common to other accounts of the gathering.[21] “But,” she added, “a lot of townspeople are ‘horsey people’—ranchers and horsey people do not like motorcycles.”[22] According to the reporter, Lamento nodded in agreement to his wife’s comment and then emphasized the same point about the rodeo Reynolds made over three decades earlier. “Christ,” Lamento exclaimed, “I remember the rodeo they used to have in Salinas years ago. You couldn’t walk down the street after the parade [because] there were so many beer bottles.”[23]

Indeed, the town’s residents seemed more concerned about the motorcyclists’ relationship to the community than any violation of its standards. News reports noted that the police charged the attendees “on miscellaneous counts varying from vagrancy to indecent exposure” or the press referred to the “law-breakers” as “drunks” and “vagrants.”[24] In Doughty’s initial story he claimed that the rally “brought the largest number of transients in recent history to Hollister,”[25] and in a Hollister Free Lance article on the Monday after the weekend rally motorcyclists were referred to at different moments as hordes, hoodlums, and rowdies, but collectively as transients. According to the author, the completion of the races marked the official end of the rally and by that time “complete order had been restored among the transients.” In fact, motorcyclist and transient were not always used interchangeably. Rather, this story described participants as transients who happened to ride motorcycles or in the words of the author, “cycle enthusiasts.” In this line of reasoning, the motorcycle appears as the distinguishing feature that separated the merrymakers from the other participants, but was it enough to erase the overwhelming stigma associated with transient? A year later “hoodlum” and “tramp” appeared in the county sheriff’s report about the Riverside Rally to highlight typical examples of the negative rhetoric used to characterize motorcyclists.[26] Other accounts simply emphasized the motorcyclist’s point of origin and his mobility. In the case of Hollister, California appears in every list of states from which the participants came. Neighboring states such as Arizona and Nevada were also prominent. Other riders were from the much more distant state of Oregon, and some riders were “from as far east as Michigan.”[27]

Transient and tramp have a long and complicated history of association with words like hobo, vagrant, bum—terms that denote an ambiguous and insufficient relationship to work and a tenuous if not outright negative relationship to the community. In his fascinating study of hobo workers in the turn-of-the-century Midwest, Frank Tobias Higbie notes that middle-class observers viewed these workers as a problem because they violated conceptions of “‘normal sex,’ that is normative heterosexuality,” and they “undermined workers’ commitment to wage labor.” Simply put, they set a bad example for workers looking for a reason to quit. While Higbie provides a more nuanced interpretation of the hobo’s threat than this brief summary suggests, he argues that a “working class consciousness often was built around a desire to escape the labor market, a desire not to be a worker.” As Higbie explains, “just as full citizenship was contingent on such factors as sex, race and length of residence, the laboring man without property would hardly refuse work without also marking himself as outside of the community; a good citizen was one who would work, start a family, and stay put.”[28]

The migrant or seasonal worker’s larger history also potentially shaped how Hollister’s residents responded to the motorcyclists. In his study, Higbie thoughtfully illuminates the conflict that developed between hobos and small-town America throughout the midwest, the free speech demonstrations they organized and participated in, their association with the Industrial Workers of the World, and the history of violence against them on America’s railroads.[29] By the Great Depression and World War II, millions of men and women would leave their homes in search of work, migrants would attract increasing attention, and California was at the center of these changes. The Depression-era migrants John Steinbeck memorialized in The Grapes of Wrath tells the story of the Joad family struggling to survive its migration to California during the Depression and is just one of millions of stories about the men and women flooding into the state in search of work.[30] Californians, in fact, organized what were known as “bum blockades” at the state borders with Arizona and Nevada to try to stem the flow of Dust Bowl migrants.[31] These efforts were largely unsuccessful and ultimately futile with the onset of World War II. Americans have long viewed migrants with suspicion, and that history profoundly shaped the way Hollister’s and Riverside’s residents viewed the motorcyclists who had “invaded” their seemingly peaceful and safe communities.[32]

The motorcyclists’ alleged behavior at these rallies only exacerbated the nonriding majority’s tendency to associate all riders with transients. The hobo’s/transient’s violation of normative heterosexuality ranged from same-sex intimacies to other acts of non-marital sexuality.[33] That motorcycling was almost universally identified with what were presumed to be groups of single men with no obvious ties to a domestic setting around which normative and marital sexuality were supposed to be confined was enough in the postwar era to raise a suspicious eyebrow or two. As Elaine Tyler May has shown, heterosexuality during the Cold War was inextricably tied to maturity, breadwinning, and domesticity, and these values stood in diametric opposition to the stereotypes about homosexuality as well as to the behavior motorcyclists allegedly participated in at the rally.[34] Indeed, the Hollister motorcyclists were not only rowdy and disrespectable but in violation of the line dividing public and private spaces on which conventional ideas about sexuality were based. Initial accounts about the rally, for example, included charges of indecent exposure, most likely because of public urination. Other witnesses described “topless women throwing beer bottles from the top of a building,” and even public acts of sexuality. One long-time resident recalled the motorcyclists sleeping “all over the place”—“on the court house lawn, on residents’ lawns, in the gutters,” and “there were a lot of them screwing right out there on the lawn.”[35]

The motorcyclists at Hollister and Riverside fared no better when it came to their ties to the community and work. Besides the motorcycles participants rode in on, visible signs of property or the means to support themselves were inconspicuous at best, and ties to the community were just as fleeting. Likely to have a bed roll strapped to the rear of their machine, motorcyclists were neither here nor there and likely to depart as quickly and as abruptly as they had arrived. The trope of small town invasion that characterized press reports about Hollister and Riverside highlight his mobility and the extent to which it contributed to the anxiety surrounding these riders. At Hollister, for example, the motorcyclists were initially attracted to the race track at the Veterans Memorial Park, but as they grew tired of watching the racing (and not allowed to compete if not an AMA member) they reassembled in the middle of town for drag racing and other stunts. The move from the park to the middle of town was not simply about crossing space but unsettling it. Racing up and down the city’s streets allowed them to control space that was generally occupied by other motorists and part of a larger space that included women, children, and other unsuspecting pedestrians (like Stevenson) who were unaccustomed to the inconvenience of sharing this space and upset by the disorder.

Some evidence also suggests that the motorcyclist’s mobility was the source of the tension surrounding him before he attracted national attention at these rallies and certainly a significant issue in their aftermath. The image of the lone cyclist riding out into the expanse of the open road is a common one to motorcycling but riding in a group or formation was just as prominent. Riding in this fashion allowed motorcyclists to control the pace of movement on the freeway and it reduced the likelihood of an automobilist crowding a rider out of his/her lane. It could also complicate an automobilist’s entry on to a freeway or block an exit, what was referred to as a “traffic capture.” In the critiques following the Riverside rally in 1948 one writer cited the motorcyclist’s association with “traffic capture” as one of the reasons “motorcycles are none too popular to begin with.”[36] Other critics (including motorcyclists worried about their reputation) complained about the manner in which motorcyclists used their machines, pointing specifically to “hounds,” “cowboys,” and other “misplaced stunt riders.” The “smell of burning rubber” or the “screech of tires” was used to describe the speed with which the motorcyclist left an intersection or how he stopped at one. Other examples included “cutting as close as possible when passing a car,” “swerving” and “grasping hands with adjacent riders,” “standing on the seat” as they coasted down a major thoroughfare, or winding their way through a traffic jam. [37] A Saturday Evening Post article from the early 1950s titled “Most Unpopular Men on the Road” explained that “motorists, trapped in a line of crawling cars, are prone to curse fervently when a motorcycle rider worms his way through the jam, departing for points unknown with an ear-splitting roar.”[38]

Motorcyclists also occupied space because of their noisy motorcycles. Shortly after the Riverside rally The Motorcyclist published a letter from a club in Connecticut that was particularly concerned about the future of motorcycling and noise was a prominent issue. Noise, the club explained, was a consequence of straight pipes or funnels—the product of removing the “guts” from the muffler and leaving a straight through passage for the exhaust—or the noise was a consequence of “motor–popping or back firing,” “a “willful and voluntary practice,” according to the club, and one that was equally annoying. Motor-popping was “produced by retarding the spark, together with some clever manipulation of the throttle control” that “causes gasses to accumulate in the the muffler, and become ignited, thereby producing the explosion known as the backfire.”[39]

Noise is critical to understanding the first significant efforts to regulate motorcycling and motorcyclists, and its effect on Hollister was just as prominent.[40] An open pipe could be deafening and the cumulative sound of dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of riders is unimaginable. A single motorcyclist who removed the guts from a muffler or consciously manipulated the throttle to produce a backfire could be heard blocks or even miles away. A rally was an all-out assault on the senses and a willful lack of decorum that helps account for the different responses from the town’s residents. Both Stevenson and Reynolds, for example, complained that the rally was “noisy” and “annoying,” but Stevenson described the town as overrun even though Reynolds (and other accounts) emphasized that the motorcyclists were generally contained to a section cordoned off for drag racing and other stunts. Was the town overrun by motorcyclists or by the sound of their machines?[41]

Indeed, rowdy, undisciplined, and loud are the most prominent characteristics that effectively describe the motorcyclist, and some evidence suggests that these men were not the occasional rider or “fringe element.” Fred Traylor of Los Angeles, for example, admonished readers in a letter to Motorcyclist to “not react too hastily to the popular picture of a drunken ‘hound’ which appeared in ‘Life’ magazine.” Traylor still used the term “minority” to describe him but “in all fairness to ‘Life,’” he argued, the “rider does accurately represent” what he called a “strong (and noisy) minority.” “There are riders who are rough and noisy—and crude, lots of them,” he explained, and distinguished these riders from those who frequently appeared in AMA publications as the ideal motorcyclist. Referring to the “hound” at Hollister and the Life magazine photograph, Traylor added, “It is not the effete minority that crowds the highways (except on nice clear days) riding in pretty ‘bloomer-girl’ formation—their fancy pants all colorful and natty.”[42]

Life magazine’s picture of Eddie Davenport laying back on a pre-war Harley only exacerbated fears about the motorcyclist’s disconnectedness from the community he was criticized for “terrorizing,” an assumption that he had escaped the labor market, and his disdain for the community’s values. Davenport is the epitome of the bad posture or what Susan Bordo describes as the “slouch” she identifies with Marlon Brando and his vision of a masculinity that other mid-century icons like James Dean would emulate. Bordo points specifically to Brando’s portrayal of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). Kowalski’s child-like dependence on his wife, Stella, exhibited a vulnerability that she argues was particularly attractive to his female audience. He also wore skin-tight dungarees (or jeans) at a time when men wore them baggy, and he sported a tight-fitting, white T-shirt. Kowalski’s attitude, which ranged from indifference to childlike contempt, was also conspicuous and demonstrated through a physicality that is best represented as a lousy posture or “slouch,” accompanied by a constant and inarticulate “mumbling” and even a “smirk.”[43]

While Bordo claims that Brando represented something new, glimpses of Kowalski (and Davenport) had been visible on the streets of working-class communities for decades. It was a slouch reminiscent of other working-class rebels like the Bowery B’hoy Christine Stansell has located on New York’s Lower East Side during the nineteenth century or of the Mexican-American and Black men wearing Zoot Suits about a century later. They were able-bodied men without any obvious means of support, distinctive for their dress and behavior, and often linked to gangs and criminal activity.[44]

Yet we do not want to separate the motorcyclist too far from the workplace, and his connection to transients and tramps suggests that his critics did not either. While working men’s and women’s outright and bold defiance is especially well known—strikes, boycotts, clashes between police and pickets—the day-to-day grind they faced in the workplace is just as important to understanding the struggle surrounding wage work even if it is much more difficult to detect, or even when workers are completely removed from it, what Robin D.G. Kelley has described as infrapolitics. In response to the imposition of an industrial work ethic men and women adopted a number of tactics to defy arbitrary management rules and the monotony of wage labor, including the inappropriate posture or slouch, the ill-timed smirk, and the inarticulate mumble. Slaves, migrant laborers, factory workers, even the fast food workers Kelley studied not only adopted these (infra) politics but also used them to shape the workplace and their relationship with bosses who tried to dismiss their behavior as lazy, undisciplined, or insubordinate. [45]

The link between motorcyclists and transients confirmed this connection even as it presented a different challenge. If the transient was a constant reminder of the average worker’s desire to escape the labor market, the motorcyclist was the example of what a successful escape looked like. The motorcyclist’s slouch (on or off his bike), in other words, was not intended to simply contest control over the workplace but to reject any connection or allegiance to it. In The Wild One Johnny (Brando’s character) mumbles “What’d ya got” when asked “What are you rebelling against?” and critics/observers have used his response to characterize the outlaw’s indifference.[46] But the motorcyclist’s rebelliousness was much more focused than Johnny’s comment suggested. The slouch that had evolved into a distinctive masculinity and rebellion had its roots in the centuries-old struggles over who controlled the workplace and remained tied to work even though the rebellion was most visible outside of it.

The broader context in which the motorcyclist made his national appearance only exacerbated the impact of his rebellion, his allure, and his link to transients. Because of his mobility, the motorcyclist had an even greater chance of having no connection to the community he was considered a threat to than his working-class rebels from earlier decades, and his ambivalence about work is most conspicuous at the very moment economic opportunity is greatest for wage workers. While Americans feared a return to depression after World War II, the economy experienced unprecedented expansion. Union membership would reach an all-time high by the early 1950s, and home ownership became a reality for the first time for a significant number of working men and women. [47] The Cold War’s emphasis on domesticity and a breadwinner ethic that was crucial to national identity (and security) only highlighted his distance from the workplace and suggests that his rebellion and the threat the motorcyclist posed had as much to do with what he was not—not a member of the community and not a worker—than his rowdy and seemingly lawless behavior.

Scholars who have examined the Hollister Rally have generally dismissed it without considering the motorcyclist’s larger relationship to the community, and they have cited the Life magazine photograph as an example of the sensationalism surrounding riders because it was staged. Apparently an over-zealous photographer swept together the bottles of beer to play upon fears of drunk and disorderly conduct. One source even claims that Davenport was not a motorcyclist, simply a passerby who was convinced to pose for the picture even though the cycle was not his. In this line of reasoning, Davenport was the unsuspecting participant in a journalistic ruse to arouse the passions and to elicit the scandalous.[48] Does it really matter, though, that Davenport may not have been a motorcyclist and (except for the beer bottles) would the picture have looked any different if it had not been staged? Davenport’s legs are stretched forward slightly past where they would normally be if he was riding the bike and he is leaning back a bit more to one side, but his posture is not all that different than the typical rider at rest in any given context. To a certain extent, the rider’s body conforms to the motorcycle’s design whether at rest or in motion. Curved handlebars that pushed the rider’s arms up were standard on a stock Harley or Indian motorcycle and the bike’s footboards or pegs were positioned toward the front of the motorcycle’s frame which allowed the rider to stretch his legs out or comfortably rest them forward. The rider’s posture, which highlighted a familiar slouch, further emphasized a body at rest and confirmed the motorcyclist’s connection to other men (transients) whose separation from the community and steady employment was prominent.[49] Discussions about American workers during the Depression and the years following World War II—whether they be industrial workers or farmers—called to mind words like independent, strong, resilient, and hardworking—words and men who stood in sharp contrast to the motorcyclist’s image at Hollister and in Life magazine—lazy and self-indulgent but also carefree and comfortable. The contrast helps explain why residents described the motorcyclist as a threat to the community and its values, and a contrast that explains why others accepted him as a welcome break from them.[50]

The Life magazine photograph also featured a bobbed or chopped cycle. In 1950 the editor of Cycle magazine noted that riders out “of necessity” had to “dress in clothing suitable for outdoor conditions,” and he singled out the two most popular styles, the Eastern Marcel and the Western Bob. The Eastern Marcel was associated with “the great majority of motorcycle riders in the eastern and midwestern sections of the country” and a style described as conspicuously overdressed (rider and motorcycle) with a shiny leather jacket fully studded in chrome, a cap, and a motorcycle weighed down with plenty of chrome-plated attachments.[51] The editor described the Western Bob or West Coast Bob as the “jackets and Levis get-up,” which he claimed was “worn by most west coast riders.” The Western Bob also referred to the cycle, which was a stripped-down version of a stock model, no fenders or only “bobbed” fenders, no factory installed headlight, only a small lightweight fog light, no primary chain covers, footboards replaced with foot pegs, and absolutely no chrome. R. O. Des Marias of Lompoc, California sent a letter to Cycle in March of 1954 and explained that a “chopped or bobbed motor [motorcycle] is just what the word implies. Chop everything off that you don’t’ need.” Des Marias added, “there is no special way to do it. Just strip your motor as though you were getting it ready for competition, but still legal enough for the road.” “One way to start,” he noted, “is to take off the back fender and replace it with the front fender with the leading edge at the top of the wheel only in reverse. This way there is no wind resistance to the front wheel. Put the rear fender in your garage.”[52]

Des Marias added that the rider “strips and chops it so if he wants to drag, cross-up, broadside, trail ride, hill climb, etc., he can.”[53] A bike built specifically for off-the-road use would not be readily available until the 1960s.[54] Until then chopping or bobbing the bike lightened the load and made it suitable for most riding conditions, an especially notable advantage in California where the style supposedly originated. As one rider explained, the state had “an immense amount of distance between towns of representative size.” It was “festooned with super highways from top to bottom and side to side.” Riders could take advantage of “a year-around riding climate,” and the combination of “mountains, deserts, beaches, and Hollywood” provided the “destination of countless trips.”[55] A bobbed or chopped bike was simply easier to maneuver than other bikes and suitable for about any riding situation, including drag races down Hollister’s and Riverside’s Main Streets.

While the jacket, jeans, and T-shirt and the leaner and faster motorcycle embodied a rebelliousness that set these riders apart from the nonriding majority (and from other riders), they also struggled to distinguish this rebelliousness from the joy of riding. Des Marias for example, stressed that a bobbed cycle was “not for style and show,” but for “comfort and pleasure,” and Fred Traylor described the Hollister weekend as “good natured relaxation.” The “horseback rider of one hundred years ago,” Traylor explained, was the motorcyclist’s counterpart from the nineteenth century. He, too, would get “red-eyed and drunkenly shoot-up a saloon,” which he explained “also typified good natured relaxation, ‘Western-style.’” [56] Des Marias focused more on riding his bike than Traylor and neither explicitly linked motorcycling to their workaday selves. But the nonriding public’s use of transient suggests that they saw a connection. It was a connection that served as the basis for their complaints about the motorcyclist’s behavior and the comparisons they made with other groups of single, able-bodied men. Drunk and disorderly behavior in Salinas was typical at the yearly rodeo but among men who had ties to the community and presumably (and because of their link to horses) they were willfully employed.

Bobbed cycles date back to the 1920s and 1930s, but Hollister marked the moment that the style attracted a national audience and just as it was becoming an American one. The very first motorcycles built were lightweights as they were “little more than bicycles with a power attachment.” Motorcycles would only get bigger over the next few decades and by the 1920 to 1930 period, the “lightweight practically disappeared from the American scene.” Various American manufacturers introduced lightweight cycles during these years but with little success, and World War II further diverted their focus away from the consumer market. It was only after the war that growing numbers of lightweights began to have a noticeable impact on the American market and notably from British manufacturers—BSA, Vincent, Triumph, and Norton are just a few of the most popular brands. Before the Hollister rally, the motorcycle industry was already celebrating the lightweight’s potential impact on the consumer market, and the federal government further encouraged international trade and the reduction of tariffs by passing the Economic Cooperation Act of 1948.[57] These motorcycles stood out from their American counterparts in two distinct ways. British bikes were known as lightweights because they had an engine displacement of 350 cubic centimeters (cc) or less and were considerably smaller than the American-made Harleys and Indians. Two of the basic Harleys available in the 1940s were the 61” and 74” Knuckleheads that were 1000 ccs and 1200 ccs respectively (known as Knuckleheads because of the knobs on the valve covers that look like knuckles).[58] These cycles also featured a different basic design and hence a different position or posture when seated on the bike. While the rider of an American-made Harley or Indian appeared as if he was sitting at rest or upright with a noticeable slouch and with his feet stretched forward toward the front of the bike’s frame, British motorcycles had flat or straight handle bars and foot pegs that were in a high or “far-back position” that forced the rider into a “crouching-forward” stance to mitigate wind resistance and to enhance the speed, a position similar to today’s sport bikes and one that makes the rider appear as if in motion.[59]

To be sure, some British cycles more clearly embraced this posture than others. Vincent motorcycles, for example, were notorious for handlebars that were almost entirely straight or flat, and in the debates about these differences, riders had a tendency to exaggerate them. But a clear distinction between bikes was noticeable in the immediate postwar period, and it profoundly shaped the development of motorcycle culture. Self-described “Limey,” James Rand, for example, complained in a 1952 issue of Cycle about the supposed mechanical superiority of American-made products and objected to what he described as “those awful antediluvian pre-1918 handlebars.” He claimed that the handlebars on American motorcycles produced a posture “known over here some thirty-odd years gone as the ‘sit up and beg décor’” and also criticized the rider’s legs, which were “thrust positively before them like wax figures lain in armchairs.” “Surely you would not expect the winner of your Kentucky Derby to hurry past the post sitting bolt upright—albeit with bended neck—and above all with his legs thrust gawkingly before him.” [60] In response to Rand, Bob Godfrey of Wilmette, Illinois referred to English handlebars as “those stubby little back breakers” and emphasized that with flat bars a “rider’s arms are in a position which is almost (mind I say almost) parallel to the front fork tubes,” which meant that the “shock from the front wheel is transmitted directly to the rider’s arms and shoulders.” The high bars typical of American cycles placed the rider’s arms “out in front of him, in a position which allows the shoulder joints to act as they were designed to function i.e., hingewise.” Godfrey queried, “Tell me, sir [referring to the British] do you relax by going into a sprint-runner crouch? You don’t? Then why sit in that position on your cycle.” Godfrey concluded his letter with another jab at the British by focusing as well on the issue of size. The “non-riding masses over here,” he suspected, “must be under the impression that English motorists are all of the 5 foot 2 inch 96 pound variety because of the diminutive size of the machine itself.” [61]

While Godfrey’s comment suggests that gender was critical to understanding the debates about brand name loyalty, it also profoundly shaped the public’s views about motorcyclists. It was expressed by a rough (as opposed to respectable) masculinity that was made all the more conspicuous by the machines they rode and their size. Their motorcycles highlighted a slouch they became identified with and a rebelliousness (often confused as indifference) that allowed them to unsettle space and claim it. Some of that rebelliousness was a function of their bike’s basic design. Some of it they consciously manipulated with their motorcycles. All of it promoted an understanding of masculinity that made the motorcyclist distinct from other men and one that profoundly shaped the public’s views about these riders during the immediate postwar years.

The motorcyclists at Hollister and Riverside were certainly rowdy and at times appropriately disrespectful and loud. But the indifferent teenage rebel and the violent antics in which the “outlaw” motorcyclist supposedly participated have overshadowed the rally, the town’s response, and our understanding of them. Bobbed or chopped bikes date back to the 1920s and 1930s, but it was only after the war that the motorcyclist attracted greater scrutiny and after nearly two decades of depression and war that complicated day-to-day community life and work. Bobbed cycles had a particular function. They were leaner and faster, easier to maneuver on or off the road, and better suited for drag racing and stunt riding than a stock Harley or garbage wagon.

The ways in which these men rode their bikes alone posed a challenge to Hollister’s residents. Yet they also criticized them because of their marginal link to the community and to wage work. They were considered transients—one of any number of men—hobos, bums, tramps, vagrants—who had shaped the state’s cultural and material landscape over the preceding decades. They were men Hollister’s residents were most familiar with outside the workplace even though they were perceived to be a critical challenge to it. Indeed, Hollister’s residents were accustomed to disorderly and drunken groups of men, but as a momentary break from the everyday routine of making ends meet and the other obligations they associated with citizenship. The motorcyclist, in sum, was as disconnected from Hollister as the transients who wandered through the town from time to time, but his relationship to work more complicated because he had no connection to the factories or fields to which he posed a challenge.

[1] C.J. Doughtry Jr., “Havoc in Hollister,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 6, 1947, 1, 11; “Motorcyclists Put town In An Uproar,” New York Times, July 7, 1947, 19; see also “‘Battle of Hollister’ Ends as Wild, Celebrating Motorcyclists Leave City, The Hollister Free Lance, July 7, 1947, 1.

[2] C.J. Doughtry Jr., “Havoc in Hollister,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 6, 1947, 1, 11; “Motorcyclists Put town In An Uproar,” New York Times, July 7, 1947, 19; The Hollister Free Lance contradicted Doughty’s initial article by noting that 30 additional officers were used to control the motorcyclists. See “‘Battle of Hollister’ Ends as Wild, Celebrating Motorcyclists Leave City, The Hollister Free Lance, July 7, 1947, 1.

[3] “Motorcyclists’ Convention Terrorizes Town,” Life Magazine, July 21, 1947, pg. 31.

[4] Discussions about Hollister by academics and others have been all over the place. Brock Yates goes to considerable length to show that the Life magazine photograph was staged and that the rally was sensationalized. But he also describes the rally as, “Brawls were unrelenting, and Hollister’s five-man police force was quickly overwhelmed.” See Brock Yates, Outlaw Machine: Harley-Davidson and the Search for eh American Soul, (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1999), 16; In Mobility Without Mayhem: Safety, Cars, and Citizenship, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 117, Jeremy Packer argues that “two members [of a motorcycle gang] were charged with raping a young Hollister girl.” Paul Garson downplays the Hollister Rally but connects the term “outlaw” with mayhem. See Paul Garson and the Editors of Easyriders, Born to be Wild: A History of the American Biker and Bikes, 1947-2002 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003), 52; see also Bill Ogersby, Biker: Truth and Myth: How the Original Cowboy of the Road Became the Easy Rider of the Silver Screen (Guilford: The Lyons Press, 2005), 31. Other scholars have been much more precise about Hollister and its impact. See, for example, Hunter Thompson who describes Hollister as a drunken ball and later in the book downplays the rowdiness, Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996), 65, 106; Steven Alford & Suzanne Ferriss, Motorcycle (London: Reaktion Books Ltd., 2007), 89-93, which addresses the sensationalism and uses the rally (and the subsequent film representations of it) to explore identity and rebellion. Gary Kieffner explores the myth of Hollister and downplays the sensationalism surrounding the weekend’s events. But focuses more on the popular cultural representations of motorcyclists that were influenced by the rally than the rally itself. Kieffner, Gary. “Riding the Borderlands: The Negotiation of Social and Cultural Boundaries for Rio Grande Valley and Southwestern Motorcycling Groups, 1900-2000,” Ph.D. diss., University of Texas at El Paso, 2009, 134-142.

[5] On the history of hoboes see, Frank Tobias Higbie, Indispensable Outcasts: Hobo Workers and Community in the American Midwest, 1880-1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003).

[6] On the definition of chopper see Kieffner, Gary. “Legend Unknown: A Cultural, Gendered History of Motorcyclists in the American Southwest,” MA Thesis, Northern Arizona University , 2003, 101, footnote 105; see also Darwin Holmstrom, Harley-Davidson Century, (Crestine 2004), 140-142; Mayes, Old School Choppers, 9-20.

[7] The Motorcyclist, August 1947, 8; see also “Let’s Take Inventory!,” American Motorcycling, August 1947, 11.

[8] “Let’s Take Inventory!” American Motorcycling, 11; The Motorcyclist, August, 1947, 8; for other descriptions of the individuals involved see also “Cyclists Face Bar of Justice During Three-Day Meeting,” Hollister Free Lance, July 7, 1947, 1; see also “County Jail Jammed With Law-Breakers; Night Court Held,” Hollister Free Lance, July 5, 1947, 1.

[9] “Let’s Take Inventory!” American Motorcycling, August 1947, 11; The Motorcyclist, August, 1947, 8; Doughty Jr, “Havoc in Hollister, 1; The working-class rank and file of the world of motorcycling was so pervasive and so complete that a writer for Cycle magazine in 1952 noted that simply mentioning “the word motorcycle in a middle-aged business or professional group” and “eyebrows will be raised. Admit that you ride one and you may find yourself the subject of unpleasantly close scrutiny.” See L. S. Storrs, “Grand-Dad Rides a Thirty-Fifty,” Cycle, July 1952, 19.

[10] “Let’s Take Inventory,” American Motorcycling, August 1947, 11.

[11] “All Right! Riders, Clubs, Dealers, Importers, and Factories. Let’s Face It!” The Motorcyclist, August 1947, 8.

[12] “Let’s Take Inventory,” pg. 11 and The Motorcyclist, August, 1947, 8.


[14] “The City of Riverside Reports,” The Motorcyclist, August 1948, 37.

[15] “REGARDLESS OF WHAT YOUHAVE HEARD,” The Motorcyclist, July 1948, 14.

[16] “The City of Riverside Reports,” The Motorcyclist, August 1948, 37.

[17] “Best Wheel Forward AMA Theme,” American Motorcyclist, February 1961, 15.

[18] “Letters to the Editor, The Hollister Free Lance, July 7, 1947, 4.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] See for example “Motorcyclists May Return For Race This Fall,” Hollister Free Lance, July 16, 1947, 1.

[22] John Dorrance, “Forty Hours in Hollister,” Cycle, August 1987, 87.

[23] Ibid.

[24] “Cyclists Face Bar Of Justice During Three-Day Meeting, Hollister Free Lance, July 7, 1; for terms used to described motorcyclists see also “Battle of Hollister Ends as Wild, Celebrating Motorcyclists Leave City,” Hollister Free Lance, July 7, 1947, 1; “County Jail Jammed With Law-Breakers: Night Court Held,” Hollister Free Lance, July 5, 1947,1.

[25] C. J. Doughty Jr., San Francisco Chronicle, July 6, 1947, 1, 11.

[26] “The City of Riverside Reports,” The Motorcyclist, August 1948, pg. 36.

[27] “County Jail Jammed with Law-Breakers; Night Court Held, Hollister Free Lance, July 5, 1947, 1; see also “Battle of Hollister Ends as Wild, Celebrating Motorcyclists Leave City,” Hollister Free Lance, July 7, 1947, 1.

[28] Higbie, Indispensable Outcasts, 5, 12-13. Higbie notes a number of different terms used to describe hobo workers.

[29] Ibid.

[30] John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (New York: Penguin Classics; Reissue Edition, 2006); for histories of the Dust Bowl see Paul Matthew Bonnifield, The Dust Bowl: Men, Dirt, and Depression (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1979); James Gregory, American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California (New York: Oxford University press, 1989); Charles Shindo, Dust Bowl Migrants in the American Imagination (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997); Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of those Who Survived the Great American Dustbowl (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006);

[31] Eric Avila, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).

[32] On the larger history of migrants or itinerants see Ruth Wallis Herndon, Unwelcome Americans: Living on the Margin in Early New England (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania University Press, 2001); John McCurdy, Citizen Bachelor: Manhood and the Creation of the United States (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 2009); Howard P. Chudacoff, The Age of the Bachelor (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000)

[33] Higbie, Indispensable Outcasts, pg.

[34] Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic Books).

[35] Taylor, “Scary Memories of a Bikers’ Holiday”; C. J. Doughty Jr., San Francisco Chronicle, July 6, 1947, 1, 1; for an excellent example of public sexuality see Josh Sides, Erotic City: Sexual Revolutions and the Making of Modern San Francisco (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

[36] “Regardless Of What You Have Read Or Heard, Here’s The Truth About Riverside,” The Motorcyclist, July 1948, 14.

[37] “Clubs Go Into Action!,” American Motorcycling, September 9, 1947, pg. 9, 32; other complaints about “boulevard cowboys,” see “Don’t Judge All By One,” American Motorcycling, October 1949, pg. 7; see also “Take it Easy Fella! Play it Safe,” June 1949 The Motorcyclist, p. 21 “O.K. Fellas and Girls, Don’t Let Your Sport Down By Noisy, Reckless Motorcycling,” March 1949, pg. 17; “Ride Safely and Live,” October 1949, The Motorcyclist, p. 21; “Take it Easy Fella! Play it Safe,” The Motorcyclist, June 1949, pg. 21; “All Eyes are on Cyclists,” American Motorcycling, August 1949, p. 7; see also “We Lead With Our Chin,” The Motorcyclist, October 1947, pg. 19 for other complaints about the motorcycle daredevils.

[38] Hal Burton, “Most Unpopular Men On the Road,” Saturday Evening Post, vol. 227, September 25, 1954, 32.

[39] Clubs Go Into Action!,” American Motorcycling, September 9, 1947, 9, 32; other complaints about “boulevard cowboys,” see “Don’t Judge All By One,” American Motorcycling, October 1949, 7; see also “Take it Easy Fella! Play it Safe,” June 1949 The Motorcyclist, 21 “O.K. Fellas and Girls, Don’t Let Your Sport Down By Noisy, Reckless Motorcycling,” March 1949, 17; “Ride Safely and Live,” October 1949, The Motorcyclist, 21; “Take it Easy Fella! Play it Safe,” The Motorcyclist, June 1949, 21; “All Eyes are on Cyclists,” American Motorcycling, August 1949, 7; for other complaints about daredevils see “We Lead With Our Chin,” The Motorcyclist, October 1947, 19

[40] For an excellent look at the uses of sound and noise see Clare Corbould, Streets, Sounds and Identity in Interwar Harley, Journal of Social History, Volume 40, Number 4, Number 2007, 859-894; see also Emily Ann Thompson, The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933 (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2002); on early efforts at regulation see “One Road Leads To A Promised Land,” American Motorcycling, October 1948, 7; mention of restrictions are also found in “Quoting a Friend,” American Motorcycling, February 1947, 5; at Laconia in 1948 noisy pipes could lead to the authorities impounding the motorcycle and depending upon the violation the state’s Commissioner of Motor Vehicles could in turn deny “the right of the offender to operate in this state for a period of 10 to 30 days. . “ see “We’re Welcome At Laconia But ‘Pipes’ Are Banned,” American Motorcycling, May 1949, 22

[41] See “Battle of Hollister Ends as Wild, Celebrating Motorcyclists Leave City,” Hollister Free Lance, July 7, 1947, 1.; also “Motorcyclists Put Town In An Uproar,” The New York Times, 19.

[42] The Press and Radio Rub Salt ‘Riverside’ Brand in The Hollister Wound,” The Motorcyclist, October 1947, 17.

[43] Susan Bordo, The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000), 134; Streetcar Named Desire, Elia Kazan, 1951, Warner Bros. Pictures.

[44] Christine Stansell, City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 90; Robin D. G. Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class, (New York: Free Press, 1996), 161-182; Kathy Peiss, Zoot Suit: The Enigmatic Career of an Extreme Style, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).

[45] Robin Kelley, “‘We Are Not What We Seem’: Rethinking Black Working-Class Opposition in the Jim Crow South,” Journal of American History, Vol. 80, No. 1 (June, 1993), 75-112.

[46] The Wild One, 1953, Laszlo Benedek, Columbia Pictures

[47] For a general history of labor in the 1940s and 1950s see George Lipsitz, Rainbow at Midnight: Labor and Culture in the 1940s, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994);

[48] The most detailed description of the use (and misuse of the picture) is Brock Yates, Outlaw Machine,17-20. The picture was taken by Barney Peterson. According to Yates Jerry Smith of Coos Bay, Oregon investigated the photograph and two others taken by Peterson of Davenport on the bike. In one of the photographs the beer bottles are standing upright and in the one published in Life they are scattered about the ground. Smith and historian Daniel Corral also interviewed Gus DeSerpa who was at the rally and who confirmed that the picture was posed.

[49] On the different types of handlebar styles during this time see “The Story of the Three Bars,” Cycle, October 1951,14-15, 32.

[50] On images of working men before and after World War II see Joshua Freeman, Hardhats: Construction Workers, Manliness, and the 1970 Pro-War Demonstrations, Journal of Social History, Vol. 26, No. 4(Summer, 1993), 728-730; on images of farmers see Anita Price David, North Carolina During the Great Depression: A Documentary Portrait of a Decade, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2003); Constance B. Schulz, Michigan Remembered: Photographs from the Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information, 1936-1943, (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2001).

[51] “Editor’s Viewpoint,” Cycle, June 1950, 4.

[52] “Mail Pouch,” Cycle, March 1954, 7.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ed Youngblood, “The Birth of the Dirt Bike: Technology and the Shift in Attitude toward American Motorcyclists in the 1970s,” International Journal of Motorcycle Studies, July 2007, appended to http://ijms.nova.edu.

[55] “Motorcycling—California Style,” The Motorcyclist, September 1949, 20, 26.

[56] “The Press and Radio Rub Salt ‘Riverside’ Brand in The Hollister Wound,” The Motorcyclist, October 1947, 17.

[57] For a discussion of lightweights before the war see Fred Woll, “A Lightweight Sales Manager Sounds Off, The Motorcyclist, August 1951, 14-15, 29; see also “Publisher’s Page,” The Motorcyclist, January 1948, 7; for examples of riders talking about their British bikes before Hollister see “Bench Racing,” The Motorcyclist, February 1947, 19; “letters,” The Motorcyclist, June 1947,3; on the tariff see Michael Emmett, “Lightweights and the American Market,” The Motorcyclist, November 1954, 6-7.

[58] Easyriders, June 1971, 22.

[59] For the use of the term “croutching forward” see “Rider Writings,” Cycle 1952, 6.

[60] “A limey wants to know,” Cycle, November 1952, 28.

[61] “Rider Writings,” Cycle December 1952, 6.

Image Attributions
[Fig.1] “Cyclist’s Holiday: He and Friends Terrorize Town,” Life magazine, July 21, 1947, 31.

Randy D. McBee is an associate professor of history at Texas Tech University where he teaches courses in recent U.S. history and U.S. social, urban, and labor history. He is the author of Born to Be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist, which will be published July 2015 with the University of North Carolina Press.  He is also the author of Dance Hall Days: Intimacy and Leisure Among Working Class Immigrants in the United States (New York University Press, 2000).

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One Comment

  1. A frequently parallel is drawn between American motorcyclists and the relatively brief Wild West culture. I don’t recall how many films I have seen where the baddies take over the town and threaten Civilization As We Know It – until, because of the gutlessness of the citizens, Order and Righteousness are restored by the Outsider(s). How different is The Wild One from these.
    Regards, Trevor

    P.S. Because of his slouch, why isn’t John Wayne looked on as a bum?

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