Before Harley-Davidson’s first Fat Boy motorcycle rolled off the assembly line in York, Pennsylvania, in 1990, a growing rumor about its name said the new bike—and its fans—had a bad attitude about foreign competition.
The Fat Boy name came out of a “brainstorming session” of Harley employees, according to Martin Jack Rosenblum, historian emeritus for Harley-Davidson. The bike had a “massive appearance” and the name was a “poetic way to describe the enormity of the machine.” Harley made a bike with a similar name, Fat Bob, from 1979 to 1982.
According to some, “Fat Boy” is the alleged combination of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” names of the atomic bombs dropped by United States on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, bringing an end to World War II.
The Fat Boy came to market in an era when Harley-Davidson faced stiff competition from Japanese rivals. Patriotism ran high among loyal Harley owners. The Fat Boys’ retro style satisfied a growing taste for nostalgic motorcycle design.
Believers of the bomb story point to the appearance of the first Fat Boy—medium-gray gas tank and fenders, school-bus-yellow trim and a winged logo suggesting a pilot’s insignia. The Enola Gay, a B29 bomber that dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima, was a silver plane with yellow tips on its black propellers.
Saying the Fat Boy was designed to diss Japanese competitors is “one of those urban legends, completely false,” says Rosenblum. When the legend came to light, Rosenblum says, “everyone (in the corporate office) was shocked.”