Harley-Davidson in Pyongyang

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Harley-Davidson and Pyongyang are not names that go together naturally, to put it lightly.  Nevertheless, Harley-Davidson has a long history there, pre-dating the current regime by several decades, proven by long-forgotten photographs unexpectedly found in the archives of the Methodist Church.  They were there because the Americans who lived in Pyongyang brought with them a few of the motor vehicles that were becoming increasingly common back in the United States in the 1900s and 1910s.  The Ford Model T, early Harley-Davidsons, and other American icons arrived in small numbers for use on occasions when people needed to move through the countryside around Pyongyang.

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The Foundation and End of American Pyongyang, 1895-1942


1. 1933 American Mission Annual Meeting cropped1933 Pyengyang (old spelling) mission group photo in front of Pyongyang Foreign School

An American community lived and thrived in Pyongyang for 47 years, from 1895 to 1942, numbering in the hundreds at its peak and leading the largest Christian community on the mainland of Asia. Their mission occupied a prominent location in the center of Pyongyang, then and now, and was home to the first university in Korea, schools for all ages, the city’s leading church, its first hospital, and a school for foreigners that was a magnet for Americans, British, Canadians, Australians, and others from Korea, China, Japan, and elsewhere in Asia. “The Jerusalem of the East” was its nickname for being the Asia-wide center of the Presbyterian Church, then and now the largest in Korea. Yet it was quickly forgotten during the Second World War and disappeared into complete obscurity, as Pyongyang became known to Americans solely as the capital of the North Korean state.

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American Pyongyang — The Hidden History of Americans in Korea

This webpage with an incongruous name has the purpose of publicizing the long-hidden history of Americans in the city that today is the capital of North Korea.  In early 2017, after the fortuitous discovery of part of the story and years of tracking down forgotten records and surviving individuals, I published two books about the subject: Project Eagle: The American Christians of North Korea in World War II, a history of the American presence in Korea before World War II and the wartime combined intelligence operation that grew out of it, and American Pyongyang: The American Christian Community of the North Korean Capital, 1895-1942, a photographic history of the American community of Pyongyang using some of the hundreds of period photos that I could not use in Project Eagle.  Books being limited in how many people they can reach, and having far more material to relate and no place to publish all of it, I decided to start this blog.

In the months to come, I will be presenting bite-sized and heavily illustrated vignettes of themes from the two books, along with additional items that did not fit in them but which I expect will be interesting even to many who have no interest in Korea.  Hockey fans, Harley-Davidson enthusiasts, and others will find stories here that will make them look at their own interests in a different light.  All told, it should make even experts on Korea see North Korea and the American relationship to it differently.

Catalog - Project Eagle