Harley-Davidson Motorcycle History. How Legendary Harley Motorcycles Originated & Developed, Since 1903. From their humble beginnings in 1903 to the recognized name they are today, the history of Harley-Davidson motorcycles is definitely the stuff legends are made of.
The dream began in 1903 for the Davidson brothers, William D., Walter and Arthur and William S. Harley in a 10’ x 15’ shed located in the Davidson’s families backyard in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Although they only built three motorcycles that year, it was enough for the Harley-Davidson Motor Company to begin its long journey.
Intoduction of the V-Twin
By 1909, Harley-Davidson had introduced the V-twin, resulting in a more powerful motorcycle and incorporating a new engine that is the company’s standard to this day. This engine had double the power of its predecessors and would go 60 miles an hour, a then-unbelievable feat. By 1911, Harley-Davidson had 150 other brands of motorcycles competing with them on the American roadway.
From Police Work to the Battlefield
Although Harley-Davidson motorcycles were already used for police work, a new use soon appeared. Harley-Davidson motorcycles soon became popular for use on the battlefield. They were the bikes used in the early 1900’s in border skirmishes with Pancho Villa and also to support the infantry in World War 1. By the time the war was over, there had been 20,000 Harley-Davidson’s put into action.
After the war, the motorcycle industry continued on with major advancements in the design of motorcycles with Harley-Davidson leading the way. Harley-Davidson won a race in 1921 thus becoming the first vehicle to win with an average speed of 100 miles per hour. In 1926, the Teardrop gas tank was introduced and in 1928 the front brake came into use.
The Great Depression and Beyond
During The Great Depression, all motorcycle manufacturers except for Harley-Davidson and Indian were devastated. By the year 1941, Harley-Davidson was called upon to build and ship more than 90,000 motorcycles for use during World War II. Harley-Davidson earned the coveted Army-Navy “E” Award for excellence in wartime production.
By 1953, Indian had closed its doors making Harley-Davidson the sole survivor in the American Motorcycle Industry. In 1957, Harley-Davidson introduced the Sportster which ushered in the era of heavy-wight motorcycles.
Harley-Davidson Offers Public Stock
In 1965, Harley-Davidson had a public stock offering ending their family ownership; by 1981 the company was bought back by 13 members of the Harley-Davidson management in a leveraged buyout from the American Machine And Foundry Company. By 1986, Harley-Davidson was again returned to public ownership.
By Harley-Davidsons 94th year, demands for Harley-Davidson motorcycles were rapidly increasing in Europe, Japan, Australia and other countries. Clearly, a major part of Harley-Davidsons future will be in the international marketplace.
Harley-Davidson, a Community Player
Without a doubt, Harley-Davidson is successful in more ways than one. Not only gave they had long standing success with their motorcycles, but they also strive to make a difference in the community.
Harley-Davidson employees are encouraged to volunteer and/or to become donors, but the buck doesn’t stop there. The entire Harley-Davidson Corporation makes charitable contributions that benefit the quality of life for people everywhere. Some of their major charitable projects include Jerry’s Kids, the United Way of Greater Milwaukee, Business Against Drunk Drivers, Boy Scout and Girl Scouts Of America , the United Performing Arts Fund, Milwaukee Public Museum and the Greater Milwaukee Education Trust, to name a few.
Harley-Davidson is also a sponsor for the Wisconsin Tour de Cure bicycle ride held annually in Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay. The ride benefits the American Diabetes Association. In addition, events are held on behalf of the ADA every year by the Harley-Davidson dealers and Harley Owners Group (HOG) chapters.
Harley-Davidson also sponsors the WINGS program. In 1983, Harley-Davidson joined forces with Milwaukee’s South Division High School and has since provided encouragement to over 600 students to stay in school and to achieve the skills they need to make a better life for themselves. Each semester between 15 to 25 students get to be a part of this program. It includes time working with a mentor/supervisor as well as an on-site classroom.
In addition to all the charitable contributions, Harley-Davidson also has celebrations of their own. Harley-Davidson is definitely an established American icon with worldwide recognition.