Around the turn of the century the gasoline engine was developed and the one-cylinder motor was introduced. Soon after the legend that is the Harley-Davidson motorcycle was born in 1903 in Milwaukee. William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson developed a one-cylinder motorcycle. It was dependable and at the same time a work of art. By 1905, they were producing 11 motorcycles a year, and in 1908 it went up to 154 and very quickly they realized they had a built a great company out of a little wooden barn, that was build by Davidson’s father. The small company grew quickly and ,Walter, another member of the Davidson family joined them. Before they new it they had hired 6 employees in an specially built stone factory measuring 28 x 80 feet. It was built on the Chestnut St. site, later renamed Juneau Avenue.
In 1907, William A. Davidson, brother to Arthur and Walter Davidson, quits his job as tool foreman for the Milwaukee Road railroad and joins the Motor Company.On September 17th 1907, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company is incorporated. The stock is split four ways between the four founders, and staff size has more than doubled from the previous year to eighteen employees. Factory size is doubled as well. Dealer recruitment begins, targeting the New England region.
In 1908 Walter Davidson scores a perfect 1,000 points at the 7th Annual Federation of American Motorcyclists Endurance and Reliability Contest. Three days after the contest, Walter sets the FAM economy record at 188.234 miles per gallon. Word of Harley-Davidson’s extremely tough motorcycle spreads rapidly. They also delivered the first motorcycle sold for police duty to the Detroit, Michigan Police Department. In 1909 the now 6 year-old Harley Davidson Motor Company introduces its first V-twin powered motorcycle. With a displacement of 49.5 cubic inches, the bike produces seven horsepower. The image of two cylinders in a 45-degree configuration would quickly become one of the most enduring icons of Harley Davidson history. Also available for the first time from the Motor Company are spare parts for motorcycles.
1910 was a benchmark year for the Harley Davidson company. The famed Bar and Shield logo is used for the first time. It is trademarked at the U.S. Patent office one year later. They added at least seven different first place finishes to the record all of which are captured at races, endurance contests and hill climbs across America. All seven winners are riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles. By 1912 construction began on what will become the six story headquarters and main factory building at Juneau Ave. in Milwaukee. A separate Parts and Accessories Department is formed. Harley Davidson exports its first motorcycles to Japan, marking the first ever sales outside of the U.S. Dealer network grows to over 200 nationwide.
The next 7 years of growth and development was vast and included the development of the side car, the racing division of HD, 3 speed transmissions, the use of HD motorcycles by the military(almost half of all bikes produced in 1917-1918), and the 37 cubic inch opposed twin cylinder Sport model.
By 1920, Harley-Davidson is the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. New Harley Davidson motorcycles can be purchased from over 2,000 dealers in 67 countries worldwide. The 1920’s also saw the first front wheel brakes, the modern teardrop gas tank design, and in 1929 the 45 cubic inch V-twin engine, later to be known as the flathead, is introduced on the D model.
As the 1930’s saw the end of all but two American motorcycle companies, HD and Indian, Harley created the birth of the Japanese bike as a result of their licensing of blueprints, tools, dies and machinery to the Sankyo Company of Japan. The result is the Rikuo motorcycle. The Harley bikes won many more races and in 1938 on the 3.2 mile beach course at Daytona Florida, Ben Campanale wins the first of two consecutive victories at the Daytona 200 on a Harley-Davidson WLDR. 1938 also saw the first Black Hills Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.
The 1940’s saw WWII, a new factory, the introduction of the classic leather motorcycle jacket, and the first hydraulic front forks appear on the new Hydra-Glide models. The 1950’s however, saw 18 of 24 national championships and 6 new racing records from the Harley, followed by the 50th anniversary where an attractive logo is created, depicting a “V” in honor of the engine which had brought the company so far, with a bar overlaid reading Harley-Davidson and the words, “50 years American made.” A medallion version of this logo is placed on the front fenders of the 1954 models.
In 1962, Harley-Davidson purchases 60 percent of the stock in the Tomahawk Boat Manufacturing Company. Harley Davidson recognizes the rising relevance of fiberglass in motorcycle production, and begins manufacturing its own components. As a result, the Tomahawk Division is established and is operational as a Harley-Davidson facility by 1963. In 1964 the three-wheeled Servi-Car becomes the very first Harley-Davidson motorcycle to receive an electric starter, followed by the Electra-Glide which replaces the Duo-Glide and they add an electric starter. The Electra-Glide is the first FL available with electric start, and the Sportster line would receive electric starters soon after. 1966 sees the birth of the first “Shovelhead”. The new engine is introduced on the Electra-Glide models, replacing the Panhead.
The 1970’s saw more rapid growth and motorcycle production is upgraded when all assembly operations are moved to a modern 400,000 square foot plant in York, Penn. All other production operations remain in Milwaukee and Tomahawk. The Capitol Drive plant in Milwaukee begins production of engines. The late 70’s saw the birth of the Low-Rider and the Fat-Bob bikes.
The 1980’s brought the kevlar belt drive to the Harley and the end of the chain drive. 1983 saw one of Harley-Davidson’s most unique endeavors, the Harley Owners Group. Fondly referred to as H.O.G., the group immediately becomes the largest factory-sponsored motorcycle club in the world. Within six years, H.O.G. membership soars to more than 90,000. By the year 2000, it exceeds 500,000 members. In 1984 the 1340cc V² Evolution engine is unveiled on five models including the all-new Softail. The result of seven years of development, the Evolution engine produces more power at every speed, runs cooler, cleaner and is oil-tight. Also witnessed is the debut of the Softail design and its trend-setting method of hiding the motorcycle’s rear shock absorbers. The Heritage Softail is also born and quickly becomes a top seller.
The 1990’s saw its share of new products starting with the Fatboy which almost instantaneously becomes a modern legend of motorcycle design. The Dyna line of motorcycles debuts with the 1991 FXDB Dyna Glide Sturgis and in 1993 the Harley Davidson Motor company celebrates the 90th Anniversary in Milwaukee with a Family Reunion. An estimated 100,000 people ride in a parade of motorcycles. 1994 brings the classically-styled FLHR Road King and in 1994 the 30th Anniversary Ultra Classic Electra Glide becomes the first production Harley-Davidson motorcycle to include sequential port electronic fuel injection. An with the anniversary in 1998 Harley-Davidson celebrates its 95th. 140,000 plus riders are warmly received by Milwaukee to help with the celebration.
With almost a century of history under the belt Harley Davidson moved in to the year 2000 with no worries and celebrated the 100th anniversary with millions worldwide. More than 250,000 people come to Milwaukee for the final stop of the Open Road Tour and the Harley-Davidson 100th Anniversary Celebration and Party. 2006 saw the first of the 6-speed transmissions on a Harley as they are made available on 2006 model year Dyna motorcycles.
With so much history and lots of legendary knowledge, todays Harley Davidson Motor Company makes all kinds of apparel, like helmets, clothing, Harley Davidson Boots, toys, furniture, and much much more.