1903 in Milwaukee – Bill Harley and Arthur Walter Davidson designed and developed a one-cylinder motorcycle. Around the turn of the century the gasoline engine was developed and the one-cylinder motor was introduced. In 1901 the Indians were the first motorcycles and in 1903 Mitschell, Merkel and Yale.
This motorcycle was initially built for racing and was powered by a one-cylinder gasoline combustion engine.So their one-cylinder motorcycle was complete; it was reliable and beautiful in looks. In 1905, 11 cycles in total had been made. 154 by 1908.. by this time they had an official company, in a small wooden barn which was Davidson’s father’s. Although the company was small, it grew quickly, pulling in William; another member of the Davidson family to help. Pretty soon they had over 20 employees working for them. They even upgraded to a purpose-built stone factory.
In 1909, Bill Harley started on the first 1000cc V-Twin. Producing a modest 7 horsepower; the 45-degree V-Twin would become one of the most iconic symbols of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The V-Twin stayed with Harley for a long time, and although its one of the most recognizable images of Harley-Davidson motorcycles; it wasn’t actually invented by Bill Harley.. he was just following everyone else, at the time, V-Twin motors were the tendency.
In 1910, the legendary ‘Bar & Shield’ logo was placed on every motorcycle they made; to this day being the defining symbol of the company. Winning races, endurance contests and hill climbs also contributed to the validity of the growingly popular Harley-Davidson name. 1911, the ‘F-Head’ engine is introduced which will power the workhorse until 1929.
Construction began on a new six-story factory in 1912. This is also the year that Harley became an international dealer; selling motors in Japan in addition to the now 200 dealerships that it had in the states. 1914 gave birth to the side-car for Harley. The company also reinforced their stamp on the racing world, winning numerous races and becoming known as the “Wrecking Crew.”
1915 witnessed the dawning of the three-speed sliding-gear transmission, a huge mechanical development for them. By 1917, one third of all motors were dispatched to the U.S military overseas to aid the war effort. Not long after; nearly half the motorcycles made by Harley-Davidson were being sold directly to the United States Military. Most of the motorcycles used in the war came from Harley’s factories. Harley-Davidson had now grown to be the biggest producer of motorcycles in the world with around 2,000 dealerships worldwide. They survived the depression of 1918 and carried on strong. But tough days lay ahead. Indian was still in competition with their own V-Twin motors and the price of auto-mobiles dropped as T-Ford was born.
To combat these obstacles, Harley branched out into other areas of production: focusing more time on side-cars, manufacturing parts and even working on aeroplane engines, in addition to developing their motorcycles.
With the 1920’s came changes. The appearance of the motors was altered, changes which made them more comparable to the designing of Harley’s today. One change being the identifiable tear-drop shape of the fuel tank. Single-cylinder engines were once again available in 1926, having been scrapped in 1918. In 1928, the first twin-cam engine and front wheel brakes were available on Harley-Davidson’s motors. This change brought about new heights in terms of speeds; reaching over 85mph.
The 1930’s saw more progress as record breaking and award winning motorcycles were coming straight out of the factory doors. 1932, the ‘Eagle’ design was painted on all Harley-Davidson fuel tanks and modifications were also made to the engine. Not only that but the biggest Harley ever was created, the 1340cc. Which quickly became Harley-Davidson’s trademark motor. But that’s not all.. in 1936 the Knucklehead was launched, viewed by many as the final nail in the coffin of their competitor of the time, ‘Indian.’
When war came around in the 1940’s, once again, Harley-Davidson did it’s bit. In 1941 they virtually stopped all production of civilian motorcycles, the company focused most of its efforts on the production of motors for the military. Harley-Davidson received the Army-Navy ‘E’ award for it’s contribution. November 1945, with the war over civilian production started once more. Purchasing the old A.O Smith Propeller Plant to produce engines in 1947 increased Harley-Davidson productivity. The parts were then shipped back to Juneau Avenue for final assembly. 1949 saw the introduction to hydraulic front brakes on the Hydra-Glide models.
The 1950’s brought more trouble for Harley-Davidson. This time from their friends across the Atlantic; the British owned 40% of the motorcycle industry with their Triumph. But in 1957, fortunately for Harley, they brought out the Sportster, which was the fastest Harley to date. This model was a big success, and, similarly to the British motorcycle industry of the time; Harley-Davidson stayed true to its technique, style and character. After-all it was those qualities that had made it the huge success it was.
It is now 1969.. time for change, big change. In the form of a merger with the American Machine and Foundry Company (AMF). This was extremely beneficial financially for Harley-Davidson, not only that but it also allowed them to produce on an enormous scale, a long way from the small barn from whence they came. However, with the new size and scale of production, quality suffered. The Super Glide and the SLCR Caferacer of 1970 developed a bad reputation. This poor name was unfortunately carried for a few years until Harley-Davidson brought out the new Evolution-motor in 1984; a modern motorcycle, yet still a true Harley.
The 70’s were a very progressive and productive time for Harley-Davidson. 1971 saw the birth of the Cruiser. In 1973 a move of assembly to a larger 400,000 square ft plant in York, Pennsylvania. Through 1975-9 Harley-Davidson won the AMA Grand National Championships in dirt track racing consecutively. 1977 brought the FXS Low Rider and the FLHS Electra Glide Sport to the availability of the public. All of which continued to move the company and brand towards world-wide recognition and success. The continued progress through the 70’s let to senior members of Harley-Davidson being able to buy back the company from AMF.
In 1987 Harley-Davidson introduced its ‘Buy Back Program’ which offered full trade in value on certain models within two years. In the same year the company also acquired a place on the New York Stock Exchange, allowing worldwide public trading of the companies shares and paving the way for significant financial growth. Finally on top of celebrations for its 85th anniversary, Harley-Davidson released the FXSTS Springer Softail. This was widely viewed as a modern day reincarnation of the 40’s Harleys. With it the classic biker looks and the iconic 1340cc engine symbolizing a new era of Harley-Davidson.
The Fat Boy design was introduced in the early 90’s and quickly became extremely popular. The name for which comes from the combination of the two atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima; “Fat Man” and “Little Boy.” Destined from the start to become a collectors item among motorcycle enthusiasts, and few would disagree that it achieved just that. Also in the same year construction of a 31m dollar paint facility began, finishing the following year.
In 1991, the Dyna line of Harley-Davidson’s was introduced to the market, starting with the FXDB Dyna Glide Sturgis. Now 1994 and Harley-Davidson are branching out into super-bike racing with the VR1000. Featuring an advanced duel overhead cam and liquid cooled engine, it showed that Harley wasn’t completely averse to manufacturing a race inspired sport bike.
1996 through 98 saw progress in the form of plants opening in Franklin, product development centre opening in Milwaukee and assembly operation starting in Brazil.
Today in America, Harley-Davidson owns around 62% of the market of motorcycles with 850cc or more. Is a worldwide recognised and respected brand and considered a benchmark in motorcycle manufacture.