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History of Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Harley-Davidson, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

The story begins probably with the birth of William Sylvester Harley on December 29th, 1880, in Milwaukee, where a legend should be born 23 years later: the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle.

William and his friend Arthur Davidson, (February 11, 1881), were both technically interested and William additionally in technical drawing. Some years earlier, it was 1876 the gasoline engine was invented by the German Dr. Nicholaus August Otto. Mr. Gottlieb Daimler who later formed together with Karl Benz the Daimler Benz Corporation, was an assistant of Dr. Otto and built later on basis of the four-stroke cycle the first wooden motorcycle prototype – at least considered as the first motorcycle in history.

Interested in German Cars? Read our articles here: German Cars and Automobile History

Back to Milwaukee. William and Arthur were fascinated by the idea to reconstruct a bicycle to a motorcycle and together Arthur’s brother Walter who joined the team they built in 1903 their first 1-cylinder motor fitting in a restructured bicycle frame. The third Davidson brother William (October 14th, 1970) joined the team and brought in his knowledge as toolmaker and mechanic. These four are the founders of the Harley-Davidson. The called their company Harley-Davidson Motor Co. and had their headquarter and workshop in a wooden shed owned by Arthur’s father. William Harley grew into the position of the draftsman, he was talented, studied it and was a hand-on craftsman as well – the right ingredients for the success story that should follow.

In the first year they produced 3 machines, named ‘Silent Grey Fellow’, but they improved their motorcycles from year to year and their fan community grew. In 1907 they introduced the first front suspension and a 500 ccm motor. At least 150 machines were sold. In 1909 they introduced the 2-cylinder powered motor, their V-twin motor – V since the cylinders were arranged in a 45 degree angle.

In 1911 they got their logo, named the “Bar & Shield”, patented. In 1912 the start the construction of their new headquarter and main factory building in Juneau Ave, Milwaukee, were Harley-Davidson is still situated today.

During World War I nearly half of the production was sold to the army. In 1920 the goal seems to be reached: Harley-Davidson has become the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, selling to 67 countries.

Legend status became the motorcycle finally when Hollywood film makers discovered the bike for their movies. 1954 was Marlon Brando seen on it in the movie “The Wild One” and Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in the ’69 cult movie “Easy Rider” made it unforgettable.

William Harley died on September 18th, 1943, his friend Arthur Davidson on December 30th, 1950. Walter Davidson on February 7th, 1942. William Davidson died on April 21st, 1937.

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