Over 100 Years of Harley Davidson
In 1903, the same year Henry Ford incorporated the Ford Motor Company and the Wright brothers first flew, William Harley and his friends Arthur and Walter Davidson launched the Harley-Davidson Motor Company. They gave their bike a quality engine, so it could prove itself in races, but planned to manufacture it as a transport vehicle.
So what's happened since then?
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In 1903, the same year Henry Ford incorporated the Ford Motor Company and the Wright brothers first flew, William Harley and his friends Arthur and Walter Davidson launched the Harley-Davidson Motor Company.
They gave their bike a quality engine, so it could prove itself in races, but planned to manufacture it as a transport vehicle.
That same year the merchant, C. H. Lange, sold the first officially distributed Harley-Davidson in Chicago, a city given to "motoracing" and auto-touring. Another of the Davidson brothers, William, joined the company, which soon burst the seams of its first manufacturing center and, by 1906, had to move to larger quarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Man On Motorcycle
Between 1910 and 1930
Library Of Congress Prints and Photographs
From the beginning the Harley-Davidson motorcycle began to set records. In 1908, for example, the Harley achieved a record 188.234 miles per gallon.
It captured seven first place finishes in 1910 motorcycle racing, and, by 1912 claimed 200 U.S. distributors. A sturdy Harley-Davidson Sidecar won the first annual Pike's Peak race in 1916, and another bike claimed first in the 1922 Adelaide to Melbourne South Australia race.
By the 1960s "the hog," as it affectionately came to be called, scored seven consecutive victories at the Daytona 200. During the next decade the Harley took four consecutive wins at the AMA Grand National Championships and broke the world motorcycle record for land speed.
Smashing The Record
Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated
April 13, 1922.
Library Of Congress General Collections
Not The First
The Harley-Davidson came to be America's most recognized motorcycle, but it was not the first. Howard Roper developed a coal powered steam-engine motorcycle in 1867 and Gottlieb Daimler, a German, developed a gas-powered motorcycle in 1885, which he attached to a wooden bike.
That marked the moment in history when the dual development of a viable gas-powered engine and the modern bicycle collided.
Turn of the nineteenth century inventors who worked with both the engine and the bicycle chose to follow one of three paths. Daimler, for example, went on to develop automobiles, the Wright brothers left their bike shop to fly airplanes, and men like Harley and the Davidsons developed motorcycles. Their business competitors were other new start-up companies such as Excelsior, Indian, Pierce, Merkel, Schickel and Thor.
Bring A Friend
Jimmy Murphy, winner of 500-mile auto race at Indianapolis, Ind., May 30, 1922, and Ernie Olson, mechanic, seated on Harley-Davidson motorcycle and in sidecar
Library Of Congress Prints And Photographs
From the beginning a unique and characteristic sound endeared the Harley-Davidson to its owners. The Harley's pistons connected to its crankshaft in a way that caused the motor to give two "pops" then a quiet pause as it hummed along the road.
Yet around that constant sound, other things evolved and changed: a 45 degree V-twin motor was introduced in 1909, the "Bar and Shield" logo in 1910, and the teardrop-shaped gas tank in the 1920s.
In the 1930's an "eagle" design was placed on those tanks and the famous "Knucklehead" engine was introduced. At a time the Harley became widely used as both a police and a commercial vehicle, the company even manufactured sidecars and sported motorbikes built for two.
Hold It Right There!
Jayne Mansfield, posed as motorcycle cop "Miss Traffic Stopper," ticketing male driver
Library Of Congress Prints and Photographs
For the most part, however, Harley-Davidsons, like all motorcycles, are enjoyed by individuals and groups who find biking a wonderful way to get where they are going.
Who in on-the-road-America has not seen bikers tooling along the highway whether on a Fall outing, in a parade, making a statement, or raising money for charity? Indeed, the Harley-Davidson company prides itself on the money it has raised for charity during the last quarter century, with the help of its customers and dealers.