History of Harley Davidson

The first Harley-Davidson motorcycle was not made by accident. In 1902, a 21-year-old man by the name of William S. Harley created a design for a one-cylinder motorcycle. A year later in 1903, he partnered up with 20-year-old Arthur Davidson to assemble the first Harley-Davidson Motorcycle.

Harley-Davidson's first real transaction came courtesy of Henry Meyer, a friend of Harley and Davidson from school. He bought one of the racing motorcycles they two had built. This sparked the beginning of over a hundred years of striving business. They had no idea that some years later, the business they started would be worth millions of dollars, with thousands of employees, and millions of riders.

The first Harley-Davidson motorcycles were built in a 10 by 15 foot wooden shack. It had "Harley-Davidson Motor Company" carved into the wooden door.

Later in 1903, Arthur's brother Walter joined the two founders in the new business. This turned out to be a good decision for all three young men. Towards the end of 1903, the first Harley-Davidson dealer opened in Chicago, Illinois and made its first sale.

The first Harley-Davidson was made with the intention of being a racing machine. It was powered with a one-cylinder combustion engine. The first year of selling motorcycles, Harley-Davidson produced eleven which sold rather quickly.

In 1905, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle wins a race, and the first real full-time employee joins the company. 1908 was a landmark year for Harley, with their first addition to a police department in Detroit. Toward the end of the decade in 1909, Harley-Davidson introduced their first V-twin powered motorcycle. It had 7 horsepower, and became wildly popular.

In 1910, the infamous "Bar and Shield" logo that makes Harley-Davidsons famous was created.

Even today, every Harley bears the logo that has made them famous. The F-Head engine was introduced in 1911 and would become the engine of choice for Harley-Davidson until 1929. The year 1912 brought more expansion with the building of a six-story factory. The famous sidecars for Harleys are made available in 1914.

Three years later, Harley-Davidson Motor Company partnered with the U.S. Military to aid in the war. Nearly one third of all motorcycles produced in 1917 were sent over to the war. Over 20,000 motorcycles were used by the military by the end of World War I. A year later, the motorcycles sent to the military goes up to almost half of all those produced that year. Almost all of them were produced by Harley-Davidson Motor Company.

The growth of Harley-Davidson Motor Company was not mistake. By 1920, Harley-Davidson was the most popular motorcycle producer in the world. They had just about 2000 separate dealers in 67 different countries. Leslie Parkhurst used a Harley-Davidson to break 23 different speed records in that year as well. In 1925, the gas tanks that are seen on Harley-Davidson motorcycles today are created. The teardrop shape gas tanks quickly take off, and all Harleys after that follow suit. Also that year Joe Petrali started racing for Harley-Davidson. He would become one of the best Harley dirt-track racers of all time. 1926 brings a year of backtracking. Harley-Davidson decides to bring back single cylinder engines for the first time since 1918.

Side and Overhead valve configurations are offered by the company.

The first time dual cam engines are offered to the public was in 1928. They were available in the JD series of motorcycles. This bike was capable of reaching speeds from 85 all the way to 100 miles per hour. The definition of reliability came in 1929 with the release of the 45 cubic inch V-twin engine. Also known as the flat head, it was so reliable that it was even available all the way up to the year 1973. This is a big accomplishment for the company started in a 10 by 15 foot shack.

The world of racing rang in 1930 when Bill Davidson, Jr. won the Jack Pine Endurance Contest. He had a nearly perfect score of 997 out of 1,000 possible points. It turns out that every winner of that race is using a Harley-Davidson Motor Company motorcycle. All competition for Harley is gone in America, with the exception of Indian. Indian and Harley-Davidson are the only two motorcycle producers all the way through 1953. In 1932 the popular 45 cubic inch three-wheeled Servi Car begins a reign as a police car for 41 years. It was used all the way up to year 1973.

When the depression hit, Harley-Davidson had to do something to keep sales going. They decided to start putting an "eagle" graphic on all the gas tanks of all motorcycles. This was the first time that graphics are put on the motorcycles, other then special order graphics that had been ordered by different customers. This started the trend that still stands today of putting graphics on Harley-Davidsons. The "eagle" would represent the company's ability to fight the struggles of the depression. It was hard, the Harley continued to grow.

Harley-Davidson even aided its own competition in 1935 when they licensed all their machinery, blueprints, and tools to an Asian company, Sankyo. This sparked a new motorcycle industry in Japan called Rikuo. Joe Petrali continues his reign as the greatest on the dirt track by winning all thirteen of the American races.

He also breaks four of the American Motorcycle Professional Association's records in the process. This is done with a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

1936 was the year of the "knucklehead," a 41 cubic-inch engine that offered more horsepower then its previous counterparts. Later on that same year, Harley-Davidson offered a 60 cubic inch machine. Harley-Davidson was making bigger engine motorcycles, and supplying more horsepower in the process. The first WL models are offered in 1937. The excellence continues for Joe Petrali when he breaks the land speed record at 136 mph on a Harley-Davidson 61 cubic-inch overhead engine motorcycle. In Daytona, Florida, Ben Campanale wins the Daytona 200 on a 3.6 mile beach course.

World War II begins for America in 1941.This meant that motorcycle production almost went totally to military motorcycles. Civilian motorcycles stopped being made because of the high need for war vehicles. This also meant that all Harley-Davidson service shops would turn into places for military mechanics to learn the ins and outs of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The XA model begins production. It is made for the purpose of being a desert machine, but the deal is cancelled when U.S. moves out of West Africa. Only a little over a thousand of these XA's were made.

In 1943, Harley-Davidson receives an excellence award from the Army and Navy for its wartime production. They would later receive three more of these awards. The military personnel begin to like the Harley-Davidsons over seas, and this would show when they returned back home.

By 1945, World War II is over. And Harley-Davidson has supplied our military with over 90,000 land vehicles. This accounts for much of the U.S.'s hardware during the war.

Later on that year, production begins again for civilian cycles. In 1946, Harley-Davidson introduces the 45 cubic-inch flathead engine racing motorcycle. It turned out to be a real gem, known as one of the best ever made. 1947 was a good year for the company with the opening of a new production facility and the release of what would become a symbol of Harley-Davidson-the leather jacket. A Harley-Davidson motorcycle wins the first of three straight AMA Grand National Championships.

Harley-Davidson won 18 of the 24 national dirt racing championships in 1950. They also set 5 new records. Harley-Davidson was truly a dominant force in the dirt racing arena. In 1952, a side valve K model is introduced to keep up the smaller motorcycles being produced in Great Britain. This would eventually change from model K to the sportster.

The 50th anniversary of Harley-Davidson is celebrated in 1953. For the celebration, a "V" logo is created to put on the fenders of all the motorcycles made in that year. It reads "50 years-American Made." Also this year, Indian Motorcycle Company goes out of business. This makes Harley Davidson the only American motorcycle company for the next 46 years. A monopoly comparable to Microsoft.

1955 was another good year for Harley-Davidson with the start of a domination of the Daytona 200 race victories. Harley-Davidson would be responsible for the next 7 years of victory for racers. Show business even gets in on the action in 1956 when young Elvis Presley poses on the cover of the Enthusiast.

Harley-Davidson motorcycles had really hit mainstream and were growing more and more popular in America. 1957 was the year of the Sportster, a motorcycle that would become known as a "super bike." It was another tradition started that rings true even today.

In 1960, Harley-Davidson introduced the only scooter they would ever produce, the Topper. The top 14 finishers, including the winner, at the Daytona 200 are riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The year 1962, Harley-Davidson made some business decisions. They decided to buy a 60 percent share in the Tomahawk Boat Company. They understood what this industry could do for Harley, so they made a factory that became operational in 1963.

The three wheeled Servi-car is released in 1964. It is the first vehicle that Harley-Davidson has produced that has an electric starter. Records were broken in 1965 when George Roeder broke the speed record on a Streamliner with a 255 cc engine, going an average of 177 miles per hour. Bart Michael, a Harley-Davidson dirt track racer, wins the AMA's for the next two years. A "shovelhead" engine is the new replacement engine in the year 1967. In 1969, Harley-Davidson merged with a leisure product company, the American Machine and Foundry Company.

With Harley-Davidson in full force, some changes had to be made in 1970. A new Sportster, XR-750 is introduced.

It was in compliance with the new rules of the AMA. Later on that same year, Cal Ramburn set the land speed record for motor cycle on a bike with one speedster engine. He averaged over 265 miles per hour in the record-breaking run. A year later, a new type of motorcycle is released, the FX 1200. It is a cruiser motorcycle, which fit the demand of that year. This was also the year that Harley-Davidson first started to produce snowmobiles.

A new race machine is offered in 1972, the XR-750. It wins the AMA's big race that year, and also becomes the dominant dirt track bike for the next three decades. By 1973, Harley-Davidson moves it main assembly factory to a 400,000 square foot building located in York, Pennsylvania. It greatly improves the company's ability to produce motorcycles. The company pretty much has a monopoly over the motorcycle industry. Starting in 1975, Harley-Davidson wins four straight AMA Grand Dirt Track Championships. Three of those wins coming from racing legend Jay Springsteen.

In 1977, the FXS low-rider is introduced. It has drag style handle bars and a unique paint scheme. Its name fit, because it put the rider truly "lower." Two years later, the "Fat Bob" was released. The "fat" in the name is due to the two gas tanks on the bike, while the "bob" stands for the abnormal fenders that were part of the motorcycle.

In 1980, Harley-Davidson released yet another motorcycle, the FLT. The FLT included a vibration dampening system. Its engine and 5-speed transmission was bolted together. Later on that same year, a Kevlar belt replaces the chain on the main drive of ever Harley-Davidson motorcycle that was produced after that date. The AMA Grand goes yet again to a Harley-Davidson driver.

In 1981, a buyback of Harley-Davidson is completed from AMF by thirteen top level executives. Scott Parker would join Harley-Davidson's team to go on to be their most successful racer ever, with 93 victories, and 9 major titles in a 10 year span.

In 1982, Harley-Davidson got smart and implemented a Materials As Needed (MAN) plan. This said that parts and accessories were only going to be made as they were needed. This was a good decision by the company, and this greatly cut down on their production and warehouse costs.

Harley-Davidson started a new club for owners of Harleys in 1983, the Harley Owners Group. This is a place for anyone who owns a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. This group grows at tremendous rates. The firs year, there were about 90,000 members. Today, there are over 500,000 members.

In 1986, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company is traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the first time this has happened since the AMF merger years earlier. This was also the year that the famed Sportster gets the exclusive Revolution engine. 1988 brought the opening of a Harley museum, where there are memorabilia and the history of the company.

In 1990, the introduction of the FLSFT Fat Boy was a big deal. This motorcycle is considered a classic among Harley enthusiasts. In 1991, a $31 million facility was built for painting purposes in York, Pennsylvania. This helps the company grow as the need for motorcycles is at an all-time high. In 1993, Harley celebrates its 90th anniversary in Milwaukee with a family reunion parade, where an estimated 1 million Harleys are ridden. In 1995, the 30th Anniversary Ultra Classic Electra Glide is the first to introduce an electric sequential fuel injection. It was a remarkable feat for the company.

In 1997, a new state of the art distribution center is built. After it is all said and done, everything is moved to the new building which is sized at 217,000 square feet. 1998 brought some international relations when Harley built its first foreign production warehouse in Manaus, Brazil.

In the year 2000, the new feature of fuel injections is added to the softail line of motorcycles. Later that year, Harley-Davidson Motor Company introduces the Blast, a single cylinder motorcycle. The purpose of this cycle is to be for learning purposes.

In 2001, the team of Harley Davidson Racing introduced a new member to the team: a 17 year old girl name Jennifer Snyder. She was the first woman ever to win on the Formula USA Dirt Track Series. This was big news in the company, since a woman in this sport was rare, if not none existent in the past. It was certainly a pivotal moment.

Year 2003 brought the company's 100th anniversary. With over a hundred years of solid growth, Harley-Davidson can be admired as a company as well as a motorcycle producer. They have done nothing but grow over the years, and can be admired for being solid and reliable. Supplying our military with motorcycles in two wars, and supplying America with its toy ride, Harley-Davidson Motor Company is truly to be admired. Even today, Harley-Davidson is the prominent supplier of motorcycles in America. They are here to stay, and have 100 years to prove it. Whether you like motorcycles or not, one has got to admit that Harley-Davidson Motor Company is the best motorcycle company there has ever been.

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