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Harley Davidson History – Where It All Began
The Harley Davidson Company has over 100 years of history. It started in 1901 when William S Harley, Walter Davidson and Arthur Davidson engineered their first motorcycle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA in the back of the Davidson’s family back yard. What began as a modest and small motorcycle company has grown into the multinational global top 100 brand it is today. This huge achievement has many stories, developments and tales which show how the Harley Davidson Company has evolved over the years and lots of these are noted below. For additional information please navigate around our website from the Index page. The racing achievements of Harley Davidson can be found on our Harley Davidson Racing History page – please take a look afterwards!
Harley Davidson History – 1903 To 1908
In 1903, the first Harley Davidson motorcycle was produced and made available to the public and a friend by the name of Henry Meyer purchased one of the 1903 models. In 1904, the first Harley Davidson dealership opened in Chicago and sold a further model from the original three produced. By 1906 a new factory was built (in Chestnut St, which later was renamed Juneau Ave) and staff head count was increased to six personnel. In 1907, William A Davidson (brother to Arthur & Walter) joined the company and in September that year the Company was incorporated. The head count grew to 18 personnel and the factory was also increased in size to house additional motorcycle demand. During 1908 it was recorded that the first Harley Davidson motorcycle was sold to the Detroit PD for police duty (something that became a large revenue stream going forward).
Harley Davidson History – 1909 To 1913
By 1909, the first V Twin powered motorcycle was introduced by the Harley Davidson Company, producing a whopping 7hp (horse-power), not knowing that this 45 degree two cylinder engine was destined to global fame and to end up an iconic emblem of US motorcycle history. In 1910, the famous ‘Bar & Shield’ logo was made public and by 1911 it was trade marked at the US patent office. Also that year the ‘F-Head’ (not to be mistaken for the ‘Flathead’) engine was introduced to all Harley Davidson motor cycles (and used through to 1929). In 1912, the construction began on the Harley Davidson 6 storey HQ (on the same site) in Milwaukee. This year also saw the first ever exported Harley Davidson motorcycles to Japan. Following numerous racing awards, it was in 1913 that the Harley Davidson racing department was created, with William Ottaway acting as Assistant Racing Engineer to William S Harley (Head Engineer). 1913 also saw the first ‘Forecar’ delivery van introduced to the market.
In 1914, the Harley Davidson Company made sidecars available for their bikes, plus motorcycle pedals for both the brake and clutch on all F-head single and twins. 1915 saw the introduction of three speed gear transmissions with the primary and final drive situated on the same side of the bike. Jump forward to 1917 and approximately 1/3 of all Harley Davidson motorcycles produced were bought by the United States Military, plus the Company began selling bicycles. By 1918, approximately half of the Harley Davidson motorcycle line was produced solely for use in WWI by the US Army. In 1919 Harley Davidson introduced a popular 37 cubic inch twin cylinder sport model to the market and by 1920 the Harley Davidson Company became the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world (less than 20 years from when the Company began). By 1920 it was also clear how Harley Davidson had achieved huge global expansion, with a recorded 2000 dealerships in 67 different countries.
In 1922, Harley Davidson introduced their 74 cubic inch V Twin engine. Jump forward to 1925 and all Harley Davidson models were given the famous teardrop shaped fuel tanks, something that set the appearance for many years to come. The following year in 1926, Harley Davidson started selling single cylinder bikes again for the first time in eight years, with models A, AA, B and BA. During 1928, the JD series of motorcycles were given the two cam engine, allowing speeds of up to 100 mph. The Harley Davidson 45 cubic inch V Twin engine was introduced in 1929 on the D model – this was later to be named the flathead engine, which proved so reliable that variations of this engine were used by Harley Davidson through to 1973. By 1931, Harley Davidson had seen off all the remaining US competitors apart from Indian (Hendee manufacturing) – both companies continued to produce motorcycles until 1953. During 1932, the 3 wheeled Servi-car was introduced. This was used both commercially and by police departments for the next 41 years.
Harley Davidson History – 1933 To 1943
In 1933, the famous Harley Davidson eagle design began being applied to all fuel tanks, to increase sales numbers during the Great Depression. Prior to this, graphics were only painted on by special custom order. In 1935, the Japanese Sankyo Company started their countrys motorcycle industry, due to Harley Davidson licensing machinery, tools and blueprints to them. As a result, the Rikuo motorcycle was born. During 1936 the Harley Davidson EL model was introduced to their line up, which boasted an OHV (over-head valve) and a 61 cubic inch engine (alterations to the style and the increased power earned the name Knucklehead). Further on that year, an 80 cubic inch engine was also launched. Five years later and the US were called upon to assist in World War II – it was in 1941 that all civilian motorcycles were halted, as the US Army needed Harley Davidsons full attention. In 1942 the Harley Davidson XA750 was produced specifically for use in desert warfare, however there were only just over a thousand made. A year later, Harley Davidson were awarded with E awards from the US Army & Navy for excellence in production during critical wars.
Harley Davidson History – 1945 To 1953
Approximately 60,000 Harley Davidson WLA motorcycles were produced in 1945 for use in Word War II, however as soon as the War ended, civilian motorcycles were back in production. By 1946 the Harley Davidson Company had introduced the 45 cubic inch Flathead WR racing bike. Two years after the War had finished, Harley Davidson began using a new Plant in Milwaukee on Capitol Drive as its machine base, where motorcycles parts were produced before being transported to Juneau Avenue for assembling. Also in 1947, Harley Davidson began selling black leather motorcycle jackets (something else that would achieve global success!). 1948 saw the introduction of the Panhead chrome rocker covers (named Panhead due to their similarity with cake pans) and the S models. The following year in 1949 the Harley Davidson Hydra Glide received hydraulic front forks for the first time and in 1952, the Harley Davidson K model was introduced to keep up with sportier bikes being imported in from the UK. Harley Davidson celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1953, the same year that the Indian (Hendee manufacturing) motorcycle company folded. This made Harley Davidson the only US motorcycle manufacturersomething that would stand for another 46 years.
Harley Davidson History – 1957 To 1971
In 1957, the Sportster was unleashed on the world featuring a 55 cubic inch OHV engine – the first of the Harley Davidson Superbikes. Rear brakes and hydraulic rear shocks appeared on the Duo Glide in 1957 for the first time, 1960 saw the Topper motor scooter introduced and 1961 saw the Sprint model launched. In 1962, the 3 wheeled Servi-Car was fitted with an electric starter – the first Harley Davidson to have one integrated. Between 1962 and 1963 Harley Davidson bought 60% of Tomahawk Boat manufacturer shares and used this acquisition to begin producing their own fibreglass components. The next Harley Davidson to have an electric starter fitted was the Electra Glide in 1965, followed shortly after by the Sportster. 1966 saw the Panhead engines being replaced by the new Shovelhead engines, introduced initially on the Electra Glides and in 1969 Harley Davidson went in to a merger with AMF (American Machine & Foundry Company), who produced leisure products. A couple years on in 1971 the Harley Davidson FX1200 Super Glide was introduced. This Cruiser bike was brought out due to the customizing rage, and boasted a sporty front with a Powertrain frame. 1971 also saw the release of Harley Davidsons snowmobile (which looks like something out of a James Bond film).
Harley Davidson History – 1977 To 1983
In 1977 the Harley Davidson FXS Low Rider was introduced, which featured exclusive paint and engine treatments, a low seat and drag style handle bars and the Caf Racer (Sportster) was announced. The Fat Bob (FXEF) was released in 1979 and the Tour Glide (FLT) in 1980. Also in 1980, belt drives replaced the previous chain drives on all models – one of the first being the FXB Sturgis (which had an 80 cubic inch engine). The FXWG Wide Glide was also introduced. In 1981, Harley Davidson and AMF split when senior staff decided to buy the Harley Davidson Company back. 1982 saw improvements to the production line, such as the ‘MAN’ (materials when needed) scheme and materials and parts were only built when demand occurred. This reduced unnecessary costs for Harley Davidson. The same year saw improvements to the FXRS and FXR Super Glide (5 speed powertrain) and Sportster models. In 1983 a tariff was placed on all large Japanese imported motorcycles (700 cc and over) – which was great news as they were major competition for Harley Davidson; however this was just for a 5 year period. 1983 also saw the coming together of HOG (Harley Owners Group) who instantly happen to become the biggest factory-sponsored motorcycle club in the world.
Harley Davidson History – 1984 To 1994
In 1984, the Evolution engine (1340cc) was introduced. This was an engine that delivered more power, was cleaner and had several years of development behind it, making it an instant hit. The same year saw the Softail range begin. 1986 saw the Harley Davidson Company float on the NYSE (New York Stock Exchange) once again and the Sportster range was given the Evolution V Twin engine. In 1987, Harley Davidson started a Buy Back Program for the XLH 883 Sportster, offering full trade in value on FL or FX models. 1988 saw the introduction of the Sportster 1200 and the Company celebrated its 85th anniversary. The Harley Davidson travelling museum started out that same year with a whole host of historic facts and memorabilia from Harley Davidson on show. The Fat Boy (FLSTF) was released in 1990, becoming an instant hit, and the Dyna range debuted in 1991 with the introduction of the Dyna Glide Sturgis (FXDB). For the 90th anniversary in 1993, over 100,000 people paraded their bikes in Milwaukee, showing the gigantic fan-base and following. Harley Davidson also bought into the Buell motorcycle company (created to build and supply sporty bikes with XL883 & 1200 engines) that year. In 1994 the FLHR Road King was released.
Harley Davidson History – 1995 To 2005
In 1995, the Ultra Classic Electra Glide received an electronic fuel injection (the first of its kind) and in 1996 a brand new Parts and Accessories Harley Davidson Plant was opened in Franklin, Wisconsin. In 1997 a new Plant in Kansas City produced its first Sportster! 1998 saw over 140,000 riders celebrate the Companys 95th anniversary in Milwaukee and a new Operations facility was opened in Manaus, Brazil (the first outside the US). Harley Davidson also bought a further 49% of shares in the Buell Company. In 1999, the Harley Davidson Touring and Dyna ranges received the new Twin Cam 88 engine. During the year 2000 the Softail Deuce was released (FXSTD), all Softail models were given the Twin Cam 88B engine and a fuel injection was revealed for Softails in the following year (2001). The V Rod (VRSCA) was released in 2002 (based on the VR1000 racing bike) and in 2003 250,000 people visit Milwaukee for Harley Davidsons 100th anniversary party. During 2004, the Sportster range received new rubber mounted engines, new frames and a wider rear tire and the Road King Custom (FLHRSI) was released. The year 2005 saw the XL883 Sportster designed with a lower seat position and new features on the Softail Deluxe (FLSTNI) and the Softail Springer Classic (FLSTSCI).
Harley Davidson History – 2006 To 2010
In 2006, the Dyna Street Bob was released (FXDBI) and all Dyna models were given a six speed transmission. The Street Glide (FLXHXI) and the XL1200 Nightster were released and Harley announced plans for its Milwaukee Museum. In 2008 the Museum opened and Harley Davidson celebrated its 105th anniversary (attracting the usual huge crowds) with famous bands such as the Foo Fighters and Bruce Springsteen performing. The Touring range was given a new frame, lower seating position and superior handling. In 2009, announcements of expansion to India were announced. A three-wheeler Tri Glide Ultra Classic (FLHTCUTG) was also released (a trike). In 2010, the Sportster XL Forty-Eight was introduced capturing the raw and muscle look of the olden days.
Harley Davidson History – A Useful Guide
Thousands of people search to find out about these iconic bikes and their accessories. Even the logo, or emblem is iconic. We hope that you have found this article on Harley Davidson History a useful guide to Harley Davidson products and merchandise. You will find that this website is a great resource, including this article on Harley Davidson History, whether you are looking to buy, sell or even rent a Harley Davidson motor cycle or purchase some products and accessories. Both men and women love this brand and the associated accessories. Common misspellings and unusual references include Herley, Horley, Hurley, Davidsan, Davidsons, Harleydavidson, Harly, Davison and of course Harleys. Harleys are simply the best motor cycles whatever they are called!