History Of Harley Davidson – Journey To Success

Harley Davidson started their magnificent journey with the first motorized bicycle in the early 1900s through the hands of two childhood friends – William Harley and Arthur Davidson. Soon after, two more Davidson brothers joined the company. The company is based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The evolution of Harley Davidson proves that ‘Teamwork makes the dream True.’ History saw how the childhood friendship of two boys turns into the globally recognized and one of the most popular motorcycle manufacturers of all time – Harley Davidson. 

History Of Harley Davidson
History Of Harley Davidson

Who Founded Harley Davidson?

Originally founded by two friends – William Harley and Arthur Davidson, the brand is actually the result of four men – one Harley and the three Davidsons. Besides Arthur, the other two brothers are – William Davidson and Walter Davidson.

Harley and Arthur were neither motorcyclists nor racers. They just loved bicycles and were always fascinated by the idea of modifying them. This fascination was the driving force that created Harley Davidson. 

How Did Harley Davidson Climb Up The Ladder Of Success – The Journey

The journey from a childhood dream to becoming one of the leading American motorcycle manufacturers has seen its fair share of hardships and difficulties. It’s incredible that what started as a simple project in a 10-by-15-foot shed became a huge brand.

The Humble Beginning

It was William Harley who designed the first blueprint of a motorized bicycle. 1903 was when that blueprint got the identity of the first ever ‘motor bicycle.’ 

The idea behind the creation was to power the pedal bicycle using a motor. While the plan worked, it wasn’t up to par. However, it paved the way for all the motorcycles that were produced later. 

1904 was when they finally came up with the prototype motorcycle equipped with a bigger engine and presented it at the Milwaukee State Fair Park motor racing. It ranked fourth and gained people’s attention. 

Later, they produced five more bikes, and their first-ever dealer, Carl H. Lang, bought three of them in 1905. They went into the production of both motor and motorcycles.

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Growth and Expansion

1906 was an important year for Harley Davidson as they moved from the shed where their journey began and could finally afford a real factory. They hired five employees and developed the world’s first motorcycle catalog. 

The production went up to 50 motorcycles. Finally, the company was incorporated in 1907. That year, they produced 150 motorcycles. 

V-twin was the real game changer for Harley Davidson. They created their first V-twin motorcycle equipped with a 1000cc engine in 1909. 

In 1912, they finally started the construction of the main factory, with headquarters on Juneau Avenue in Milwaukee, and started exporting to Japan. They opened a racing department and started producing sidecars in 1914. 

World War I and II

Harley Davidson continued producing motorcycles during both world war I and II. This worked as a foundation of improvement and recognition worldwide.

The company delivered 20,000 motorcycles during the first world war in 1917. Many witnessed the contribution of their J models. By 1920, Harley Davidson had already spread out to 67 countries. 

1928 marks the establishment of the first two-cam engines as the company developed its JD series. 

1929 had a remarkable change as the D models got equipped with the 45 CUI V-twin engine. They introduced the EL and WL models in 1936.

During the second world war (1941-1945), Harley Davidson produced 90,000 WLA motorcycles for the US military. 

Harley Davidson received immense appreciation and two Army-Navy ‘E’ awards for their excellent contribution during the wars.

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Post-World War Era – Struggles and Revivals

Right after World War II, in 1946, Harley Davidson created the WR racing bike. In 1948, FL was introduced with the ‘Panhead’ V-twin engine. 1953 marked their 50th anniversary.

Finally, in 1957, the famous Sportster model was released. The company produced the ‘Hummer’ series and created its first scooter, Topper, in 1960. During the times of the ’60s and ’70s, Harley Davidson saw a lot of hardships. 

Magazines started criticizing them and labeling them as poor imitations of real motorcycles. 

The company created the FL, FX 1200 Super Glides, XR-750, FXS Low Rider, and FXEF Fat Bob during that time. 

Harley Davidson pushed through a time of struggle and came up with the new Super Glide in 1982. A year later, the Harley Owners Group was created. 1984 witnessed the release of the first 1340 cc V Evolution engine. 

The company introduced FLSTF Fat Boy in 1990 and debuted the Dyna line in 1991. 

The VR 1000 appeared in 1994 as Harley Davidson entered the AMA superbike championship. The Touring and Dyna lines received the new twin cam 88 in 1999.

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Modern Era

Harley Davidson welcomed the new century with the FXSTD Softail Deuce. 2001 greeted the VRSCA V-Rod. The company celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2003.

Harley Davidson came up with a lower profile touring motorcycle, FLHZ/I Street Glide, in 2006. In 2007, the big twin motor got upgraded to twin cam 96, and a new model, the Dyna Street Bob, was introduced.

The company signed an agreement with the MV Agusta Group in 2008. The ABS (anti-lock braking system) was added to many models. 

In 2009, Harley introduced the new twin-cam 103 engine. The models went through a lot of changes and redesigning.

During that time, the company faced the impact of the global financial crisis. Harley Davidson focused on expanding its presence in international markets and launched the ‘Project Rushmore’ initiative in 2011-2013. 

In 2014, Harley Davidson introduced a budget-friendly motorcycle, the XG Street, targeting the younger generation. The brand launched the Livewire, the first electric vehicle, in 2019. 

From 2019 and upward, the company focused on improving and upgrading electric motorcycles. Harley-Davidson has managed to come a long way since its modest beginnings. 

The company always remained strong and continued to improve and innovate. Their sole and constant focus was to enhance the quality of their products through hard work.

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Harley Davidson Models Over The Years

Harley-Davidson became an iconic American brand, celebrated for its commitment to producing top-notch motorcycles. Following is a table showing Harley Davidson models over the years. 

Harley Davidson ModelsProduction StartProduction End
Road Glide 1995Present 
Low Rider1976Present
Fat Boy1990Present
Street Glide 1984Present
Road King19942016
Street Bob2005Present
Trike 2008Present
Fat Bob2007Present
Sport Glide1982Present
Pan America2021Present
SUPERLOW 2017Present
Electra Glide19652021
Wide Glide 19972017
Firefighter 20012013
Super Glide19702013
Peace Officer 20022013
VR 100019941995
Tour Glide 19811987
Nova 19801981
Sportster Streamliner 19701971

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Harley Davidson is one of the most famous and leading motorcycle companies in America till now. Now that we discussed the brief history of Harley Davidson let’s look at some frequently asked questions. 

Is Harley Davidson Still A Family-Owned Company?

No, Harley Davidson is no longer a family-owned company. A single person or corporation does not own it. Today’s Harley Davidson is a publicly traded company with a diverse group of shareholders.

Where Did The Nickname ‘Hog’ Come From?

Harley Davidson is often associated with the nickname ‘hog.’ There are several theories regarding the source of this name. Some say it’s short for ‘Harley Owners Group. ‘ It could also connect to the pig-like sound the bikes make or the live pig mascot that was once used. 

How Old Is Harley Davidson As A Motorcycle Manufacturer?

Harley Davidson began its journey officially in 1905. However, the company built its first motorcycle in 1903. According to that, the company reached its 120th year of success in 2023. 

Final Words

The journey of Harley Davidson started in 1903, and the company is still striving as the iconic American Motorcycle manufacturer. 

Those 120 years were not always about success but about facing and overcoming struggles. 

Years and years of devotion and passion made Harley Davidson the legend it is today.

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