Today, Harley Davidson is synonymous to a premium riding experience and is one of the best motorcycle manufacturers in the world. But that wasn’t always the case, back in 1901, Harley and Davidson were just names of two boys who lived in Milwaukee.
In 1901, William S. Harley drew up a blueprint for a small engine designed to be incorporated in a normal pedal-bicycle frame. With his childhood friend Arthur and his brother Walter Davidson, William finished building the motor-bicycle. But upon testing the bike’s power, Harley and the Davidson brothers found it unable to climb the hills around Milwaukee without pedal assistance.
This failure did not waver their resolve though, they wrote it off as an educational experiment and began work on something with a little more power. The second generation machine had a bigger engine and wheels, and the advanced loop-frame for which it was designed for took it out of the category of motorized bicycles and paved the way for their future motorcycle designs. Ole Evinrude, an outboard motor pioneer also helped the boys with their bigger engine.
The second generation prototype was assembled in the Davidson family backyard shed, but most of the major parts were fabricated elsewhere, probably in the west Milwaukee railshop, where the oldest Davidson brother, William, worked as a toolroom foreman. September 8th 1904 marks the first appearance of a Harley Davidson motorbike in historical records, when it competed in a motorcycle race held at the State Fair Park. It was ridden by Edward Hildebrand and came in fourth.
In 1905, small advertisements were placed in Auto journals offering only the Harley-Davidson made engines to the do-it-yourself trade. Complete motorcycles were in production in a very limited basis by the month of April. The same year, Carl H. Lang of Chicago, the first Harley Davidson dealer sold three off of the five bikes built in the Davidson backyard shed.
In 1906, Harley and the Davidson brothers built their first factory which is now Harley Davidson’s corporate headquarters on Chestnut street (now Juneau Avenue). They produced 50 motorcycles that year.
The year 1907 was a year of expansion for the company and its founders as William Harley graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in mechanical engineering that year, addtional factory expansions were made, motorcycles with the new V-Twin engine were produced and the production increased to 150 units. Additionally, William Davidson quit his job as the tool foreman in the Milwaukee railroad and joined the motor company and the company was officially incorporated in September 1907.
The company then gradually expanded even more with more and more motorcycles being produced and sold. In 1911, a new improved V-Twin engine was introduced. Harley-Davidson’s patent ‘Ful-Floeting seat’ was introduced and by the year 1913, a new five-storey factory stood where the old yellow brick factory once did.
Harley Davidson then underwent a series of ups and downs because of the wars and the great depression but because of the dedication and hard work of the people behind it, it never went out of business, sure, it got very close to going out of business but the lessons that the 4 men learnt and passed on to their successors never left and that is exactly why today, Harley Davidson is one of the best motorcycle manufacturers in the world.
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