|The History Of The Bike
The Harley Davidson Company officially began with the
completion of its first bike in 1903. Unofficially it all
began in 1901 when 21-year-old William S. Harley drew up plans
for a small engine that displaced 7.07 cubic inches and had
4-inch flywheels. He designed this engine for use on a regular
By 1903 William Harley had joined with his boyhood friend
Arthur Davidson, as well as Arthur's brother Walter. They used
the machine shop of their friend Henry Melk to complete the
prototype of their first engine-powered bike. The engine that
powered this prototype was not quite powerful enough to propel
the motored-bike up Milwaukee's modest hills without the rider
resorting to pedal power.
The first "real" Harley Davidson Motorcycle was finally
completed with additional help from another Davidson brother
named William. It had a bigger engine of 24.74 cubic inches
with 9-3/4 inch flywheels weighing 28 pounds. The new bike was
functional by September 08, 1904, and made its first
appearance in a Milwaukee motorcycle race.
The company produced three motorcycles in 1903, followed by 3
more in 1904. Production rose to 8 completed cycles in 1905,
allowing Walt Davidson to quit his job with the railroad and
become the company's first full-time employee. The Davidson's
aunt, Janice Davidson also began helping out by using her
artistic talent to letter and pinstripe the bikes, which were
painted black with gold trim.
The first Harley Davidson Motor Company factory was built in
1906 on Chestnut Street. It was a modest 40 by 60 foot single
story wooden structure. Chestnut Street was later renamed
Juneau Avenue, and though the original structure was replaced,
this location remains the Motor Company's corporate
headquarters to this day. A total of 50 motorcycles were
produced in 1906.
The following year, 1907 brought about much change for the
fledgling company. William S. Harley graduated from the
University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in mechanical
engineering. The factory was expanded and the company
officially incorporated. Production increased to 150
motorcycles in 1907.
Another monumental change that occurred in 1907 was the
completion of a prototype of a 45-degree V-Twin engine. These
engines displaced 53.68 cubic inches and produced about 7
horsepower, just about doubling the hill-climbing power of the
first singles. Production continued to increase to 450
motorcycles in 1908 followed by 1,149 in 1909.
Success continued in the years that followed. The original
factory was demolished and replaced by a new 5-story structure
of reinforced concrete and red brick. It soon grew to take up
two blocks along Juneau Avenue and around the corner on 38th
Street. During this period bikes produced by Harley Davidson
began to dominate the motorcycle racing arena and production
reached 16,284 in 1914.
World War I saw the demand for motorcycles in the military.
Harley Davidson provided over 20,000 motorcycles to military
forces during World War I. Improvements and increased
production continued after the war. The Harley Davidson Motor
Company was in fact one of only 2 American cycle manufacturers
to survive the Great Depression. The company continued to
produce machines for the military throughout World War II and
the Korean War. The Jeep then replaced it in popularity.
The Harley Davidson Motor Company is still going strong today,
despite bumps and bruises along the way. You will recognize it
on the Stock Market under the symbol HOG.