Born in 1903, Harley Davidson has had a rather tumultuous life span. From surviving World War I and II, The Great Depression and more, Harley Davidson has weathered it all. Two friends, William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, against all odds created one of the most sought after motorcycles and established Harley Davidson as a leader in the two-wheeler industry.
As a young man of 21, William S. Harley started working on a blueprint of an engine designed to fit a bicycle in 1901. Over the next two years, with his childhood friend, Arthur Davidson, they improved their design and started working on the very first Harley Davidson. Working at machine shops in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, those boys started a revolution that would pave the way for two-wheelers in the United States.
The firstt H-D was built to be a racer and sure enough, it was soon winning races. With the establishment of the first Harley Davidson dealer in Chicago, Illinois, they soon began selling their products, starting with just three motorbikes. Word about the toughness and durability of H-Ds spread like wildfire when they broke a three day endurance and reliability contest. But it wasn’t until 1909, six years after its inception, that the iconic 45 degree V-twin air cooled engine that is associated with all H-Ds was introduced. The rest, as they say, is history.
Uncle Sam used Harley Davidson’s motorcycles during World War I when most of their production were made for the military. Their toughness and grittiness shined during the war and the first American to enter Germany after the war was riding a H-D. By 1920, Harley Davidson was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world with roughly 29,000 machines in 67 countries.
With the onset of The Great Depression, H-D’s sales dropped from 21,000 to 3000 in 1933. Unfazed by this, Harley Davidson kept producing new units. The Great Depression took a toll on the economy and only two motorcycle companies survived, the other being Indian (Hendee Motorcycles). Soon after, they took another hit in the form of World War II. Uncle Sam again demanded H-Ds and 60,000 units were produced for the use of the US military and its allies.
Harley Davidson survived 3 disasters; WWI, The Great Depression, and WWII. Seemingly with a bright future ahead, H-D hit another road block when they were purchased by American Machine and Foundry. Cheap and lower quality bikes tarnished their reputation and in 1981, 13 investors led by Vaughn Beals and Willie G. Davidson bought back the company. Soon the company started generating sales. Their reputation was back on track and after such a turbulent voyage, Harley Davidson is still going strong; they celebrated their 115th anniversary in 2018.
“The Eagle Soars Alone,” Harley Davidson’s most famous tagline, is a nod to H-Ds stormy ride through history. The epitome of American credibility and durability, H-D has deep roots in American history. Millions of riders and onlookers all over the world are drawn towards their iconic “potato potato” revs.