The Harley-Davidson Motor Company was founded in 1903 by William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Together with two other Davidson brothers, they began manufacturing a racing motorcycle that they had been designing, and soon afterward, introduced a new model which could reach a then unheard-of 60 miles per hour.
The first Harley-Davidson dealership opened in Chicago in 1904, and in 1906, the company opened a new factory. Harley-Davidson incorporated in 1907, added employees, factory space and more dealers, and in 1909, they introduced their famous V-twin-cylinder motorcycle. It had a 7-horsepower engine. The company continued to grow. During World War I, the US Army bought almost half of all the motorcycles produced by the company, helping it become the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. Their bikes continued to perform well at races, and in 1925, the iconic teardrop-shaped gas tank was introduced.
The flathead 45-cubic-inch V-twin engine was introduced on the D model in 1929. Sales suffered during the Great Depression, but the company again produced motorcycles for the US Army during World War II. After the war, the company bought a new plant in Milwaukee. In 1948, they introduced the lightweight model S. More models were introduced over the next few decades as company growth continued, and more factories were built. Along the way, the company became the only motorcycle manufacturer left in the US. In 1965, the company went public and was bought by the American Machine and Foundry Company.
Into the Present
In the 70s and 80s, competition from Japanese manufacturers and the recession caused sales to suffer. In 1981, a group of Harley-Davidson executives bought the company from AMF for $81.5 million and began turning the company around through more efficient management, manufacturing and marketing strategies. The company’s fortunes improved to the point that they again went public in 1986. The company’s history, racing success, distinctive designs and marketing success have inspired a fierce loyalty in their customers all over the world.