The Harley-Davidson Motor Company began in Milwaukee, Wisconsin early in the 20th century. The motorcycle company‘s first focus was building motorcycles for racing and a Harley Davidson won a 15-mile-long race in 1905 by crossing the finish line in 19 minutes and two seconds. The company’s first factory was a small wooden shed with the company name written on the door.
In 1901, William Harley designed an engine to fit onto the frame of a bicycle. Arthur Davidson joined him in 1903 to build and sell motorcycles. The company began in a 10-by-15-foot shed. A former classmate of Harley purchased the first motorcycle from them in 1903. Harley-Davidson celebrated its 100-year anniversary in September of 2003 when more than 250,000 riders ended a tour in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
By 1907, Davidson’s two brothers had joined the growing enterprise, which by then had 18 full time employees. The company incorporated on September 17, 1907 and the stock was split four ways between the founders. The factory had also grown and was now located on would later become Juneau Street in Milwaukee.
In 1969, The Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company merged with American Machine and Foundry Company (AMF) to become The Harley-Davidson AMF Motorcycle Company. Many Harley-Davidson enthusiasts decried the merger and interest in the company began to decline as quality had already been suffering since the 1950s. The company narrowly avoided bankruptcy in 1985 as it struggled to overcome its problems.
In 1981, a group of senior Harley-Davidson executives, which included William Davidson, grandson of company founder William Davidson, purchased the company from AMF, and the Harley-Davidson Motor Company was once again. Tariffs imposed on imported motorcycles over 700 cc helped the company regain its feet and when the tariffs expired in 1988, Harley-Davidson didn’t ask for an extension and felt they could compete with the cheaper imports.