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 pedal-bicycle frame.
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.