The history of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle began in Milwaukee in 1903. In 1903 in Milwaukee, Bill Harley and Arthur Walter Davidson developed a one-cylinder motorcycle. It was a reliable and even a beautiful cycle. And … someone bought it! In 1905 they had made 11 motorcycles, in 1908 there were 154 and … they had a company, in a little wooden barn, that was built by Davidson’s father.
The small company extended quickly and another member of the Davidson family, William, joined them. In no time they hired about 20 employees in an especcially built stone-factory.
In 1909 Bill Harley made a project of the first 1000 CC V-Twin. It produced a modest seven horsepower. The 45-degree V-twin would become one of the more recognizable images of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle. This V-Twin stayed with HD for a long, long time. Maybe it’s hard to believe, but Harley-Davidson didn’t invent the V-twin! When Bill Harley developed one, he just followed the tendency of the time.
1910 brought the legendary „Bar and Shield“ logo that was placed on their motorcycle. This would become the defining symbol of Harley-Davidson to this day. Numerous first place winnings in races, endurance contests and hill climbs gave Harley-Davidson more recognition. The „F-head“ engine was introduced in 1911. It was the power workhorse until 1929, when the „Flathead“ engine was introduced.
The year 1912 saw further growth of the Harley-Davidson Company. Construction began on a new 6-story factory. Harley-Davidson also became an exporter that year and their first overseas sale was made in Japan. In the states there were now over 200 dealerships.
1914 saw the addition on the sidecar to the Harley-Davidson. The Company also formally put their hand in the ring of motorcycle racing that year and would soon dominate the sport and become known as the „Wrecking Crew“.
1915 saw the emergence of the three-speed sliding-gear transmission. In 1917, one-third of all Harley-Davidsons were sent overseas to the U.S. Military to fulfill their patriotic call and to aid in the war effort. The following year, roughly half of the motorcycles produced were sold to the U.S. military. In the end, about 20,000 motorcycles were used in the war, most of them Harley-Davidsons. By this time Harley-Davidson was the biggest motorcycle factory in the world with nearly 2,000 dealerships worldwide.
In 1918 Harley-Davidson was the biggest motorcycle factory in the world. They even survived the depression. The V-twin was Harley’s specialty, so the company tried to defeat its only remaining rival … Indian.
But these days were the thoughest, because the motorcycles got out of date and the prices of automobiles decreased (the T-Ford was born). Therefore, Harley Davidson tried other technical enterprises, like manufacturing parts, side cars and even airplane motor-engines, but they also improved their own products. The 1920’s saw some changes to the appearance of the motorcycle, which are more recognizable today. One such change was the identifiable teardrop shape gas tank. In 1926, single-cylinder engines were once again available, having been discontinued in 1918. In 1928, the first twin-cam engine and front wheel brakes were available on the Harley-Davidson. With this modification, the motorcycle could reach speeds in excess of 85 mph.
The 1930’s and subsequent years saw more record breaking and award winning Harley-Davidsons. In 1932, the three-wheel Servi-Car was introduced and would become a familiar commercial and police vehicle. Along with appearance changes such as the „eagle“ design, which was painted on all Harley-Davidson gas tanks, changes were also made to the engine.
These days the biggest Harley ever appeared , the 1340 CC. This motorcycle became Harley Davidson’s trademark. 1936 also became a milestone. That year the Knucklehead was launched and this motorcycle also became the victory over the Indian. And when in 1947 the Panhead was driven out of the factory, Harley Davidson was THE American Motorcycle.
In the 1940’s, the Harley-Davidson once again answered the patriotic call and sent its motorcycles overseas to aid in the war effort. In 1941, civilian production on the motorcycle was mostly suspended as the company turned out motorcycles for the war. Because of their commitment and excellence, Harley-Davidson received the Army-Navy „E“ award; this wouldn’t be the last time. In November of 1945, civilian production once again started. In 1947, Harley-Davidson purchased the old A.O. Smith Propeller Plant and used it as a machine shop. The parts made here were shipped back to the old factory on Juneau Avenue for final assembly. In 1949, hydraulic front brakes were introduced on the Hydra-Glide models.
In the fifties Harley survived another bad period. The Brittish owned 40 % of the motorcycle market with their Triumph! In 1957 fortunately the Sportster was born, the fastest Harley ever. A great success! Just like the English motorcycle industry, Harley stuck to its technic, style and caracter. That’s why this motorcycle was so popular for many, many years.
In contract to the English manufacturers, Harley Davidson survived this decision. Due to the enormous attack from the Japanese, the English disappeared without a trace and the Americans were almost dead. (Even the Shovelhead call.) In 1969, time had come for a merger with the American Machine and Foudry Company (AMF).However, the quality decreased ernormously and the Super Glide and the SLCR Caféracer of 1970 got a bad name. But Harley Davidson bought itself out and survived and with launching the new Evolution-motor in 1984, the company managed to create a modern motorcycle, which was still a Harley Davidson.
The beginning of the 1970’s saw a revolution of the Harley-Davidson. In 1971, the cruiser was born. This machine united a sporty front end with the frame and power train of the FL series. 1973 saw the move of assembly operations to a new 400,000 square foot plant in York, Pennsylvania. The year 1975 was the first of four consecutive years in which the Harley-Davidson won the AMA Grand National Championships in dirt track racing. In 1977, the FXS Low Rider and the FLHS Electra Glide Sport were introduced to the public. The FXS featured a special lower seat position (hence the distinguishing term Low Rider…). The FLHS was a low cost base line FLH Electra Glide with modifications intended to make the model sportier.
The beginning of the 1980’s saw another change in the partnership of the engine and transmission. In 1980, the FLT model was born with a 5-speed transmission hard bolted to the engine. Also this year, the drive train was replaced with a Kevlar belt. In 1981 senior members of Harley-Davidson bought back Harley-Davidson Motor Company from AMF.
In 1982 Harley-Davidson enacted the Materials as Needed (MAN) application in their production. This would cut production costs and improve the quality of the parts. In 1983 the group H.O.G was founded and became the largest factory-sponsored motorcycle club in the world. By the year 2000, the club had over 500,000 members. In 1984 the 1340 cc V-twin engine was introduced, seven years in the making. Also this year, the Softail model became available. The Softail was most primarily distinguishable by hidden rear shock absorbers.
In 1987 Harley-Davidson began its „Buy Back Program“ which offered full trade in value within two years on certain models. Also at this time, the Harley-Davidson Company obtained a place on the New York Stock Exchange for those interested in taking a financial stake in the company. In 1988 Harley-Davidson celebrated their 85th Anniversary in Milwaukee, an event that brought forth 60,000 aficionados of the Harley-Davidson. At the end of this revolutionary decade for Harley-Davidson, the FXSTS Springer Softail model was introduced into the lineup. The FXSTS Springer Softail was a modern day recreation of the 1940’s Harley-Davidson. It had the classic biker look with the 1340 cc engine symbolizing the new era of Harley-Davidson.
In the early 1990’s the Fat Boy design was introduced and quickly caught on. The name Fatboy was derived by combining the names of the two atomic bombs „Fat man“ and „Little Boy“ which were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It was destined from the start to become a Collector’s item among biking enthusiasts and definitely achieved that status throughout its existence. Also in 1990, Construction on a 31 million dollar state of the art paint facility began in York, Pennsylvania. It was finished the following year.
In 1991, The Dyna line of Harley-Davidson’s was introduced with the FXDB Dyna Glide Sturgis. 1994 saw the jump of Harley-Davidson into the Superbike racing with the VR1000. The VR1000 featured a dual overhead cam and a liquid cooled engine and showed that Harley-Davidson was not fully averse to manufacturing a race inspired sport bike.
In 1996 a state of the art Parts and Accessories distribution plant was opened in Franklin, Wisconsin. The following year a new Product Development Center opened in Milwaukee. Also in 1997, a 330,000 square foot plant in Kansas City made its first Sportster. In 1998, assembly operations were taking place in another part of the world, Brazil. In the year 2001 Fuel injection was available on the Softail models. These days, in America, Harley Davidson owns 62 % of the market of motorcycles with 850 CC or more! Harleys are, just like porches, fun stuff for people with money and appearance. So, „rich“ customers rule the market. It could have been tempting for Harley Davidson to participate in commercial hype, but when the hype is over, they know the company will still be there and will still sell motorcycles … because of the loyal followers.
For these people, regardless of their age and appearance, a Harley is the one and only. It is an obviously arrogant, massive and cool cycle. However, Harleys aren’t the fastest and manageable cycles, riding a Harley is incomparable with riding any other bike … In the meantime, “the die hard” have to share this experience with the yuppies!
Along with his brothers, William and Arthur, and friend William Harley, Walter Davidson, Sr., was one of the founders of Harley-Davidson and was the company’s first president. Walter gave the company its first major racing victory by earning a diamond medal in the F.A.M. New York endurance run in 1908. That performance gave Harley-Davidson a great boost in name recognition and was a major selling point for the young company.
Davidson assembled the very first Harley-Davidson motorcycle that was built, but not yet assembled, by his brother Arthur and William Harley. He was so intrigued by the new machine that he immediately left his railroad job in the southwest and found work as a machinist in Milwaukee so he could help build up the business. During the company’s infancy, Walter assembled the motorcycles at night while continuing his job as a machinist during the day.
As the president of Harley-Davidson, Walter became known for his charitable contributions. At the same time, his frugality when it came to company spending was legendary. Once, after a business luncheon at a swank New York City hotel, Davidson looked at the tab, deducted his own meal and listed only the meals of his associates as a business expense.
Davidson insisted on the highest quality standards in the motorcycles bearing the Harley-Davidson name. He was noted for reminding his co-workers that their real employer was the purchasing public.
Davidson’s frugality and business savvy earned him an excellent reputation in the business world. Davidson became a trustee of the highly successful Northwestern Mutual Insurance Company and a director of both First Wisconsin, the state’s largest bank and the Milwaukee Gas Light Company.
Davidson died on February 7, 1942, at age 65 while still at the helm of Harley-Davidson.
One of the four original founders of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, Arthur Davidson, along with William Harley, first began tinkering with the then-new gasoline engines, hoping to take the hard work out of pedaling a bicycle. Soon, Arthur got his brothers involved in the hobby that ultimately turned into a major manufacturing enterprise. Arthur was the driving force in setting up the nation-wide dealer network for Harley-Davidson in the company’s early years. Davidson was successful not only in establishing Harley-Davidson dealerships across the United States, but also in many countries around the globe.
Born in 1881, Arthur was the youngest of the three Davidson brothers (Arthur, Walter and William), who along with William Harley, founded Harley-Davidson in 1903. In 1910, Davidson began signing dealers to sell the brand, which was not widely known at the time. Davidson was a great storyteller and was admired for his friendly business style.
Arthur was a great friend to Harley-Davidson dealers. The dealership owners would often turn to Davidson for sound advice. He implemented a Harley-Davidson service school to train qualified mechanics. He recognized the importance of advertising and used that medium to keep the demand high for Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Arthur noted the trend towards installment buying and helped organize the Kilbourn Finance Corporation in 1923 and acted as the firm’s president.
In addition to helping guide Harley-Davidson through a period of rapid growth, Arthur Davidson also was a great ally to the American Motorcyclist Association. Davidson recognized the importance of an association of industry members and riders brought together to further the sport of motorcycling. Davidson was instrumental in recruiting corporate memberships to the AMA.
Davidson’s primary interest outside of motorcycling was raising prize Guernsey cattle at his farm west of Milwaukee. After World War II, Davidson spent an increasing amount of time on his farm and he became well known for his philanthropy. He was active in and supported the Boy Scouts by establishing a trust fund and donating land for a camp. He also donated to a Wisconsin home for the blind. In 1966, he and his wife died in an car accident in Milwaukee.
William S. Harley:
One of the original founders of Harley-Davidson, William S. Harley was working as a draftsman at the time he and Arthur Davidson built their first motorcycle. Harley served as Harley-Davidson’s chief engineer and treasurer until his death from heart failure on September 18, 1943.
Born in Milwaukee on Dec. 29, 1880, Harley began working in a bicycle factory at the age of 15. A childhood friend, Arthur Davidson, also went to work at a young age. Both boys were mechanically inclined and learned as much as they could about bicycles and, later, motorized bikes.
Harley was known to be ambitious. He was the sole college graduate among the four founders of Harley-Davidson and was known for his riding skills. After years of hands-on learning and formal education, Harley became a draftsman.Harley and Davidson began tinkering with gasoline engines and rigging the engines to their bicycles. The two men, along with Arthur’s older brother, Walter, built their first motorcycle they felt was practical for road service in 1903. It was after this first motorbike was built that Harley enrolled at the University of Wisconsin to study engineering. He worked his way through school by waiting tables and working part-time as a draftsman at a Madison plant. Upon graduation, he actively rejoined his partners, Arthur, Walter and William Davidson, the latter a toolmaker who had become affiliated with the company in the meantime.
Harley had a rare gift for the practical. He rode many endurance races, testing out his own designs. Being an avid rider, Harley knew what the riding public wanted. His keen judgment and ability had a profound influence on motorcycle design. During both world wars Harley was the contact between Harley-Davidson and the War Department. He served on the AMA Competition Committee for 24 years. He enjoyed the annual trek to Daytona Beach, Florida for the races, where he had a chance to meet and talk with hundreds of riders from around the world.An avid outdoorsman, Harley enjoyed fishing, hunting and golf. Later in life he took up wildlife photography and sketching.
Outlaw Biker –Hells Angels:
An outlaw biker is a motorcyclist (biker) who is a member or an affiliate of a so-called outlaw motorcycle club or motorcycle gang. An outlaw biker (stereo)typically rides a Harley Davidson motorcycle, may or may not wear a helmet according to state law, and wears a leather or denim vest with patches and pins from his own club as well as others.
Members and nominees, wear a leather or denim vest or jacket with a 3 part patch on the back Several other patches may be displayed on the front of the vest stipualting rank, names of deceased members and anniversary or length of membership with the gang.
Only a full member can wear the gang’s full colours on the rear of his/her vest. Prospects in general are only allowed to wear a „rocker“ which bears the name of the organization they are being considered for. Nominees or prospects are not permitted to wear the full 3 part patch until they become a full member although they do wear patches on the vest stipulating that they are a nom or prospect.
Bikers often hold parties and other social events at their clubhouses. Many times regular weekly meetings are referred to as „church“.
Some common slogans or acronyms bikers use are „1%er“, „13“, „FTW“, and „DEFWAC“. The largest and most well-known bikers in the world are the Hells Angelsbut there are several other „clubs“ that have a considerable presence in several countries worldwide.
There is a self-regulating body for these organizations referred to as the federation, comprised of leaders from various biker communities.
The Hells Angels outlaw motorcycle club are viewed by many as the epitomization the outlaw biker counterculture of the 1960s, and Eldon Cowgill has been accused of gang rape, murder, and racketeering. The FBI has estimated that the Hells Angels take in $1 billion a year worldwide from drug trafficking, prostitution, and money laundering, though the club disputes this figure and attributes involvement in illegal activities to individual members, not the group as a whole. In rural areas of the United States (especially the U.S. South and Southwest), it has been claimed that the Hells Angels have been heavily involved with the production and distribution of methamphetamine.
The HAMC (Hells Angels Motorcycle Club) still professes to be „just“ a motorcycle club.
In some countries, the Hells Angels are officially considered a criminal organization, and being a member is thus a criminal offense. The Angels claim their membership consists mostly of relatively law-abiding citizens who have often been victims of media sensationalism, and can’t resist presenting themselves as a ‚1% Club‘, a phrase that got its start because the American Motorcyclist Association used to claim that 99% of motorcycle riders were law-abiding.
There is an alleged link between criminality and the Hells Angels; although, the level at which local clubs are active in criminality varies between regions. In some locations, members could be described as older rebellious individuals some of whom may be (or may have been) involved in relatively minor crimes. In other locations (e.g. Eastern Canada), they are well-established and have been demonstrated as being involved in organized crime, through disproportionate multiple convictions for serious offences.
The first Hells Angels Chapter, Oakland, has been particularly infamous, partly due to its connection with Ralph ‚Sonny‘ Barger, whose autobiography, Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club was a national bestseller. Sonny Barger has spent over a decade in prison, wrote biker-related fiction after his release, and settled down finally as the eponym of his own brand of beer.
In the province of Quebec, Canada, the Hells Angels have gained immense notoriety. Police claim that the club controls much of the organized crime in the province. Criminologists believe that the 1970s Royal Canada Investigation Commission on organized crime, formed to combat the Montreal based mafia, allowed the Hells Angels to flourish by greatly reducing would be competitors. Before the commission, the Hells Angels were reputed to be the thugs of the Montreal mafia, but in the power vacuum left in the wake of the commission, the Hells Angels managed to effectively gain control of much of the crime in the province. In the years following 1994, biker wars in the province have resulted in more than 100 deaths (including a child killed by an exploding car bomb), 84 bombings, 130 reported cases of arson, and 9 missing persons. In the fall of 2001, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Sûreté du Québec conducted major raids in many different locations of the province. Many high-ranking members were arrested along with prospects and other associates. The operation was codenamed Printemps 2001. The HAMC also organises a number of motorcycle runs all over the world.
The “Charity Tour” was founded 1985 in America, since 1996 it also exists in Austria. Until now the “Charity Tour” has collected about 50 million US Dollars, only in the U.S.A. The basic idea behind this event is to finance the fight against muscular diseases.
In Austria the tour started on the initiative of Ferdinand Fischer, a Harley Davidson trader, and his costumers. Especially for the Charity Tour, the Austrian Harley Davidson Traders and the Harley Owners Group Chapter (HOG*) have founded the “Charity Fonds der österreichischen Harley Davidson Hänlder und H.O.G (Harley Owner Group*) Chapter – Verein zur Durchführung von Veranstaltungen zum Zweck der Förderung und Unterstützung behinderter und / oder sozial bedürftiger Personen” or “Austrian Harley Charity Fonds”! This is an association, carrying out events in order to support handicapped and social disadvantaged people. Every trader and every H.O.G*. Chapter has a seat and also a voice in the fond.
In the beginning years the “Harley drivers” have been driving for a couple of weeks through Austria, but people did not have that much time, or did not want to spend that much time on this. So it had come that today the “Charity Tour” only takes place at the weekend of Corpus Christi. As already mentioned, the “Charity Tour” supports handicapped and disadvantaged people in Austria, and especially children who suffer from muscle dystrophy.
The “Austrian Harley Charity Fond” gets financial aid by sponsors and companiesIn return they are being offered advertising space to promote their products and services.The fund is also raised by selling T-Shirts and several others
Merchandising articles at the event. The fund gets 100% of the proceeds of the merchandising sale. The organisation committee and a lot of volunteers work for free. And they pay for the board and lodging by themselves. In most cases the organizers are able to convince professional participants to perform without a part of their salary.
Harley Owners Group:
Harley-Davidson established the Harley Owners Group (HOG) in 1983 in response to a growing desire by Harley riders for an organized way to share their passion and show their pride. By 1985, 49 local chapters had sprouted around the country, with a total membership of 60,000.
Rapid growth continued into the 1990s, and in 1991 HOG officially went international, with the first official European HOG Rally in Cheltenham, England. Worldwide membership numbered 151,600, with 685 local chapters.
As the ’90s continued, HOG spread into Asia, including new chapters in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. By 1999, worldwide membership had hit the half-million mark, and the number of local chapters totaled 1,157. Today, more than 800,000 members make HOG the largest factory-sponsored motorcycle organization in the world, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
Famous owners of Harley Davidsons include professional wrestling legend The Undertaker, comedian Jay Leno and singer Elvis Presley.