The Harley-Davidson Company is the iconic American motorcycle manufacturer.
The company achieved world domination with their motorbikes, but they started with very humble beginnings back at the very start of the twentieth century. Since then, they’ve had a hard-rocking journey into success… facing their fair share of challenges along the way.
Last month the Discovery Channel produced an original miniseries dramatizing Harley Davidson’s early years and ride into becoming modern-day icons. What better time than now to take a trip into the detailed history of the world’s premier motorcycle manufacturer?
The original motor company started off as not much more than a science fair project in a small wooden shed built by William S. Harley and Arthur and Walter Davidson in 1903. This is around the time they managed to sell their very first motorized bike — in an era where many different small shops producing motorbikes were starting to appear all over the nation. A few years later The Harley-Davidson Motor Company was incorporated and William Davidson had officially joined his younger brothers in making motorcycle history.
The company set up camp in Milwaukee and quickly developed its premier 45-degree air-cooled V-Twin model. The era of the H-D had just begun, and Harley-Davidson began to obliterate most of its domestic competition – leaving only Indian as their one true North American competitor. Sales only continued to grow up until the Great Depression, which saw a massive decrease in business. This was a difficult time for the motor company, and any other luxury business of their size would probably have folded. The depression put a lot of “non-essential” brands out in the cold, and motorcycles were definitely perceived as a luxury. Sales decreased by more than half, and the men behind the bikes needed a plan.
In true American entrepreneurial style, Harley-Davidson never gave up. To survive the depression, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company developed a new three-wheel delivery vehicle titled the Servi-Car, which was produced up until the 1930s. Not only did they survive the depression, they once again began to thrive while going to work for their country.
When the United States got involved in the Second World War, the production of civilian bikes was put on temporary hold and Harley-Davidson began producing exclusively for the military. They produced upwards of ninety thousand bikes for the American military at this time. It wasn’t until after the Second World War that Harley-Davidson would go to introduce the world to the Sportster in 1957 – both an iconic racing motorcycle and an irreplaceable model in the lineup ever since.
The 1960s would prove to be another important era in the motor company’s first century. They would become a publicly traded business in 1965 and went on to merge with the American Machine and Foundry in 1969. America was changing, and so was Harley-Davidson. The company was growing and becoming more valuable by the minute. It had expanded all over the world, touching base in almost every continent at this point. Even still, this was a formative time for Harley-Davidson, and they began introducing more bikes into their comprehensive roster. Eventually, all of their bikes would fall into one of six model types: Softail, Sportster, Touring, Vrod, and Street. The differences between these models are seen through their suspension, frame, and engine.
It didn’t take long until Harley-Davidson became associated with motorcycle culture.
As you already know, the motorcycles associated with the Harley-Davidson Company are lovingly nicknamed “Hogs” – but the origin of this nickname isn’t as widely identified. All the way back in the 1920s there was a team of farmhands who were nicknamed the “hog boys” who continuously won motorbike races across the country. These boys (including Ray Weishaar) were famous for having a live hog as a mascot – which they would take on a victory lap after each successful race. The marketing team at Harley-Davidson were quick to take advantage of this nickname, and in 2006, they turned the NYSE ticker symbol to HOG from HDI.
As of today, Harley-Davidson is still synonymous with the American motorcycle. In 2010 they introduced the XL Forty-Eight, evoking the nostalgic energy of the custom Sportsters from the 1950s. This was also the year when Seth Enslow broke the world record for longest distance motorcycle jump on a Harley-Davidson, beating out the previous records held by Bubba Blackwell and Evel Knievel, respectively. The jump was 183.7 feet.
With over a century under their belt, The Harley-Davidson Motor Company still manages to inspire and excite with their roster of motorcycles, and their unparalleled history of success. Even people who have no interest in or knowledge of motorcycles know of their iconic status, their loyal following and iconic “chopper” motorcycle style.
Harley-Davidson motorcycles are the most impressive when you see them up close and personal, on the dealership floor, for example. Check out this comprehensive list of trusted Ontario motorcycle dealership from Riders Plus Insurance.
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