History of an Iconic American Motorcycle: Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson: The All-American Icon

How do you know if a brand has gained immense success? Some might say it depends on how much money they make or how many customers they reel in. While these are all necessary for measuring success, there is one more thing that can indicate that a brand has genuinely gone farther than any of its competitors — recognition.

Brand recognition is intangible and invisible, but it is just as crucial to an organisation’s success as much as the numbers you can count. Awareness and recognition lead to trust and equity. The more recognition your brand receives, the more successful your business will be!

When it comes to brand recognition, no other motorbike company comes close to the worldwide recognition that Harley-Davidson has garnered over the years.

Of course, other motorbike companies provide nearly the same quality as a Harley-Davidson. Still, if you were to give another motorbike that’s synonymous with power, passion, and class, you would come up empty.

There’s no denying that Harley-Davidson has become a symbol of America, a representation of the country’s individualism, spirit, and inventiveness. Indeed, nothing comes close to the impact Harley-Davidson has brought to America.

With Harley-Davidson, it would be natural to wonder how this company came into existence. Before Harley-Davidson came to be, everything started with four young men who strived to take the effort out of biking.

Harley-Davidson History Timeline

A Tale of Two Lazy Men

Some of the biggest brands were created from big dreams, but the case is slightly different for Harley-Davidson. Unlike other business leaders who had a vision of changing the world, the pioneers of the famous motorbike company were just lazy.

Back in 1901, the introduction of the bicycle was the newest invention, allowing individuals to travel farther and faster than by foot. It wasn’t long before nearly every American was exploring lands far and wide through pure pedal power.

While it’s true that the invention of the bicycle is a significant part of the history of transportation, this didn’t impress 20-year-old pattern-maker, Arthur Davidson and 21-year-old draughtsman, William S. Harley.

“Is there no way for people to travel without putting too much work on their legs and feet?” When they found out there wasn’t, they started to work at making the impossible possible.

What You Should Know About Harley-Davidson Motor Company

When the Pair Became a Formidable Group of Four

Of course, William Harley and Arthur Davidson were well aware that they wouldn’t be able to develop the two-wheeled wonder of their dreams with the skills of a pattern-maker and a draughtsman. If they were to build a motorised bicycle, they would need the expertise of a skilled mechanic.

Well, soon enough, the duo recruited Walter Davidson, Arthur’s railroad machinist brother. Walter looked forward to getting a ride on the motorcycle promised by Arthur, but he soon realised that he needed to invent it before he could give his motorised bicycle a spin.

Disappointed or not, Walter decided to stay with the pair and help them build the motorcycle they had meant to invent. But the group of three men still didn’t have enough to develop the bike of their dreams. That’s when the eldest Davidson brother, William, offered to pitch in. Then the duo’s vision was slowly becoming a reality.

Now they had two men who were experienced with handling machines and they formed the Harley-Davidson Motor Company in their first factory, a tiny wooden shed in the backyard of Davidson’s family home.

With three Davidson men working on the motorcycle, you’d think their name would come first on the company name, but William Harley did come up with the idea, so his name deserved to be mentioned first.

Harley-Davidson Founders

The Fast Lane Towards Growth and Development

Once the Harley-Davidson Motor Company was founded, it wasn’t long before the team of four came out with motorcycles. The 1903 Harley-Davidson was built with a bicycle crank, a single-cylinder engine, a leather drive belt, and pedals. A rider had to pedal the bike to build up engine compression before riding away with power.

1904 was a productive year for the motorbike company, with the team having produced three motorcycles. They surpassed expectations the following year, making seven motorcycles, over double of what they had built the previous year. At this rate, the company was growing, and it became apparent they weren’t going to be working at the Davidson backyard for very long.

In 1906, they finally moved out of the backyard and into a new factory on Juneau Avenue in Milwaukee, where they could produce a record 50 machines. Four years later, Harley and the Davidson brothers had doubled the size of their factory, hired more than 30 employees, and increased production to a thousand motorcycles annually.

Harley-Davidson First Factory

The Wrecking Crew and the Harley-Davidson Culture

No one could deny that the Harley-Davidson company was growing at an unrivalled speed, with production rising to 3,200 by 1910.

Although increasing from three to more than a thousand motorcycles in production in just seven years is already considered an impossible feat, the motorbike company aimed to boost sales even more.

When Harley-Davidson sponsored “The Wrecking Crew”, a famous racing team known for their exhilarating performances, they sparked a revolution that forever changed the company’s fate.

The Wrecking Crew was the official Harley-Davidson factory team that dominated motorcycle racing on tracks in the early 1920s with talented racers namely Freddie Ludlow, Ralph Hepburn, Albert “Shrimp” Burns, and Harry “Otto” Walker.

The Harley-Davidson Wrecking Crew Racing Team

Sponsoring the famous racing team was the best move they could have ever made. Soon enough, the profits they gained by investing in “The Wrecking Crew” brought more opportunities and later on led to the immense success of the company today.

Unfortunately, in 1922, Arthur Davidson pulled the factory-backed racing team that ended its company’s racing program yet assured that it will continue to support racers. 

Surprisingly, in 2006, the official Harley-Davidson Wrecking Crew was reformed to include the Factory Team and select riders racing for independent teams.

Harley-Davidson Brand Rankings

There Was A Real Hog

Nowadays, owners of Harley-Davidson motorcycles can join the Harley Owners Group, H.O.G, or simply Hog. This association is designed for their customers who would like to be a member and share a passion for riding.

Harley Owners Group is the largest factory-sponsored motorcycle enthusiast organisation in the world with more than one million riders around the globe.

There’s a reason why Harleys are called “hogs”. After winning competitions, the Harley Racing Team would take a victory lap with their porcine mascot or hog. 

Though you might expect it to have something to do with their motorbikes’ hulking size, in reality, the nickname was adopted because Harley racing team member, Ray Weishaar, owned a real piglet , which became the team’s mascot.

Harley-Davidson Fun Fact


Even though Harley-Davidson Motor Company has experienced lows recently, (which we’ll talk about at a later time) it’s still an overall reliable motorcycle brand.

With their durable components and revolutionary engines, these motorbikes are dependable. Plus, you can easily purchase new parts when they become damaged or well-worn.

Who would’ve imagined that the idea born out of laziness and the invention produced from boyhood friendship would turn out to become the motorcycle pioneer? 

Well, whether expected or not, how Harley-Davidson began completely changed the face of two-wheeled transportation. It’s incredible to see what you could do with a big dream, the right team, and continuous hard work, isn’t it?

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