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The History of Harley Davidson

By Edited Jul 8, 2015 3 7

Harley Davidson

Harley Davidson has been around for a long time.  In 1901, a young 21 year old by the name of William Harley, drew a blue print of an engine that would fit a bicycle.  With the help of three others, the first motorcycle was built in a small wooden shed.  Two years later the first motorcycle was made available to the public.  It was designed as a racing bike.  The first store opened in Chicago in 1904, and the first full time employee was hired a year later.  In 1906 a factory was built, and hired six full time employees.

Over the years the company began to grow as Harley Davidson motorcycles gained popularity.  In 1908, the Detroit police department purchased a motorcycle for use on the force.  Many bikes were also used by the military in World War I.  By 1920, the company was the largest motorcycle factory in the world and were sold in 67 countries. 

Harley(92275)

As with all things, sales fell during the great depression era.  They redesigned the motorcycles and also produced a three wheeled vehicle they called the 'Servi-Car".  Harley Davidson was one of two motorcycle companies that survived the depression.  Production increased again during World War II, and also began manufacturing V-twin motorcycles. 

 

In 1969 the company was bought out by AMF (American Machine and Foundry), and the workforce cut.  This caused a labor strike and poor quality of manufactured bikes.  The company almost went bankrupt due to decline in sales.  People began to mock the company, calling it names such as "Hardly Ableson" and "Hogly Ferguson", which is where the nick name "hog" originated.  Today 'HOG' stands for Harley Owners Group.  In 1977, the company released the confederate edition which caused a major controversy.  The company went on to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1987, and that same year began the 'buy back' program.

In 1981 the company sold out to a group of thirteen investors.  The new owners went back to modeling bikes after the earlier models.  The Fat boy model came out in 1990, and sales picked up once again.  In the year 2000, the Ford Motor company produced a Super cab truck featuring the Harley Davidson logo. 

Current models include the sportster, dyna, softail, touring, and VRSC.  The touring models include the road king, road glide, and electra glide.  These are the larger, more comfortable bikes especially for lengthy rides.  Most feature a radio, cb, full fairings, and many other options.  In 2009 Harley Davidson released the tri glide ultra classic, which was the first three wheeled vehicle since the Servi-Car was discontinued in 1973.

The soft tail is a very popular traditional model.  They look similar to retro choppers, but have hidden rear suspension under the transmission.  The bikes have springer front ends and historical designs. 

dyna
The dyna frame motorcycle was first developed in the 80's and features a narrow, extra large front fork and wheel.  The engine is rubber mounted, which creators a smoother ride.

The sportster originally was mounted to the frame and came out in 1957.  In 2004 they produced bikes with rubber mounted engines.  The 50th anniversary of the sportster was celebrated in 2007.

The style of the VRSC is not very traditional compared to the other models.  It features over head cams and liquid cooling, and along with Porsche developed the V-Rod. 

The drag racer motorcycle produced by the company is called the VRXSE, and runs a quarter mile in under ten seconds.  It is not a street legal bike, and was built intended for racing.   

Captain America bike

Some well known Harley Davidson bikes include the Captain America bike from the movie 'Easy Rider', a fat boy model rode in the 'Terminator 2', and 'Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man'.  John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence, and William Macey also rode Harley's in the movie 'Wild Hogs'.   A FXR edition also appears in the movie 'Pulp Fiction'.  X men 3 also featured a Harley Davidson V-Rod.  Nicholas Cage rides a Panhead in the popular movie 'Ghost Rider'.  They are also in the background scenes in several movies. 

Harley's are also featured in video games like "Harley Davidson: Race to Rally" and "Wheels of Freedom".

Although the company has seen its share of ups and downs over the past one hundred years, the motorcycles are a quality brand built to last.  They have broken many records over the years and are listed in the Guinness book of World Records several times for various things such as toy runs, wedding vow renewals, and stunts.  Men outnumber women by far as riders, but the population of women riders is steadily growing.  Today many people get together in support of a cause, and ride to raise money for benefits.

Four main factories in York, PA, Tomahawk, WI, Kansas City, MO, Menominee Falls, WI are open to the public for tours of the facilities.  The Harley Davidson Museum can be visited also and is located in Milwaukee, WI.  Tickets for the museum are $16 for adults, $10 for children ages 5 - 17, and under 5 are free.  Military and students are $12 with a photo id, and senior prices are also $12.  Be sure to visit their website for special events and combo ticket pricing.  There are also 4 days/ 3 nights tour packages available for those who want more than a walk through the museum.   Harley Davidson offers courses for new riders, providing in class and hands on riding skills.  A course for skilled riders is also available, along with a course on riding with a group.  Insurance companies will usually give a discount to those who complete a course.

The price of a motorcycle ranges greatly, anywhere from $9,000 to over $35,000.  Price depends on the model and accessories, with the sportster typically being the cheapest and the Ultra classic the most expensive.  Used Harley's tend to hold their value very well if taken care of. 

Harley Davidson doesn't just sell motorcycles.  They offer a full line of clothing for infants to adults, collectables, accessories, and gifts. 

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Comments

Apr 7, 2012 3:20pm
patzs
What happened to the heirs of Harley Davidson? Do they still have a part of the ownership?

Nice story, brief and informative.
Apr 8, 2012 8:43pm
ksilvers
Since the company sold out a couple of times over the years I don't think they still have any part, but I would have to look into it for sure. Thanks!
Apr 7, 2012 10:08pm
Introspective
Congratulations on this interesting featured article!
Apr 8, 2012 8:36pm
ksilvers
Thanks!
Apr 8, 2012 10:43pm
southerngirl09
I enjoyed reading the history of Harley Davidson. Good article! Congratulations on being featured.
Apr 9, 2012 9:58pm
christopherXnorth
I lived in Milwaukee, WI for a few years. The 100th anniversary was INSANE. Is there a Kansas City MI though; or do you mean MO? Great Article. Thanks for posting it.
Apr 10, 2012 8:22am
ksilvers
Thanks, and you are right...that should be MO lol I will have to edit that
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Bibliography

  1. "history." Harley Davidson. 30/03/2012 <Web >
  2. "Harley Davidson." wikipedia. 30/03/2012 <Web >
  3. "greatest motorcycle movies ever." bike insurance. 30/03/2012 <Web >

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