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.