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Who Is Harley-Davidson?

You can hear its trademark roar from a distance and automatically know what is coming your way. For over a century, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company has built the motorcycle that has defined the American cycle.

Harley DavidsonThe Harley grew out of a childhood friendship between William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Both William and Arthur were sons of European emigrants. When William was just 20 years old, he drew up blueprints for a small engine that was designed to fit on a bicycle. This small engine had a displacement of 116cc and 102mm flywheels. In the machine shop of another friend, William and Arthur worked on their first motor-powered bicycle until its completion in 1903. Arthur was an avid fisherman and was seeking a way to “take the hard work out of pedaling a bicycle.” Upon taking it out in the hills of Milwaukee, the two discovered it was not powerful enough to move forward on engine power alone and still required some pedaling. This meant back to the drawing board to build the prototype that would mark the beginning of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Bigger, better and faster marked their second attempt and the 405cc bicycle was a success. Built in a 10 foot by 15 foot shed on the Davidson family property, the new prototype superseded the motorized bicycle category and featured a loop-frame design that would inspire future bike designs. The shed also marked the first time that America was introduced to the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, as it was scrawled on the wooden door. It was at this time that Arthur’s brother Walter joined in on the effort to complete the bike. Built to be a racer, on September 8th, 1904 the fully functional prototype placed 4th in a motorcycle race at Milwaukee’s State Fair Park and soon the bike was made available to the public.

With a completed bike and growing attention, Carl H. Lang, the first Harley-Davidson dealer, opened in Chicago and sold three of the dozen production-ready motorcycles made in the shed. Prior to this, the men sold bare engines through magazine ads for people to build them themselves. After seeing some success with production, Harley and the Davidson brothers built their first factory in 1906 on Chestnut Street. The street is now Juneau Avenue and the factory still serves as the company’s headquarters. The company had 6 full time employees, created its first catalog and produced about 50 motorcycles that year.

1907 brought about much change to the company as well. Harley graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the factory was given a second floor expansion, production tripled, William Davidson (brother of Arthur and Walter) joined the trio and the company was officially incorporated on September 17th, 1907. The Harley-Davidson Motor Company also forged an important business relationship with police departments, a relationship that remains intact and significant to this day.

It is strange to think of the American motorcycle industry without Harley-Davidson, but that was almost a reality around this time. Arthur had been saving and hiding seed money for the company between his mattress in order to start Harley-Davidson. However, after a visit from his cleaning lady, Arthur found that the money was gone. Without the $500 needed to get the business started, there would not be a Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Luckily, Davidson had a bee-farming uncle who lent him the money needed.

With their humble beginnings in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company has been a force to be reckoned with throughout their history. In World War I, the company made combat service modifications to their motorcycle to provide nearly 15,000 bikes to our military forces. Harley-Davidson dominated the roaring 20s by becoming the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world and survived the Great Depression of the 30s by diverting production efforts and continuing to introduce great bikes to the world.

To own a Harley-Davidson is to own a piece of American history. Whether you ride, build or collect Harley-Davidson cycles, Lowbrow is your source for Harley Davidson motorcycle parts. We offer custom Harley parts and a great selection of aftermarket Harley parts. Call us today at 1-855-456-9276 to talk to one of our Harley-Davidson specialists.


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