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.
Who Is Harley-Davidson?
The 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.
The First Successful
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 Built in a 10 foot by 15 foot shed on the Davidson family property, the new prototype superseded the motorized bicycle category and featured a loop-frame design that would inspire future bike designs.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.
Building a First Factory and Established Company
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.
Hard Beginnings and Achievements
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.
Harley-Davidsons in the Movies
The Harley-Davidson brand has almost become synonymous with the word motorcycle. Harley-Davidson choppers have been making regular cameos in Hollywood movies for over half a century.
The First Movie That Harley Davidson Motorcycle Take Part In
In 1953, Marlon Brando starred as outlaw motorcycle gang leader Johnny Strabler in the film The Wild One. The movie was the first of many films to follow in what is now referred to as the outlaw biker genre. These movies, for better or worse, widely popularized the rebellious and reckless image associated with motorcycle riders still prevalent today. Whether you identify with this stereotype or not, the influence these films had and how they glorified the chopper scene is undeniable. Though Brando rides a Triumph Thunderbird, his co-star Lee Marvin is often seen riding his Harley-Davidson Hydra Glide.
The Influence of Motorcycle Culture on Hollywood Movies
After World War II, real life biker gangs began forming all over the west coast. These gangs were the inspiration for The Wild One. Arguably the most notorious of these gangs was the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. When Hunter S. Thompson's book Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs was published in 1966, it brought the growing national exposure to real motorcycle gangs to a peak. This exposure reinvigorated the outlaw biker genre, which up until then had seen mostly cheap copycat films aimed at exploiting teenaged American wallets.
The release of Easy Rider in 1969 epitomized the motorcycle counterculture. The film featured custom-built choppers based on hardtail frames and panhead engines. Four former police choppers - modified Hydra-Glides - were used as the basis for the choppers. The Captain America bike is widely considered the most recognizable chopper ever created, and it continues to inspire generation after generation of chopper fans. Ironically, it would have been no "easy" ride to handle that bike. With extremely long forks, no front brake, and no rear suspension, the bike was definitely designed with aesthetics in mind.
List of movie that have the most coolest Harley Davidson
Though no chopper would ever be as iconic as the Captain America chopper became, the Harley Davidson choppers continued to shine on the screen of many popular films. Here are a few we find noteworthy. This is by no means a list of the best motorcycle films, or even the best films to feature a motorcycle, nor the best motorcycle to be featured in a film (though we think that last one should be a category at the Academy Awards, that's another conversation).
Rocky Balboa With the Red 1978 Flh Electra Glide
Rocky Balboa may have never been able to defeat Mr. T if it weren't for his trusty red 1978 FLH Electra Glide in Rocky III. Though it appears red in the Christmas tree scene, he is seen riding around on a black and gold model the rest of the film. Perhaps details like this don't really matter when you consider Rocky should have been dead from head trauma about halfway through the first film.
Electra Glide in Blue With Harley Davidson Electra Glide
Electra Glide in Blue, a 1973 film that stars Robert Blake as cop who patrols on his Harley Davidson Electra Glide. This one gets mentioned purely for having the model of a Harley in the title.
Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man
The 1989 movie Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, while failing both critically and financially, became a cult ic, especially among biker fans. This one stars Mickey
Rourke as a character actually named Harley Davidson. The other character is actually named, you guessed it, The Marlboro Man. Product placement, eat your heart out.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day with 1990 Harley Davidson Fatboy
In Terminator 2: Judgement Day, actor turned politician turned actor Arnold Schwarzenegger makes arguably one of his coolest movie appearances ever. Although Schwarzenegger doesn't need much help looking cool, his 1990 Harley Davidson Fatboy is the perfect accessory to complement his shotgun, which spends most of the film pointing directly toward the sky as he cruises around in tinted sunglasses wreaking havoc on all who cross him.
Pulp Fiction with '86 FXR Super Glide
Many of us will never forget Bruce Willis' ic line from the equally ic film Pulp Fiction, released in 1996. After saving his enemy from brutal torture, Willis steals a beautiful '86 Super Glide from the torturer. When his girlfriend later asks him whom the bike belongs to, he tells her it belongs to Zed. When she asks who Zed is, he simply replies "Zed's dead". Zed may be dead, but that FXR Super Glide is alive and purring.
Machete - Chopper Has a Minigun
Probably the most unbelievable use of a motorcycle in film history is Danny Trejo's portrayal of motorcycle gang leader Machete Cortez in the film Machete. He literally mounts a Minigun to the front of his bike and rides through exploding ramps destroying any one who opposes him. Check out this YouTube clip if you don't believe us.
Surely, Harley Davidson choppers will continue to make appearances in Hollywood films. The element of cool they can bring to a movie is just too valuable to be passed up by any director. Though other bikes come and go, the iconic look of an authentic Harley Davidson is just too cool.
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 1-800-935-5050 to talk to one of our Harley-Davidson specialists.