Harley Davidson is one of those brands that carries instant name recognition–the name Harley alone conjures up images of revved engines and silver fenders. The famous “Bar and Shield” emblem is as iconic as McDonald’s golden arches. But how much do you actually know about the company? Hop aboard for a leisurely cruise down the less-traveled roads of this motorcycle giant’s history.
A humble beginning
Cofounders William S. Harley and brothers Walter and Arthur Davidson sold their first bike in 1903, operating out of a tiny shed in the Midwest. The trio went on to become an official brand in 1907, and by the end of the decade had already begun selling the air-cooled V-twin engine models that continue to define the brand.
The fortunes of war
It’s no secret that some industries flourish during wartime, and Harley Davidson was no exception, as their product would go on to provide transport for the American military during the First World War. Throughout the 1930s, the brand continued to thrive, as they had no major local competitors at that time. When the United States entered World War II, the company rose to the occasion once more, producing an estimated 90,000 units for military ground transport.
The journey continues
In 1965, the company went public, merging with the American Machine Foundry (AMF) four years later. Willie G. Davidson, a direct descendant of Arthur and Walter, would take over as President of Styling during this time. Though he officially retired in 2012, Davidson continues to serve as a brand ambassador, and is often on hand to lend his creative advice.
The ’80s and ’90s gave rise to some of Harley Davidson’s most popular and longest-lasting models, such as FLT, Road King, and Softail. The longest-running model in the HD lineup is the Sportster, introduced in 1957.
Riding into the future
As the riding community ages, the Harley Davidson brand has worked hard to stay on the cutting edge by introducing upgrades and makeovers for some of its most popular models. In 2009, they replaced the single-piece welded frame template with a cast single-span frame. A three-wheel model called the Tri-Glide has also been introduced to appeal to less confident riders. With great strides still being made on a regular basis, there’s every reason to believe that Harley Davidson will continue to thrive in the decades to come.