With manufacturers constantly releasing new models of their motorbikes prompted me to research the Harley Davidson History. Reason is it is very easy to forget how a company got to be where it is today, and the success’ and failures it would have experienced over this time. The Harley Davidson History is a remarkable video about Americas greatest motorcycle manufacturer with film going back to their beginning.
Special thanks to Motorcycleus for this excellent video, and to Wikipedia for their never ending information.
William Harley and Arthur Davidson founded Harley Davidson in 1903. Their first attempt was to make a single cylinder 116cc engine and fit it to a pedal power bike. This was way underpowered so with the help of Evinrude made a 405cc engine and five of these motorbikes were made and promptly sold. The first HD was raced in 1904 and came in 4th. This set the stage for racing which was to be a successful and important event for HD. The time tested scenario applies, race and win on Sunday, sell on Monday.
Harley Davidson became best known for its V Twin engines, the first prototype was introduced in 1907 and by 1913 the majority of HD motorbikes were V Twins. This engine was 880 cc and produced about 7 hp, giving a top speed around 60 mph.
Sales were certainly encouraging. 1906 saw 50 bikes sold, increasing to 150 in 1907. These would all have been the single cylinder engine. 1908 it was 450 sales, and 1909 totalled 1149 sold being a mix of single cylinder and V Twins. By 1913 the majority of sales were the V Twin bikes. By 1914 sales had increased to 16,284, and to 21,000 by 1929. During the WWI years the military bought 15,000 for troops to use.
By the year 1920 HD became the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, but the bubble burst with the Great Depression and just 3,703 bikes were sold in 1933. To survive this period HD made industrial power plants powered by their engines, and also the “Servi-Car’ a 3 wheel trike style light delivery vehicle which was successful enough for HD to continue its production right up to 1973. In the 1910-20 era It is interesting to note there were 150 different motorbike manufacturers in the USA, some most unusual like this http://americanmotorcyclenews.com/1915-militaire-motorcyle/ Henderson was a popular make especially with the Police but didn’t survive the Depression. HD and Indian were the only two who survived past the Depression, with most of their opposition having gone by the 1920’s. Indian was very successful and HD’s rival but struggled to get moving again after WWII and came totally unstuck by 1953.
From the period following WWII HD had a mixed bag or success’, failures, quality problems, scandals, takeovers, you name it, it happened. Far too much to mention here so will keep those details for another day. But through all this there was one notable character who never failed in his work as designer http://americanmotorcyclenews.com/willie-g-davidson/ Enjoy the video, it is a good one.