Everything you need to know about Harley-Davidson History

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A brief look at Harley-Davidson history


The beginning of Harley Davidson

The more than 100-year old Harley-Davidson history begins in 1901 with a design for a small engine to be attached to a regular bicycle frame. William Harley worked on his design over the next two years with his friend Arthur Davidson, and his brother William. The first Harley-Davidson creation was finally completed, only to be summarily abandoned when it was discovered to be too weak to conquer Milwaukee’s (USA) small hills.

In their second go around, the founders opted for a much larger (405 cc) engine with a special frame. Fabricated in the Davidson’s backyard shed, the prototype was finished and debuted in September 1904. One year later, Carl Lang of Chicago, the very first Harley-Davidson dealership, sold three of the shed-built motorcycles, thus launching the long illustrious Harley-Davidson history.

Ramping up Harley Davidson

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Harley-Davidson’s first factory was built in 1906, and still remains the company’s corporate headquarters today. After Harley’s successful completion in 1907 of a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin, the factory expanded and increased production to 150 motorcycles. Also during this part of the Harley-Davidson history, the company incorporated and their signature V-Twin was born.

Over the next years, production ramped up exponentially. By the year 1914, production jumped up to 16,284 units, which helped allow Harley-Davidson to surpass its number one competitor, Indian, in motorcycle racing.

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Harley-Davidson, success in hard times

Harley-Davidson history continues with the use of motorcycles in World War I combat. The company provided the U.S. forces with 15,000 motorcycles during the war.

By the year 1920, Harley-Davidson was the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer. Despite a drastic reduction in sales (from 21,000 in 1929 to 3,703 in 1933), the company was one of the two American motorcycle manufacturers to survive the Great Depression era.

The outbreak of World War II resulted in a boon time in Harley-Davidson history. The company produced 90,000 bikes for the Allied forces.

Road to the top

Harley-Davidson history is full of ups and downs. The company was able to survive the downturn in the 1970s due to the oil crisis. Working its way back to the top, the company introduced Fat Boy and found itself the leader of the heavy bike (750+ cc) market once again.

Origin of the term: Hog

One interesting point in Harley-Davidson history is the use of the term “hog” to identify their motorcycles. The letters HOG are currently the company’s stock market symbol, as well as the acronym for the Harley Ownership Group (formed in 1983). The reason for this can be simply explained. Back in the 1920s, a group of farm boys, with a hog for their team mascot, began consistently winning races on their Harleys. They soon became known as the “hog boys” and thus the term “hog” stuck around whenever someone talked about a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

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