Harley-Davidson History

Simple History of Harley-Davidson
By Staff Writer

“Motorcycles, a mechanized version of a horse some may say, were first created in the early 1900’s”. (Scott, p.7) Harley Davidson, a family run business for over 65 years, produced one of the first American made motorcycles. “Through the years of boom and bust Harley Davidson was known exclusively as the builder of large, air-cooled V-twin engines, powering mostly large, heavyweight motorcycles”. (Rafferty, p.8) Harley still remains the foundation of motorcycles today.

The first prototype Harley-Davidson was developed in 1901 by both William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson. Throughout their years of building different models they worked on improving the Harley piece by piece and came out with a bike that stood out for it’s safety measures and advances. Harley Davidson was also known for its powerful V-twin engine which appeared in 1909. Their first attempt at developing the engine was unsuccessful, but after undergoing revisions in the design it reappeared in 1911. Its new engine was more suitable for the use of a sidecar because it produced more power. The sidecar was used mainly for carrying the wife and family and required the extra horsepower from the engine.

“The tempo of the company picked up until in 1918, when orders were helped by the military, Harley-Davidson was the world’s largest motorcycle company.” (Scott, p.21) In the mid 1920’s Harley-Davidson decided to expand and manufacture bikes for racing even though the original design wasn’t intended for racing use. The developer’s opinions changed when they saw that money could be made and that their motorcycle was one of the top-of-the-line bikes on the market for this kind of use. Many private Harley owners that raced found the motorcycle to hold up well on the track. Once the Harley manufacturers found out about this they started to construct a more advanced motorcycle for racing. By doing this they changed the V-twin style engine to a 37-cubic-inch sports model. This new model gave the bike more power, quicker starts, and an over all better performance.

As the years went on new models were produced and during the fifties women began taking more active roles in motorcycling following examples set a decade before by the Motor Maids. This popular group of women riders, supported by the American Motorcycle Association (AMA), demonstrated that women needn’t be only passengers. A women named Dot Robinson was the original president of the Motor Maids. New models of bikes were made to suit the desires and needs of women riders. The bike’s engine size and metallic structure was configured specifically to fit a women.

In the 1960’s Harley riders started to develop an image of riders with black leather jackets, tattoo’s, long hair and even beards. This had become not only a statement of fashion, but a preferred lifestyle. Motorcycle movies like “Run, Angel Run!” staring William Smith, and “Easy Riders” staring Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson became popular in the late 1960’s. As a result of these motorcycle movies, motorcycle riding gained a “bad boy” perception within the general population.