William Harley and Arthur Davidson, joined later by Arthur’s brothers Walter and William, formed Harley-Davidson Motor Company in 1903.
While Harley-Davidson motorcycles are far from being the first motorcycle produced, it has become the largest, continuously produced American motorcycle company. Howard Roper, in 1867, created a motorcycle powered by coal with a steam engine. Years later, in 1885, Gottlieb Daimler, assembled the first gas-powered motorcycle when he attached the engine to a wooden bike.
Harley-Davidson’s early competitors were other new companies. These include Pierce, Merkel, Excelsior, Thor, Schickel and its main competitor, Indian. Only Indian lasted through the Great Depression, but it declined after World War II and eventually went bankrupt and stopped production in 1953.
The “Bar & Shield” logo of Harley-Davidson was first used in 1910. Besides minor changes, the logo has stayed relatively the same.
In 1914, Harley-Davidson produced the first sidecar for their motorcycles.
Nearly 20,000 motorcycles were manufactured for the United States government during World War I. Corporal Roy Holtz was the first American to enter Germany after the Armistice signing and he rode in on a Harley-Davidson.
During World War II, the majority of Harley-Davidson motorcycles went to help the war effort and many were shipped overseas to US allies in Britain and France.
In 2004, the William Harley, Arthur Davidson, Walter Davidson and William Davidson were inducted into the Labor Hall of Fame. The United States Department of Labor states the following about the men:
Through periods of both war and economic depression, Harley-Davidson has endured because its founders both used and believed in its products and relied on the dedication of its employees to produce quality motorcycles. Today, with over 9000 employees worldwide, Harley-Davidson builds well over 300,000 of the most well-known and popular motorcycles in the world.