“A Brief History of the Harley-Davidson® Motor Company,” by S.M. O’Connor

English inventor Edward Butler (1864-1940) invented the motorcycle in 1884.[1]  The inception of Harley-Davidson Motor Company can be traced back to the Edwardian Era, as William Sylvester Harley (1880-1943) designed his first motorcycle in 1901 and subsequently built it with his friend Arthur Davidson, Senior (1881-1950) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

When he was just fifteen years old, William Harley got a job at the Meiselbach Bicycle Factory and worked his way up the position of draughtsman (a word that is also spelt phonetically as draftsman).  At the Barth Manufacturing Company, he started out as a draughtsman.  There, he befriended Arthur Davidson, Sr., who was a pattern maker.

In 1901, William Harley drew a blueprint for a small single-cylinder engine that could be mounted on a bicycle frame.  Arthur Davidson helped him refine the design and then a third friend and fellow draughtsman, Henry Melk, helped them both.  In time, they dropped their original idea and designed a larger engine for a true motorcycle that would be mounted on a suitably larger frame designed to suit their purpose.  They seem to have sold a motorcycle for the first time to Henry Meyer, another Milwaukee resident and boyhood friend of Arthur Davidson.

William Harley and Arthur Davidson manufactured their first motorcycles in a 10’ by 15’ wooden shed in the backyard of the Davidson family.  Their first production motorcycle was a racer.  It had a three-and-one-eighth-inch bore and a three-and-a-half-inch stroke.

William Harley and Arthur Davidson attributed the construction of their first production motorcycle to Walter Davidson (1876-1942), a self-taught electrician and machinist who joined them at work in the shed.  Around this time, Harley enrolled at the Engineering School at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Walter Davidson also served as the first General Manager and President of Harley-Davidson from 1907 until his death in 1942.  In 1905, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company hired its first employee and C.H. Lang of Chicago opened the first Harley-Davidson dealership.

In 1906, Harley and the Davidson brothers built their first factory, a 28’ x 80’ facility on Chestnut Street (later Juneau Avenue) in Milwaukee.  The company at this time had six full-time employees.

William A. (“Bill”) Davidson (1870-1937) quit his job as the tool room foreman at the West Milwaukee shops for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (affectionately known as “The Milwaukee Road”) and joined William Harley and his own brothers Arthur Davidson and Walter Davidson in Harley-Davidson Motor Company in 1907.[2]  As a toolmaker, he knew what presses they would need to manufacture their motorcycles.

That same year, the company incorporated and they split the stock four ways between Harley and the Davidson brothers.  Harley, who earned a mechanical engineering degree along the way in 1907, served as the company’s chief engineer until his death.

Arthur Davidson became Secretary and General Sales Manager.  He built up the international network of dealerships and also founded the Harley-Davidson Service School.

Walter Davidson won the Federation of American Motorcyclists endurance competition in the Catskill Mountains in 1908.  He had competed without a support crew and had a perfect score of 1,000.

In 1911, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company introduced the Bar & Shield emblem that reads “HARLEY-DAVIDSON” on the horizontal bar that runs across a shield which reads “MOTOR” on top and “CYCLES” on the bottom.  The next year, the company registered a patent for it.

Harley-Davidson began to export motorcycles to the Japanese Empire for the first time in 1912.  The next year, the company built a six-story 300,000-square-foot red-brick headquarters-and-factory on Juneau Avenue.

In 1914, customers could purchase sidecars for the first time.  That year, Della Crew took a solo journey of over 5,000 miles from Waco, Texas to New York City aboard a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with a sidecar.

The company entered motorcycle racing for the first time.  The team was soon dubbed the “Wrecking Crew” because of their many victories.  William Harley served as the racing engineer.  In 1915, Harley-Davidson motorcycles also became available with three-speed sliding-gear transmissions with final and primary drive on the same side.

The Enthusiast: A Magazine for Motorcyclists started publication in 1916.  It became the longest continuously-published motorcycle magazine in the world, as it was published until 2009, when the Harley-Davidson Motor Company combined The Enthusiast with a newer publication, HOG Tales, which had been published since 1983.[3]  The new magazine is called HOG Magazine and it is still in print.  When James P. McCloskey passed away due to pneumonia on December 29, 1958, he had been editor of The Enthusiast for twenty-two years.

The U.S. Government purchased approximately one-third of the motorcycles Harley Davidson Motorcycle Company manufactured in 1917 for use in the military during the First Great World War (1914-1918).  The company opened the Quartermasters School to train military mechanics.  This evolved into the Harley-Davidson Service School.

That same year, Harley-Davidson dealerships began to sell Harley-Davidson-branded bicycles.  The parts were made by the Davis Sewing Machine Company of Dayton, Ohio.

Over the course of the Great War, the U.S. Government purchased about 20,000 motorcycles, most of which were Harley-Davidsons.  The U.S. Government purchased almost half of all the Harley-Davidson motorcycles manufactured in 1918.  The Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.  The next day, Corporal Roy Holz of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin became the first American soldier to enter the German Empire and he rode a Harley-Davidson.

The thirty-seven-inch opposed twin cylinder Sport model, introduced in 1919, became popular overseas. The Roaring Twenties was another significant period for the company.  By 1920, Harley-Davidson Motor Company was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world.  It had 2,000 dealers in sixty-seven countries.

In 1922, the company introduced the seventy-four-cubic-inch V-twin engine on the JD and FD model motorcycles.  Leslie (“Red”) Parkhurst broke twenty-three speed records on a Harley-Davidson sixty-one-cubic-inch racing motorcycle.  The Harley-Davidson brand became associated with hogs because after each victory by the company team, the mascot, a pig, was taken for a victory lap.

By 1925, all Harley-Davidson models had the distinctive teardrop-shaped gas tank.  All subsequent models have had this feature.

In 1926, Harley-Davidson began to sell, for the first time since 1918, single-cylinder motorcycles again.  Models A, AA, B, and BA were available in side-valve and overhead-valve engine configurations.

Joseph (“Smokin Joe”) Petrali (1904-1973) began racing for Harley-Davidson.  He became one of the company’s best dirt-track racers and one of most successful motorcycle racers in history.  From 1932 to 1935, he won consecutive National Hill-Climb Championships.  Concurrently, in 1933, he began a five-year-long consecutive winning streak with the American Motorcycle Association (A.M.A.) Grand National Championship.  In 1936, he won all thirteen A.M.A. National Championship dirt track races.  The next year, he set a speed record iof 136 miles per hour on a a modified

In 1929, front-end brakes became available on all models.  That same year, the company introduced the forty-five-cubic-inch V-twin engine on the D model motorcycle.  Later to be dubbed the “flathead,” variations of it would still be available on models until at least 1973.

The Harley-Davidson Motor Company and Hendee Manufacturing Company (better known as the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company), founded by bicycle racer George M. Hendee (1866-1943) in 1897 and headquartered in Springfield, Massachusetts were the only major American motorcycle manufacturers to survive the Second Great Depression (1929-1939).  They were the only two major American motorcycle manufacturers until Indian went out of business in 1953.[4]

In 1932, Harley-Davidson began to manufacture the three-wheeled Harley-Davidson Servi-car.  Available for forty-one years until 1973, it was popular both with police departments and as a commercial vehicle.

Starting in 1933, Harley-Davidson introduced an Art deco-style eagle painted on motorcycle gas tanks.  This was the start for graphic designs on Harley-Davidson motorcycles.  Previously, there had only been special-order paint jobs.

In 1935, Harley-Davidson gained another revenue stream when it began to license blueprints, tools, dies, and machinery to the Sankyo Company of Japan.  The resulting motorcycle was called the Rikuo.

The next year, Harley-Davidson introduced the EL, an overhead-valve, sixty-one-cubic-inch powered motorcycle soon to be known as the “Kucklehead.”  That same year, 1936, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company introduced an eighty-cubic-inch side-valve engine.

Bill Davidson was sixty-six years old when he died on April 21, 1937.  He had been manager of the works (factory).  His son, William H. Davidson, would serve as President of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company.  W.H. Davidson’s son, John Davidson, would also serve as President of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company.  A second son, William G. Davidson, would go on to lead a group that purchased the company in 1981.  Affectionately known as “Willie G.,” he remains the Chief Styling Officer Emeritus and Brand Ambassador.  His children – Bill Davidson’s great-grandchildren – Bill and Karen are also involved with the company.

In 1937, Harley-Davidson produced the first WL model motorcycles.  In 1938, the Jack Pines Gypsies Motorcycle Club held the first Black Hills Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.  On the three-and-a-half mile seaside course at Daytona, Florida, Ben Campanale won the first of two consecutive victories at the Daytona 200 on a Harley-Davidson WLDR.  In 1940, Babe Tancrede won the Daytona 200, riding a Harley-Davidson WLDR model motorcycle.

In 1941, Harley-Davidson almost entirely suspended civilian motorcycles in favor of military production. The Service School converted back to the Quartermasters School for the training of military mechanics in the Second Great World War.

Amongst other motorcycle models the Harley-Davidson manufactured for the U.S. Army, in 1942, Harley-Davidson produced 1,011 model XA 750 motorcycles with horizontally opposed cylinders and shaft drive.  It was designed for desert use.   The U.S. Government cancelled the contract under which Harley-Davidson manufactured it due to Allied victory in North Africa.

On February 7, 1942, Walter Davidson, President of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, died.  No president or chief executive officer of the company has matched, much less surpassed, his tenure in office.  As the company expanded, it was Walter who would address the stockholders.  He was survived by wife, Emma, whom he had wed in 1910, and children: Gordon Davidson; Walter Davidson, Junior; and Robert Davidson.  In 1942, William Herbert Davidson (1905-1992), son of co-founder William A. Davidson, succeeded his uncle as President of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, a post he held until 1971.

Overseas, many American servicemen got their first exposure to Harley-Davidson motorcycles, something they would not forget when they returned to the U.S.A.  Harley-Davidson received the first of its four Army-Navy “E” Awards for excellence in wartime production in 1943. During World War II, Harley-Davidson produced almost 60,000 WLA model motorcycles for military use.

W.S. Harley died, of natural causes, on September 16, 1943, in Milwaukee.  He had overseen product development until his death.  He was survived by his wife, Anna, and their children: John Harley, William J. Harley, and Ann.  Both John Harley and William J. Harley, Senior worked for the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, as did William J. Harley, Junior.

In November of 1945, Harley-Davidson was able to resume production of civilian motorcycles.  In 1946, Harley-Davidson introduced the forty-five-cubic-inch flathead WR racing motorcycle. It proved to be one of the best racing motorcycles ever built.

The next year, attendees of the Harley-Davidson Dealers Convention in Milwaukee took a train ride to a “secret destination,” which turned out to be the newly-purchased factory on Capitol Drive. Formerly the A.O. Smith Propeller Plant, built during the war, Harley-Davidson used the facility as a large machine shop, and shipped the new parts to the company’s Juneau Avenue headquarters for final assembly.

Harley-Davidson began to sell what would become the classic black leather motorcycle jacket in 1947.  That same year, Harley-Davidson dirt-track racer Jimmy Chann won the first of three consecutive A.M.A. Grand National Championships.

Production of American-made lightweight motorcycles began in 1948 with Harley-Davidson’s model 2 motorcycle.  Various iterations appeared until 1966.

In the 1940s, Arthur Davidson, Sr. served as President of the American Motorcyclist Association and as President of the Motorcycle and Allied Trades Association.  Arthur was the last of the four founders to still be alive when he and his wife died in an automobile accident in Milwaukee on December 30, 1950.

In 1950, Harley-Davidson’s Larry Headrick won the A.M.A. Grand National Championship in dirt-track racing.  Harley-Davidson riders won eighteen of the twenty-four National Championships and set six new racing records.

The Harley-Davidson Motor Company introduced the side-valve K model motorcycles with an integrated engine & transmission in 1952 to compete with smaller, sportier motorcycles coming mainly from the United Kingdom. The K model motorcycle will evolved into the Sportster.

In 1953, Harley-Davidson celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in part with a new logo with a V to commemorate the V-twin engine that had been so successful for the company.  A horizontal overlaid bar read “Harley-Davidson.”  The shield had the phrase “50 YEARS” above the overlaid bar and “AMERICAN MADE” below the bar.

That same year, Hendee Manufacturing, which owned the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company, went out of business.  Harley-Davidson would remain the sole American motorcycle manufacturer for the next forty-six years.

In 1954, dirt-track racer Joe Leonard won the A.M.A. Grand National Championship. Over the next eight years, Harley-Davidson racers won Grand National Championships.

A seven-year-long consecutive run of victories at the Daytona 200 began for Harley-Davidson riders in 1955. The victors were Brad Andres, Johnny Gibson, Joe Leonard, and Roger Reiman.

They all rode Harley-Davidson KR model motorcycles. Reiman’s victory in 1961 was on the new speedway course.

Rising star Elvis Presley (1935-1977) posed for the cover of the May, 1956 issue of The Enthusiast: A Magazine for Motorcyclists sitting on a Harley-Davidson model KH motorcycle.  The next year, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company introduced the Sportster® with a fifty-five-cubic-inch overhead valve engine.

In 1958, the first hydraulic rear-brake and new rear suspension appeared on Big Twin Models on the new Duo-Glide.  Racer Carroll Resweber won the first of four A.M.A. Grand National Championships.

In 1963, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company purchased the Tomahawk Boat Manufacturing Company in Tomahawk, Wisconsin to acquire fiberglass manufacturing equipment for the production of motorcycle components.  By 1965, Tomahawk Operations became the Harley-Davidson Motor Company’s sole supplier of fiberglass parts such as sidecar bodies, saddlebags, and windshields.

American Machine and Foundry (A.M.F.) purchased the Harley-Davidson Motor Company in 1969 and streamlined production.  The quality of the product declined, and, consequently, so did the company’s reputation.  Between 1977 and 2010, Harley-Davidson concentrated on the production of heavy cruiser models.

In 1981, a group of thirteen investors led by Vaughn L. Beals, Jr. (1928-2018) and William Godfrey (“Willie G.”) Davidson – a grandson of co-founder William A. Davidson and son of William H. Davidson – purchased the company for $80,000,000 in a leveraged buyout.  Beals, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), was an engineer who oversaw the design of new Harley-Davidson motorcycles for A.M.F.  He served as C.E.O. from 1981 to 1989 and as Chairman of the Board of Directors from 1981 to 1996.  Beals initiated just-in-time delivery to manage inventory and cause the creation, in 1983, of the Harley Owners Club (H.O.G. ), which is the largest manufacturer-sponsored motorcycle club in the world.  At his death last year, he was survive by his wife, Eleanore Woods Beals, their two daughters, five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

In 1998, Harley-Davidson opened an assembly plant in Manaus, Brazil.[5]  This was a free-trade zone.[6]  The plan was for the company to export American-made components there.[7]  The assembly plant would be a joint venture between Harley-Davidson and Paulo Izzo, who hitherto had been the company’s representative in Brazil.[8]  This is the Harley-Davidson do Brasil Ltda Assembly Plant.

Today, there are also assembly plants in India and Thailand.  The Harley-Davidson India Bawal Assembly Plant is in Bawal, Haryana, India and the Thailand Sales Office and Assembly Plant is in Rayong, Thailand.

Buell Motorcycle Company, a sport-bike manufacturer, became a customer that purchased XR1000 engines from the Harley-Davidson Motor Company in 1987.  A few years later, in 1993, Harley-Davidson acquired 49% ownership stake in the Buell Motorcycle Company.  Five years later, H-D increased its ownership stake to 98% and in 2003 it acquired the remaining 2%, at which point Buell Motorcycle Company became a wholly-owned subsidiary.  Between 2000 and 2014, Harley-Davidson used Buell sport-bikes in the Rider’s Edge New Rider Course.  In 2009, Harley-Davidson announced that it would cease production of Buell sport-bikes to focus on Harley-Davidson motorcycles.  Founder Erik Buell subsequently founded Erik Buell Racing.  Unfortunately, he did so during the Third Great Depression (2007-2014), and ownership has changed several times,[9] but it continues to manufacture motorcycles in East Troy, Wisconsin.

Harley-Davidson purchased MV Agusto, an Italian motorcycle manufacturer, for $109,000,000 in 2008, which included $70,000,000 in assumed debt, only to turn around and sell it back to its original owners two years later for three Euros ($3.98).[10]  Furthermore, Harley-Davidson had put an additional 20,000,000 Euros ($26,000,000) in escrow so MV Agusto had operating capital for the next twelve months.[11]  This was continuing fallout from the collapse of the sport-bike market during the Third Great Depression.[12]  MV Agusto’s product line ran from sport-bikes that sold for only $15,000 to the limited-production F4CC that could reach speeds of up to 195 miles per hour and sold for $120,000.[13]  This was the second time in a decade a foreign company had taken an ownership stake in MV Agusto only to sell it back.[14]  The Malaysian automaker Proton Holdings acquired a 58% ownership stake for 70,000,000 Euros only to sell it back for one Euro.[15]

Harley-Davidson restructured in 2010.  The company threatened to leave Wisconsin if three labor unions did not agree to concessions on three seven-year-long contracts that allowed for $50,000,000 in savings on labor costs.[16]  A total of 375 jobs would be lost at factories in Milwaukee and Tomahawk, but approximately 900 jobs would be saved.[17]  The assembly plant in Kansas City, Missouri is now closed.

In 2011, on a Harley-Davidson XR1200, Seth Enslow broke the world record for a long-distance motorcycle jump at 183.7 feet.  Previously, the record had been held by Bubba Blackwell in 1999 and beforehand by Robert Craig (“Evel”) Knievel (1938-2007) in 1975.

That same year, Harley-Davidson streamlined customization with the H-D1™, which allowed customers to receive factory-built custom motorcycles.  In 2012, Harley-Davidson introduced the Softail Slim™ and Seventy-Two™ models.

In 2013, Harley-Davidson celebrated its 110th anniversary with rallies around the world culminating in a party in Milwaukee.  River’s Edge – the Harley-Davidson Academy of Motorcycling celebrated the milestone of having trained 300,000 motorcycle riders in the New Rider’s Course since 2000.  The company revamped the New Rider’s Course with the Riding Academy.  For the first time, it featured Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

In late 2014, Harley-Davidson introduced the Street 750 and Street 500, which featured liquid-cooled Revolution X engines.  Harley-Davidson announced plans in 2015 to a model of direct distribution to independently-owned dealers in Canada.

Harley-Davidson Electric Motorcycle

In 2015, Harley-Davidson revealed Project LiveWire™, the company’s first electric motorcycle.  In a case of product placement, Captain America (Chris Evans) rode a 2014 model Harley-Davidson Street™ 750, designed for urban riders, in both Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier (2013) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) rode a futuristic electric motorcycle, a Project LiveWire™ prototype in Age of Ultron.

Figure 1 Photo credit: Harley-Davidson Motor Company Caption: Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) rides a futuristic electric motorcycle, a Harley-Davidson® Project LiveWire™ prototype in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015).

On Thursday, June 25, 2015 and Friday, June 26, 2015, the public could see up close and even test ride Harley-Davidson’s first electric motorcycle with Project LiveWire™: The Experience Tour, which was here in Chicago for 2015 Techweek Chicago in the plaza outside of The Merchandise Mart, at 222 West Merchandise Mart Plaza, Chicago, Illinois 60654.  Over the previous year, the company had toured thirty American and Canadian cities with a fleet of Project LiveWire motorcycles.  This tour was a mechanism for collecting consumer feedback on the design and price point customers find reasonable.  The company wanted to gage what people want and expect from an electric Harley-Davidson®.

There had been approximately 8,000 demo rides during this tour before it reached Chicago.  These are street-legal fully operational cycles.  In addition, there have been 14,000 Jumpstart™ Demos (simulated rides) on fixed motorcycles.  This was for the benefit of people who do not yet have motorcycle licenses.

The Austin leg of the tour was for the X Games in Austin, which saw the debut at the X Games of a new sport, Harley-Davidson Flat-Track Racing.  Flat-track racing is not new, but the sport was new to the X Games.

I asked Dave Cotteleer, then Vice President and Chief Information Officer for the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, “How long has Harley-Davidson been working on this design?” Mr. Cotteleer replied, “We’ve been working on LiveWire for the better part of five years.  We pride ourselves on being close to the customer and keeping our eye on future trends.”

They began work on Project LiveWire in 2010.  All new products are designed at the Willie G. Davidson Product Development Center in Milwaukee.  Mr. Cotteleer related that all of the Project LiveWire motorcycles were hand-built there, as well, as opposed to the factories in Kansas City, Missouri or York, Pennsylvania.

The Project LiveWire prototypes are not for sale.  I asked, “When will it be available in Harley-Davidson dealer showrooms?”

Cotteleer explained electric Harley-Davidsons will probably be available for sale in the year 2020.  “We’re working on consumer feedback as well as the technology itself.”

Regarding The Walt Disney Company / Marvel Studios, I asked if Harley-Davison would continue with product placement in movies. Cotteleer explained that this relationship had existed for several years.  “We intend to continue that partnership.”

Figure 2 Photo credit: Harley-Davidson Motor Company Caption: Project LiveWire™ is the Harley-Davidson Motor Company’s first-ever electric motorcycle.

Two days ago, I wrote about how Lego System A/S (doing business as The LEGO Group®) announced its latest Lego Creator Expert model, the Harley-Davidson® Fat Boy® on Tuesday, July 9, 2019.  It will appear on LEGO Store shelves and become available through the online LEGO® Shop on Thursday, August 1, 2019.

Developed in collaboration with Harley-Davidson, Inc. this detailed LEGO® interpretation of the motorcycle captures the beauty of the real-life machine with finishes, surfaces, and design elements crafted to replicate the full-size Harley-Davidson® Fat Boy®.  Comprised of 1,023 pieces, the model comes complete with solid-disc Lakester wheels, Harley-Davidson’s distinctive teardrop fuel tank, integrated speedometer, dual exhaust pipes, and a display stand.

“Bringing this Harley-Davidson motorcycle to life in brick form is incredibly exciting,” stated Mike Psiaki, Design Master at The LEGO Group®. “The model truly captures the iconic design, advanced engineering and attention to detail of this iconic motorcycle, offering an immersive building experience and a unique collector’s item for Harley-Davidson enthusiasts and LEGO fans of all ages.”

“It’s been exceptionally exciting for Harley-Davidson to collaborate with the LEGO Group – another brand that champions creativity and expression,” stated Heather Malenshek, Chief Marketing Officer at Harley-Davidson®. “Not only do we want customers to be inspired by the end result, we want them to enjoy the building process.”

“The authenticity of Harley-Davidson design comes by sweating the details from start to finish.” stated Brad Richards, Vice President of Styling & Design at Harley-Davidson®. “We looked at every nut and bolt on the bike, all the finishes, and every small detail. Working with the LEGO team on this project allowed us to bring that same attention to detail to a collaborative product, and to celebrate a brand that inspired the imagination and creativity of many of us at Harley-Davidson from a young age, including myself.”

Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: The LEGO® Group, in collaboration with Harley-Davidson, Inc., is introducing a LEGO® Creator Expert model of the Harley-Davidson® Fat Boy®.

Figure 3 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: Harley-Davidson® Fat Boy® (Set #10269) in the LEGO® Creator Expert subtheme is for adults and teens ages sixteen-and-over.  The list price (in the U.S.A.) is $99.99.

Figure 4 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: In the foreground, we see a Harley-Davidson® Fat Boy® (Set #10269) model from the LEGO® Creator Expert subtheme, and, in the background, we see a real Harley-Davidson® Fat Boy® motorcycle.

Figure 5 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: The licensed Harley-Davidson® Fat Boy® (Set #10269) makes for a splendid display centerpiece for the home or office.

Figure 6 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: The licensed Harley-Davidson® Fat Boy® (Set #10269) is finished with an authentic dark-red-and-black color scheme with Harley-Davidson® logos on each side reflective of the 2019 Fat Boy® motorcycle’s “Wicked Red” paint scheme.

Figure 7 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: The finished model measures over 7” high, 7” wide, and 12” twelve long. It features several moveable parts for owners to engage. One can spin the rear tire to see the Milwaukee-Eight® engine with moving pistons and dual exhaust pipes spring to life.

To promote the launch, LEGO® Master Builders created a life-sized model of the Harley-Davidson® Fat Boy®, complete with silver-coated parts, Wi-Fi animation control, and sound and light effects to imitate a real Harley-Davidson® Fat Boy®.  It includes 6,000 special LEGO® elements. The phenomenal creation took 865 man-hours to build.  Comprised of 69,569 pieces, it will be on display at select LEGO® stores and Harley-Davidson® events for fans to see.

Figure 8 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: This is the life-size model of a Harley-Davidson® Fat Boy ® built by LEGO® Master Builders.

Today, Harley-Davidson, Inc. is the parent company of two operating companies: Harley-Davidson Motor Company and Harley-Davidson Financial Services.  The former manufacturers Harley-Davidson® motorcycles, parts, and accessories while the latter is the lender that enables many Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners to purchase the vehicles and also sells insurance, protection plans, and extended service plans to cover those same vehicles.  They also offer a Harley-Davidson®-branded Visa card.  There are over 1,400 independently-owned Harley-Davidson® motorcycle dealerships, many of which sell Harley-Davidson® motorcycles and motorcycle parts exclusively.  The Harley-Davidson® Motorcycle Company and dealerships also sell Harley-Davidson® motorcycle riding apparel and gear, as well as casual apparel.  Harley-Davidson, Inc. has approximately 6,000 employees.

The address of the Corporate Headquarters of Harley Davidson Motor Company is 700 Juneau Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53208.  Insiders just call it Juneau Avenue.  In 1994, the National Park Service added it to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Harley-Davidson Motor Company has three factories in the U.S.A.  The 849,000-square-foot Pilgrim Road Powertrain Operations facility in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, is home to the “Big Twin,” the larger of two V-twin engines (with an engine capacity of seventy-four cubic inches or greater), Milwaukee Eight™, and Sportster® powertrains.  Employees at the Pilgrim Road facility produce engines and transmissions for the final assembly plant in York, Pennsylvania.  They also produce engines and transmissions for sale through the Harley-Davidson® Genuine Motor Parts and Accessories business.  Click here to learn about tours of the facility.

Employees at the 358,000-square-foot Vehicle and Powertrain Operations facility, built in 1998 in Kansas City, Missouri, produce or produced the Sportster®, Dyna®, Street™, and V-Rod® model motorcycles, along with select Softail® models.  They fabricate, finish, and assemble these models. This included production of the liquid-cooled Revolution® and Revolution X™ powertrains for the V-Rod and Street models.  Harley-Davidson announced it would shift operations carried out in Kansas City, Missouri to the facility in York, Pennsylvania.  Consequently, tours were discontinued.  The Visitor’s Center closed on September 7, 2018.

The Harley-Davidson Vehicle Operations facility opened in York, Pennsylvania in 1973.  Employees at the Vehicle Operations facility assemble the Touring, Softail®, CVO™, and Trike model motorcycles.  They also manufacture parts, such as frames, fuel tanks, and fenders.  Click here to learn about tours of the facility.

Tomahawk Operations in Tomahawk, Wisconsin now has two facilities that combined comprise 192,000 square feet covering ninety-six acres.  With an injection-molding process, employees produce cosmetic components that they subsequently paint.  They also produce motorcycle windshields and motorcycle parts for the Harley-Davidson Genuine Motor Parts and Accessories business.

In January of 2018, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company announced the pending closure of the New Castalloy facility at North Plympton, South Australia, which is a suburb of Adelaide.[18]  This is a facility that manufactures wheel rims.[19]  The Australian Workers Union estimated 120 workers will lose their jobs.[20]

Harley-Davidson Dealer Systems (H.D.D.S.) in Valley View, Ohio is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company located outside Cleveland.  It provides software, hardware, training, and customer support for Harley-Davidson dealers in the U.S.A.

Dedicated in March of 1997, the Willie G. Davidson Product Development Center (P.D.C.) in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin is a 370,000-square-foot facility.  Built to house the Original Equipment Engineering, Styling, and Developmental Purchasing groups, the P.D.C. is where employees work on product development, testing, styling, and developmental purchasing.

The Harley-Davidson Motor Company built the P.D.C. on land it had acquired fifty years beforehand.  It had previously used the land for a snowmobile test track.  The P.D.C. also operates test sites: Arizona Proving Grounds and the Florida Evaluation Center.  The LiveWire Labs is located in Mountain View, California.

Harley-Davidson Financial Services (H.D.F.S.) in Chicago offers finance and insurance products and services to consumers and Harley-Davidson dealers.  Employees at this facility formerly provided the gamut: accounting, business intelligence, communications, continuous improvement, corporate strategy, credit risk management, enterprise project management, global information, human resources, insurance, legal, marketing, sales, and securitization services. There are now also H.D.F.S. facilities in Carson City, Nevada and Plano, Texas.

In 2011, Harley-Davidson Latin America opened its regional headquarters in Miami to support subsidiaries in Mexico and Brazil.  Today, there are regional offices in Mexico and Brazil: Harley-Davidson de Mexico in Monterrey and Harley-Davidson do Brasil in Sao Paulo.  In addition, Harley-Davidson is located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Harley-Davidson U.K.; Harley-Davidson Europe; and Harley-Davidson Financial Services Europe shared a regional headquarters in Oxford, England.  Formerly, Harley-Davidson EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) was headquartered there.  Today, there is a regional office, Harley-Davidson Middle East/North Africa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  There is also Harley-Davidson Africa (Pty) Ltd. in Cape Town, South Africa.

There are multiple regional offices in Europe.  Harley-Davidson France is in Paris; Harley-Davis Spain is in Barcelona; Harley-Davidson Benelux B.V. is in Rijswijk, Netherlands; Harley-Davidson Germany GmbH is in Frankfurt; Harley-Davidson Czech Republic s.r.o. is in Prague; Harley-Davidson Switzerland GmbH is in Zurich; Harley-Davidson Italia S.r.l. is in Milan; Harley-Davidson South Eastern Europe is in Athens; and Harley-Davidson Russia and CIS is in Moscow.

Harley-Davidson Asia Pacific Pte has its regional headquarters in Singapore.  Harley-Davidson Japan K.K. is located in Tokyo. Harley-Davidson China is located in Shanghai.  Harley-Davidson India is located in Gurugram, Haryana, India.  The aforementioned Thailand Sales Office and Assembly Plant is in Rayong.  The Asia/Pacific Group Australia Office is in Sydney.

The Harley-Davidson Museum®

The Harley-Davidson Museum® sits on a twenty-acre campus in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley.  On Thursday, June 1, 2006, Harley-Davidson C.E.O. Jim Ziemer presided over a groundbreaking ceremony for the 130,000-square-foot museum building.[21] Two former Harley-Davidson chief executive officers, Vaughn Beals and Richard Teerlink, were also present, as was Harley-Davidson Chairman Jeffery Bleustein.[22]  The estimated cost of building the museum was $75,000,000.[23]  The Milwaukee office of the M.A. Mortenson Company was the general contractor.[24]  The architectural firm Pentagram designed the museum.[25]  The architect of record was Hammel Green & Abrahamson, Inc. of Milwaukee.[26]  Scott Parker, a nine-time A.M.A. Grand Champion, revved the engine of a Harley-Davidson racer to set the rear wheel spinning to break ground.[27]

The address is 400 West Canal Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201. The phone number is 1 (877) 436-8738.  In 2008, the Harley-Davidson Archives moved from Juneau Avenue to the Harley-Davidson Museum.  Previously, it was closed to the general public.

The Harley-Davidson Museum is open year-round and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors.  The twenty-acre site includes Motor® Bar & Restaurant, and the H-D Museum Shop.   [Formerly, there was also a restaurant called Café Racer on the H-D Museum Campus.]  The menu of is available online here.  The address of Motor® Bar& Restaurant is 401 West Canal Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53203. The phone number is (414) 287-2778.  It is open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.  In September of 2018, Jed Hanson received a promotion to Executive Chef after being Executive Sous Chef for four years.  The H-D Museum Shop is open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, 9:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays, and from 9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

The H-D Museum is open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. May through September, except on Thursdays, when it is open from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.  It is open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. October through April, except on Thursdays, when it is open from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Parking is free on the H-D Museum campus.  There is room for 500 cars or 1,000 motorcycles on the streets of the H-D Museum campus grounds and in the Parking Gardens.

Only a small portion of the collections of artifacts and archival documents and photographs from the Harley-Davidson Archives are on display in the Harley-Davidson Museum.  Hundreds of vehicles are on the third floor of the Harley-Davidson Museum building.

The second floor houses thousands of objects, including collectibles, toys, motorcycle parts and accessories, clothing, riding gear, documents, and photographs. Visitors are invited to take pictures of themselves (so-called “selfies”) or have friends or relatives with them take their pictures as they sit upon motorcycles in the Experience Gallery.   The Harley-Davidson Museum and Archives naturally attract those with a passion for motorcycles, but it will be of interest to anyone with an interest in ground transportation or American pop culture.

For the general public, a seventy-five-minute-long Behind-the-Scenes Tour of the Museum Archives and Motorcycle Conservation and Storage is available on Wednesdays and Fridays for an additional $25 fee per person at 10:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. and $20 per person for booked groups.  Click here to purchase tickets.

The forty-five-minute-long Highlights Tour is offered at 10:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. for an additional $8 fee per person or an additional $6 fee per person for private groups of twelve or more.  Click here to purchase tickets.  The size of a tour group is limited to twenty people.  For groups of twelve or more, call (414) 287-2799 or e-mail groups@h-dmuseum.com.

The three-and-a-half-hour-long Bikes Brats & Beers Tour is offered from June through August on Thursdays starting at 3:00 p.m. and Saturdays at 10:00 a.m. (and year-round for groups of twelve or more).  Thanks to a partnership with Milwaukee Food & City Tours®, this involves a tour of the H-D Museum, followed by a narrated bus ride through Menomonee Valley, Miller Valley, and downtown Milwaukee.  Parties see Miller Park, Miller Brewing Company, the mansions where Milwaukee’s beer barons lived with their families, the Pabst Brewery Complex, Schlitz Park, and Usinger’s Famous Sausage Park.  There are two thirty-minute-long stops.  The first is at the Milwaukee Brat House on Old World 3rd Street to sample bratwursts and beer brewed in Milwaukee.  The second is at the Lakefront Brewery, where there are two beer samplings and everyone on the tour gets a souvenir glass.  Upon one’s return to the H-D Museum, one should present one’s wristband to get 10% off at the Motor Bar & Restaurant and The Shop.  To participate, one must be twenty-one years of age or older.  There is a limit of twenty-two guests per tour group.  The price is $70 per person.  To sign up, click here or call (414) 287-2799 or e-mail groups@h-dmuseum.com.

Saturday Demo Rides are on Saturdays this spring and summer.  They started on Saturday, May 18, 2019 and will run through Saturday, September 28, 2019, but will not take place on Saturday, August 31, 2019.  Demo Rides are from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., weather permitting.  Sign-up is available on a first-come, first-served basis.


[1] Last year, the world celebrated the 200th anniversary of the first public demonstration of the bicycle, as I explained in “Exhibit ‘The Art of the Bicycle’ at Museum of Science & Industry.”  In 1818, Karl Friedrich Christian Ludwig Freiherr Drais von Sauerbronn (1785-1851) – often called Baron Karl von Drais in the U.S. – demonstrated what he called the Laufmaschine (Running-machine) in Paris, having invented it in 1817 to traverse his garden.  It became known in France as the Draisienne and in England as the “Draisine” or “hobbyhorse.”

[2] The Davidson brothers and their two sisters (Janet May and Elizabeth) were born to William C. Davidson (1846-1923), a Scottish immigrant, and his wife, Margaret Adams McFarlane (1843-1933), a native-born American of Scottish descent.

[3] Motorcyclist, which, as of 2018, had been published continuously for 106 years, is now the oldest motorcycle magazine in the world.

[4] There have been multiple attempts to bring the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company back into existence.  In 2011, Polaris Industries, which manufactures off-road vehicles in Minnesota and was the parent company of Victory Motorcycles in Iowa, until it ended production in 2017, acquired the rights to manufacture Indian Motorcycles and relocated production to Iowa.

[5] “Harley to assembly motorcycles in Brazil,” Milwaukee Business Journal, 7 July, 1998 (https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/stories/1998/07/06/daily6.html) Accessed 07/12/19

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Rick Barrett, “Erik Buell Racing manufacturing assets sold at third auction,” Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, 13 January, 2016 (http://archive.jsonline.com/business/erik-buell-racing-manufacturing-assets-sold-at-third-auction-b99651291z1-365207811.html/) Accessed 07/12/19

[10] Rick Barrett, “Harley-Davidson takes beating on MV Agusto,” Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, 16 August, 2010 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170625082407/http://archive.jsonline.com/blogs/business/100759404.html) Accessed 07/12/19

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid

[16] Jerry Garrett, “Harley-Davidsons to Remain Wisconsin-Made,” The New York Times, 14 September, 2010 (https://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/harley-davidsons-to-remain-wisconsin-made/?src=mv&ref=automobiles) Accessed 07/12/19

[17] Ibid

[18] ABC News, “Harley-Davidson to close New Castalloy Adelaide factory, with 120 jobs to go,” 30 January, 2018 (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-31/new-castalloy-to-close-with-120-jobs-lost/9377982) Accessed 07/12/19

In this case, ABC stands for Australian Broadcasting Corporation rather than American Broadcasting Company.

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibid

[21] Rich Rovito, “Harley-Davidson kick-starts $75M museum project,” Milwaukee Business Journal, 1 June, 2006 (https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/stories/2006/05/29/daily31.html) Accessed 07/12/19

[22] Ibid

[23] Ibid

[24] Ibid

[25] Ibid

[26] Ibid

[27] Ibid

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2 thoughts on ““A Brief History of the Harley-Davidson® Motor Company,” by S.M. O’Connor

  1. You forgot to mention that Indian was the first American Motorcycle. Producing before Harley dav.


    1. I do’t mention the Indian Motorcycle Company was the first American motorcycle manufacturer, but I do explain it was older than Harley-Davidson. Scroll down to this sentence. “The Harley-Davidson Motor Company and Hendee Manufacturing Company (better known as the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company), founded by bicycle racer George M. Hendee (1866-1943) in 1897 and headquartered in Springfield, Massachusetts were the only major American motorcycle manufacturers to survive the Second Great Depression (1929-1939).”


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