The birth of a legend: the history of Harley-Davidson motorcycles

 November 5, 2022

By  Elle Gellrich

Harley-Davidson produces, perhaps, the most famous and desirable motorcycles in the world. But do you know how the legendary American company started?

The history of the company began with the hobbies of two brothers, Walter and Arthur Davidson, and their friend William Harley. Mankind knows many examples when the realization of the big and bright dream it is required only passionate desire, persistence, and adherents, so it was with Harley-Davidson. Young friends collected their first bikes by hand, literally from improvised means. Thus, the carburetor of the first Harley was made of usual tin cans. The name of the legendary brand appeared due to the aunt of one of the brothers, who wrote with red paint on the door of a small shed, where young designers assembled their child, as a joke – Harley-Davidson Motor Company https://yagupov.com/

And in 1903, the world got the first Harley-Davidson motorcycle. It had a single-cylinder engine with two horsepower and bicycle pedals for acceleration to the speed, after which the motor was started. So, it was possible to accelerate up to 7-8 km/h as much as possible. But, of course, no one was going to sell such a bike, but the second revised model had already started to sell several copies in a year. But even having stable orders and successful performances in races, during the first several years, all Harley-Davidson motorcycles were still assembled in an old shed. Much later, when the first production areas appeared, the barn was transferred to the production shop as a symbol of the company’s history.

And already in 1907, Harleys began to be delivered to the local police departments. Of course, the appearance was still far from the motorcycle we are accustomed to, and there were only two colors – black and gray. But the motorcycles were in demand, and in 1917, an order for an H-D with a sidecar (to install machine guns) came from the U.S. army to confront the Mexican revolutionaries with them. Thanks to these orders from the police and the U.S. army, Harley-Davidson later managed to survive the times of the Great Depression, when many manufacturers had to close their plants.

And in the 1920s, two significant events for the company happened at once: first, the engine volume reached 1200 cubic centimeters, and second, the racing team Harley-Davidson chose a pig as its mascot. The team wins, and the racer passes a circle of honor with a piglet in their hands; thus, the nickname Harley Hogs appears. This name stuck for a long time to owners of motorcycles, but later it was replaced by Harley Owners Group.

World War II gave the Harley-Davidson company a new round of development. Motorcycles were supplied not only to the American army but also to allies. Our soldiers had a good account for H-D, and our country received about 30,000 motorcycles, and after the war, the militiamen began to ride on these very military “Harleys.”

At this time in America, soldiers returning with combat Harleys form a new, for those times, unexpected movement. The military feel their uselessness and unfit for a simple life and, dressed in leather jackets with lettering, begin to race around the roads of the United States – smashing, robbing, and even hanging other brands of motorcycles from trees. In fact, it was one of the early varieties of the biker movement – it was not about the robbery, but a unified spirit, a new style of dress, and even the features of their motorcycles. That is when new original “chips” began to be thought up by motorcyclists themselves, rather than designers, so, for example, the legendary color “metallic” appeared on Harley-Davidson motorcycles – soldiers simply added a special powder with metal in paint and painted details of the bike themselves.

In the 1950s, the company experienced difficulties, and it is bought out by AMF. For the time being, Harley loses its individuality and popularity. Family members of Davidson and Harley managed to redeem shares only in 1981. Revival of the company and light successful epoch of H-D begins – there are new models, victories of racers on motorcycles of the brand, and opening of industrial factories of the brand. And in the 80s, the biggest motorcycle club Harley-Davidson with a number of participants of 90,000 people, appeared, and in 30 years, it already counted millions of participants. Certainly, the cult brand was not ignored by Hollywood – in the 90s, the movies Terminator and Terminator 2, where the main character rides the new model Softtail Fat Boy, are released. According to the legend, the name of this motorcycle is associated with the names of the two atomic bombs, Fat and Little Boy, that were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

As of today, there are several lines of motorcycles in the model range. Some models are conceived for young drivers; some represent the classic American motorcycle. It is believed that the second half of the XX century was the time of Harley-Davidson. Motorcycles of the brand were actively used in numerous films, and the bikes were in great demand among consumers.

Moreover, while in the 80s, the majority of Harley owners were under 35 years old, in 2008, this age increased to 48. But the peculiarity of this motorcycle is that each of its owners gave exactly what he lacked. Respectable and grown-up people, “Harley” brought back a sense of life, a feeling of youth, those times when they listened to rock, had daring dreams and chose roads leaving in the unknown distance. And for the younger generation, Harley-Davidson was a pass to the world of legendary and iconic.

This amazing motorcycle always attracts itself. It is not important whether you are a simple office worker or a Hollywood celestial – who not only fell under the spell of this bike! Here you have great athletes and popular musicians, and even Pope Francis. True, the pope owned owns bike named Harley-Davidson Dyna Super Glide with the inscription Francesco only a year, and then it was sold at auction for 241,500 euros. Dad’s biker jacket didn’t come cheap either, costing 57,500 euros to the new owner.

Nowadays, probably, Harley-Davidson does not even need advertisement because anyone, even far from motorcycles, knows or has heard about “Harley.” Representatives of the company use this fact for marketing purposes, and in the advertising of the brand, they bravely declare that among the most frequent words for a tattoo is “mom” and then – Harley-Davidson.

Harley-Davidson is constantly evolving and last year, it introduced the LiveWire electric motorcycle to the world. It accelerates to 60 mph in 3 seconds with a battery capacity of 15.5 kWh, which is considered a record for the segment, the electric motor power is 105 hp, and the top speed is 177 km/h. And an added bonus: this bike has a USB-C port for charging your phone. What technology!

Elle Gellrich


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