1903 in Milwaukee – Bill Harley and Arthur Walter Davidson designed and developed a one-cylinder motorcycle. Source Around the turn of the century the gasoline engine was developed and the one-cylinder motor was introduced. In 1901 the Indians were the first motorcycles and in 1903 Mitschell, Merkel and Yale.
This motorcycle was initially built for racing and was powered by a one-cylinder gasoline combustion engine.So their one-cylinder motorcycle was complete; it was reliable and beautiful in looks. In 1905, 11 cycles in total had been made. 154 by 1908.. by this time they had an official company, in a small wooden barn which was Davidson’s father’s. Although the company was small, it grew quickly, pulling in William; another member of the Davidson family to help. Pretty soon they had over 20 employees working for them. They even upgraded to a purpose-built stone factory.
In 1909, Bill Harley started on the first 1000cc V-Twin. Producing a modest 7 horsepower; the 45-degree V-Twin would become one of the most iconic symbols of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The V-Twin stayed with Harley for a long time, and although its one of the most recognizable images of Harley-Davidson motorcycles; it wasn’t actually invented by Bill Harley.. he was just following everyone else, at the time, V-Twin motors were the tendency.
In 1910, the legendary ‘Bar & Shield’ logo was placed on every motorcycle they made; to this day being the defining symbol of the company. Winning races, endurance contests and hill climbs also contributed to the validity of the growingly popular Harley-Davidson name. 1911, the ‘F-Head’ engine is introduced which will power the workhorse until 1929.
Construction began on a new six-story factory in 1912. This is also the year that Harley became an international dealer; selling motors in Japan in addition to the now 200 dealerships that it had in the states. 1914 gave birth to the side-car for Harley. The company also reinforced their stamp on the racing world, winning numerous races and becoming known as the “Wrecking Crew.”
1915 witnessed the dawning of the three-speed sliding-gear transmission, a huge mechanical development for them. By 1917, one third of all motors were dispatched to the U.S military overseas to aid the war effort. Not long after; nearly half the motorcycles made by Harley-Davidson were being sold directly to the United States Military. Most of the motorcycles used in the war came from Harley’s factories. Harley-Davidson had now grown to be the biggest producer of motorcycles in the world with around 2,000 dealerships worldwide. They survived the depression of 1918 and carried on strong. But tough days lay ahead. Indian was still in competition with their own V-Twin motors and the price of auto-mobiles dropped as T-Ford was born.
To combat these obstacles, Harley branched out into other areas of production: focusing more time on side-cars, manufacturing parts and even working on aeroplane engines, in addition to developing their motorcycles.
With the 1920’s came changes. The appearance of the motors was altered, changes which made them more comparable to the designing of Harley’s today. One change being the identifiable tear-drop shape of the fuel tank. Single-cylinder engines were once again available in 1926, having been scrapped in 1918. In 1928, the first twin-cam engine and front wheel brakes were available on Harley-Davidson’s motors. This change brought about new heights in terms of speeds; reaching over 85mph.
The 1930’s saw more progress as record breaking and award winning motorcycles were coming straight out of the factory doors. 1932, the ‘Eagle’ design was painted on all Harley-Davidson fuel tanks and modifications were also made to the engine. Not only that but the biggest Harley ever was created, the 1340cc. Which quickly became Harley-Davidson’s trademark motor. But that’s not all.. in 1936 the Knucklehead was launched, viewed by many as the final nail in the coffin of their competitor of the time, ‘Indian.’
When war came around in the 1940’s, once again, Harley-Davidson did it’s bit. In 1941 they virtually stopped all production of civilian motorcycles, the company focused most of its efforts on the production of motors for the military. Harley-Davidson received the Army-Navy ‘E’ award for it’s contribution. November 1945, with the war over civilian production started once more. Purchasing the old A.O Smith Propeller Plant to produce engines in 1947 increased Harley-Davidson productivity. The parts were then shipped back to Juneau Avenue for final assembly. 1949 saw the introduction to hydraulic front brakes on the Hydra-Glide models.