Harley-Davidson nowadays stays for the most famous and iconic American motorcycle manufacturer. It is even sometimes considered as one of the core constituents of the American identity. The birth and development of the company is a typical example of an American dream with a business starting as a project of enthusiastic amateurs and ending as the most famous and influential brands of the current world. Let´s have a look at the brief history of this prestigious brand!
The roots of the company are traced back to 1903 when Davidson brothers together with their friends William S. Harley started a production in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Situated in a small workshop, the company was first only one of the many motorcycle businesses that began to occur throughout the country - what a contrary to the iconic producer of current times.
During the 1910s the company started to expand and thanks to the First World War the sales increased drastically as the American Army used Harley motorcycles. Another important date was 1916 when the company started to print the Harley-Davidson Enthusiast which is published even today and thus is the magazine with longest publishing tradition of the world.
By 1920 Harley-Davidson became the world´s largest motorcycle producer with more than 2000 dealers in 67 countries. The second peak of production was reached in the Second World War as Uncle Sam used the brand´s motorcycles for the military purposes. The wars were not only necessary for output and sale rates but also represented a possibility for young people to discover the motorcycles. The soldiers very frequently bought a new bike for themselves after they returned from service or spread the word about it.
In 1957 Harley-Davidson introduced its Sportster model which resembles the oldest production model in the current lineup. In 1969 the company became a part of the American Machine and Foundry Company but in the early 1980s the members of the founding families got it back, and the Davidson family is still involved in the leading of the company with W. G. Davidson being the President of Styling.
1973 was a year when the motorcycle production experienced another great leap towards as the new assembly complex was built in York, Pennsylvania. All other productions remained in Milwaukee.
The 1980s and 1990s brought the models which are well known also in the current era (Softail, FLT, Road King or Electra Glide), Harley-Davidson also took control over the Buell motorcycles, a sportbike manufacturer. In 1983, the brand was successful with its petition to impose the tariff on the Japanese companies. The tariff was aimed at the Japanese bikes with 700cc or larger. The main target of the step was to stop those Japanese manufacturers who used the USA as a stockpile for their unused motorcycles.
The Current Era
At the beginning of the 21st century, the brand returned to its image of the classic American icon but also added specific lines for the other riders and Harley-Davidson also makes an attempt to reach the younger generations of riders by the stylish and more fashionable editions of its bikes. These steps are closely linked to the changing demographic structure of the riders as younger and younger people are starting to use bikes. The company also gradually performs changes and improvements of the overall performance of its vehicles with modifications in framing, engines or controls.
Harley-Davidson as a Racing Brand
The actual success in the competition for the brand came soon after its establishment - in 1905 when the motorcycle won a 15-mile race in Chicago. Since then the Harley-Davidson bikes set many records and won many races.
Particular feature connected with the racing history of Harley-Davidson is its HOG (Harley Owners Group). In 1920 the team mascot - a pig experienced its first victory lap after the winning race. HOG, which officially became in 1983 is nowadays the largest company-sponsored motorcycle club with 1 million of members who help to organize racing events and competitions for the other owners of the bike.
Harley-Davidson has been a dominant force on the Flat Track but also has a very colorful racing history. After the war, Harley-Davidson was also hegemonic on the dirt tracks and also experienced success in the road racing. Harley-Davidson´s bikes hold titles of AMA Hall of Famer of Daytona 200s and for the record of 265.492 mph run.
The successes in the present-time racing are centered around the NHRA and Flat Track series where the brand keeps its dominant position.