Anthony Davidson and William Harley were two friends with a knack for engineering. In 1903 they were fiddling around with an engine capable of propelling a bicycle. With most of the work being done in the boys’ backyard, and after what must have been a succession of trials and errors, they were able to present a functioning prototype as early as 1904. After another three years Harley Davidson was an established company, producing and selling something in the order of 150 motorcycles per year. In spite of rivalling companies springing up like mushrooms, most of them eventually faded for various reasons, while Harley-Davidson firmly claimed its place in the American industry.
The first motorcycle to be used in a military capacity was a Harley, by the US army. Later on they would buy tens of thousands of them for the two world wars. Over a short period of time, Harley Davidson saw the sales soar, helped on by the rising demand caused by the economic boom of the 1920 decade. During the great depression years, the company had to diversify production and managed to survive the crisis, being one of only two motorcycling companies that were capable of doing so.
At some point an agreement was reached with a number of police departments for the delivery of motorbikes, which was to be a durable deal that lasted until modern day. WWII meant a steady demand by the army. In addition, captured German bikes were brought in, disassembled, studied and copied, bridging the technological gap that European makers had enjoyed for so long.
Following a series of unrelated events concerning tax issues and labour conflicts, the brand struggled through the 60s and 70s, with the produced models showing low quality and high prices when compared to their Japanese competitors, and with the public dissatisfied with Harley-Davidson in general.
Soon after new investors came along in 1981, the policies suffered some defining changes, seeing production drop the attempt of competing directly with the foreign manufacturers and focusing instead on a revival of previous models, with special emphasis on the post-WWII models, that used to be customized by their owners. The plan worked and returned Harley-Davidson to prominence.
With the resurgence of the motorbikes, the brand invested on its image, creating a museum in Milwaukee, where everything started, and offering tours inside some of its production lines. Moreover, scores of clubs exist all over the world, pre-eminently the HOG, where motorcycle owners, riders, fans and random people gather, having in common the Harley-inspired culture.