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The History of Harley Davidson Motorcycles

July 3, 2015 | By More

Today, Harley Davidson motorcycles are a household name, but it hasn’t always been that way. It began way back in 1901, when a young man named William S. Harley had a vision for attaching an engine to a bicycle.

William had a friend named Arthur Davidson who embraced his concept. Together, they began working endless hours in a small wooden shed, with the words “Harley Davidson” scrawled on the door. By 1903, they rolled out the first production Harley Davidson motorcycle.

The legendary “Bar and Shield” logo became the defining symbol of Harley Davidson motorcycles in 1910. The logo is representative of strength and ruggedness. The design was patented in 1911 and continues to be used today.

In 1920, motorcycle racing legend, Leslie “Red” Parkhurst, broke numerous speed records on a Harley Davidson racing motorcycle. Each time Parkhurst won a race, he would carry a pig on a victory lap and it was during this time the term “hog” became associated with Harley Davidson motorcycles.

During World War I nearly half of the Harley Davidson motorcycles produced were sold to the United States Army. Throughout the 1920s, major changes took place to the design. The most notable was the change in the gas tank, which was switched to the now infamous teardrop shape. In 1928, Harley Davidson introduced the first twin-cam engine and front wheel brakes. These modifications allowed Harley Davidson motorcycles to reach speeds in excess of 85 mph.

Throughout the 1930s, Harley Davidson motorcycles continued to break speed records and won multiple awards. Harley Davidson further expanded into commercial and police vehicles through the introduction of the three-wheel Servi-Car.

Appearance changes were made to Harley Davidson motorcycles and included the famous “eagle” design, which was painted on all Harley Davidson gas tanks. During this time, the trademark 1340 cc engine was introduced and the “Knucklehead” motorcycle was launched.

Between the years of 1941 through 1945, Harley Davidson ceased civilian production of motorcycles and focused solely on providing reliable motorcycles to the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II.

When civilian production resumed, Harley Davidson motorcycles were in high demand. The organization expanded and purchased the A.O. Smith Propeller Plant to be used as a machine shop. Here they manufactured motorcycle parts and shipped them to the factory for final assembly.

1947 saw the introduction of the “Panhead” Harley Davidson motorcycle, which was deemed “THE American Motorcycle”. Two years later, hydraulic front brakes were introduced on the Hydra-Glide models.

The 1950s were filled with challenges and triumphs. During this time, the British captured nearly 40 percent of the motorcycle market with their ever-popular Triumph motorcycle. Harley Davidson owners knew they would have to get creative if they were to remain at the top.

To compete with the smaller, sportier motorcycles coming from Great British, Harley Davidson developed the side-valve K model with an integrated engine and transmission. Today, the K model is known as the Sportster.

1953 marked the 50th anniversary of Harley Davidson motorcycles. The organization marked this event by creating a special logo which included a “V”, with a bar overlaid reading “Harley Davidson” and the words “50 Years American Made”. Every motorcycle manufactured in 1954 had a medallion version of the logo placed on the front fender.

During the 60s, Harley Davidson scaled down production and offered the only scooter bike ever produced. It was also during this time that the Sprint model was introduced. Other innovations included the electric starter and the introduction of the “Shovelhead” engines.

The 70s brought about transformation of the Harley Davidson motorcycle. A new Sportster racing motorcycle was introduced in 1970. One year later, the FX 1200 Super Glide cruiser was introduced; along with the first Harley-Davidson snowmobile.

1977 brought the Harley-Davidson Low Rider to the forefront when it was debuted to the public in Daytona Beach. Later in the year, the Cafe Racer was released.

Last, but not least, Harley Davidson introduced the FXEF Fat Bob in 1979. This bike has dual gas tanks and bobbed fenders. It was featured in Hollywood films and quickly became a favorite of the American public.

During the 80s, Harley Davidson went through considerable internal changes and more attention was focused on motorcycle racing. One of the most notable changes occurred in 1986, when Harley Davidson became listed on the American Stock Exchange.

In the 1990s, Harley Davidson expanded its U.S. operations to include a multi-million dollar paint facility, a new distribution center, power train plant, and production facility. Harley Davidson also opened a new assembly facility Brazil, the first operations outside of the U.S.

Since the beginning of 2000, Harley Davidson has exploded the marketplace with a variety of new and exciting motorcycles. These include the Softail Deuce; the Buell Blast, Firebolt, and Lightning; the Road King Custom; and the Street Glide.

Today, Harley Davidson owns more than 60 percent of the motorcycle market share. Considering their history and reputation, chances are good that Harley Davidson motorcycles will be around for another 100 years.

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Category: Harley-Davidson

About the Author ()

Linda Carruth is a freelance illustrator and designer who enjoys riding her motorcycle. Her professional work can be seen at lwwallace.com, but her motorcycle, humorous, and motivational designs are available at MadDashRiot.com, LinesByDesignBoutique.com, and at MadDashRocket.com.

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