Inspiring History Of Harley Davidson Motorcycle That You Must Know

Harley Davidson, nowadays, is the premier American motorcycle company worldwide. It has reached its name and fame in every corner of the globe. Following it, youths and seniors have genuinely become fans of the classic, stylish and aggressive design of Harley Davidson motorcycles. 

But do you know how and when Harley Davidson started? The history of Harley Davidson is itself an inspiring one. Established in 1903, Harley has been ruling the motorcycle industry for almost 120 years. 

As a Harley motorcycle fan, you must know its true story and evolution. In fact, the history of Harley Davidson is itself an inspiring one. The company started as a small motorcycle manufacturer in 1903 to become one of the largest and most influential motorcycle manufacturers worldwide. 

Thus, we will take you on an enticing journey of Harley Davidson’s story. You will learn its origin, establishment date, motivating journey, and ups and downs. So, stay tuned with us to know the ins and outs of Harley’s historical advancement. 

Harley Davidson Motorcycle

History Of Harley Davidson: In-Depth Detailed

History Of Harley Davidson In-Depth Detailed

Harley Davidson is all set to celebrate its 120th anniversary the following year. During the past 120 years, Harley has indeed become a synonym for aggressive, modern-day, and stylish motorcycles. But how did it all start?

The story began in 1901 in Milwaukee, America. William S. Harley was only 20 years old when he first designed an engine. It has 7.07 inches of cubic displacement. He designed it to use with a frame of a pedal bicycle. 

Arthur Davidson, William’s childhood friend, joined him in developing the engine further. They worked in a machine shop in Milwaukee. Henry Melk, another friend of the two, was the machine shop owner then. 

Later, Arthur’s brother Walter Davidson worked with them to finish the engine. However, it couldn’t ride through the hilly regions of Milwaukee as it lacked power. Thus, they have to abandon the project. Then, they turned their focus to a more efficient engine. 

It had 24.74 cubic inches (406 ccs) displacement capacity. The loop-frame design was an advanced one. Later, Joseph Markel adopted this frame design for the first Harley Davidson motorcycle. It was named 1903 Milwaukee Markel after the designer’s name. 

As the engine was made bigger and the frame design was developed further, the design looked different from the conventional bicycles. Also, it paved the way for the world’s first motorcycle design. Ole Evinrude was a gas engine manufacturer at that time. They helped Harley improve the displacement rate and performance with their bigger engines. 

Harley history in a nutshell:

  • The first attempt to make the engine was in 1901 
  • Their prototype became operational in 1904
  • The first factory was founded in 1906 
  • In 1911 they brought their V-twin engine 
  • World War I saw 20000 units of motorcycles sold 
  • Survived Great Depression with Indian Motorcycle
  • In World War II supplied motorcycles to military 
  • Changes in ownership in 1969 and 1984 

The Prototype:

As Harley received the bigger engine from Evinrude, they worked on it. As a result, they prepared their prototype by the end of 1904. Yes, the prototype became fully functional and operating on September 04, 1904. 

At that time, there was a motorcycle race going on in Milwaukee. It was held in State Fair Park. The prototype stood 4th in the motorcycle race, thanks to the excellent riding performance of Edward Hilderbrand. This fourth placement of Harley’s 1st prototype made them famous immediately in every corner of America. 

Following their fame, Harley opened their 1st advertisement. Their first ad was shown in the Automobile and Cycle Trade Journal. So, the advertisement provided a bare engine. Buyers can get it and assemble it through their DIY process. 

The First Official Factory:

After the advertisement, few people showed interest in Harley bare engines. Following it, Harley sold three of their early bikes. Although these three bikes didn’t come fully assembled, they still paved the way for modern-day motorcycle design. 

The following year, their sales increased, and the founder moved the manufacturing shed to Chestnut Street. There they built their first actual manufacturing plant in 1906. Chestnut Street was later named Juneau Avenue. 

Harley Davidson continued their operation on Juneau Avenue for many years. Later, they built the headquarter in the exact location. Their tribute to their early workers and production facility helped them become the global motorcycle manufacturing leader. 

In 1905, Harley manufactured 50 motorcycles from their newly established facility. The first products were all single-cylinder in 1905 and 1906. These motorcycles had 440cc of displacement capacity. For the next couple of years, the company kept developing its engines. As a result, they came up with V-twin engines. 

The Later Development:

Harley kept on growing despite World War I. In fact, with the growing demand for military-grade motorcycles, Harley Davidson expanded its production facility. During the war, Harley sold almost 20000 units to the U.S. military. 

After the war, Harley introduced their bicycle line. It helped them grab more attention and gain more customers. As a result, Harley became the largest motorcycle manufacturer worldwide by 1920, and they started exporting motorcycles to European and Asian markets. 

Even during the Great Depression period, Harley could withstand the tough time. Harley Davidson and Indian Motorcycles were the only two motorcycle companies to survive the Great Depression. 

Their success continued even during World War II. However, the reputation of the company came almost to an end in 1952. At that time, American Terrific Commission imposed 40% duties on imported motorcycles, which dropped Harley sales. 

Multiple Changes In Harley Davidson Ownership 

Multiple Changes In Harley Davidson Ownership

The next few years have seen multiple changes in the ownership of Harley Davidson. The first change came in American Machine, and Foundry bought the company in 1969. They slashed production following the dropped sales. 

Sadly, the production quality dropped significantly at that time too. As a result, the bikes became expensive but had an inferior performance. Undoubtedly, it resulted in popularity loss and a significant drop in sales. 

Thus, the company almost became bankrupt. The introduction of the Japanese Universal Motorcycle was also responsible for such worsening condition of Harley. Following it, American Machine and Foundry transferred the ownership to 13 investors. 

Vaughn Beals and Willie G. Davidson led the investors’ group. They bought Harley Davidson for 80 million dollars at that time. The investors’ group changed the production management and helped Harley revive. 

Who Owns Harley Davidson Now?

Harley Davidson is now an enlisted public limited company in the American share market. So, technically, all the shareholder of the company is its owner. However, a few key shareholders own the maximum shares of the company. But, there’s no information about it. 

Nonetheless, there’s strong management and operating body that looks after all the production, marketing, and sales promotion of Harley motorcycles. Currently, Jochen Zeitz is the CEO and Chairman of the Harley governing body. 

He has been working closely with Harley since early 2010. Also, he is credited for many iconic initiatives of the company. In fact, the first Harley electric motorcycle Livewire is essentially the result of his idea and implementation. 

He was first appointed as the interim president. It was in 2020. After the corona pandemic, Jochen Zeitz became the permanent CEO and president. 

Where Did Harley Davidson Start?:

Where Did Harley Davidson Start

Harley Davidson started its journey in Milwaukee, USA. Its first workshop was in a local machine shop. Later in 1906, they first established their fully functional manufacturing plant on Chestnut Avenue, which was named Juneau Avenue later. Its present headquarter is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S. 

When Did Harley Davidson Start

Do you know when Harley Davidson was founded? The company was officially founded in 1903, though it started its journey in 1901. Its journey started with developing the 7.07 inches of cubic capacity facilitated engine. 

The four owners of Harley Davidson were:

  • William S. Harley
  • Arthur Davidson
  • Walter Davidson
  • William A. Davidson

As you see, the motorcycle company got its name from its owners’ last name. 

Top Harley Models By Decades:

Top Harley Models By Decades

Over the past 119 years, Harley has introduced some iconic motorcycles to the world. It will be nearly impossible to enlist all these motorcycle models on this shortlist. So, we will follow a decade-by-decade enlisting method. 


Most Prominent Harley Davidson Motorcycles 


1911 7D®: It came with the first V-twin engine 1914 10-F®: The bike had a two-starter feature and two speeds 


1925 JD®: Harley’s first step towards the genuinely stylish design 1929 D-Series®: The first one with the flathead V-twin engine and competed with Indian motorcycles 


1932 R-Series®: This model helped Harley become a staple in America with further styling in the design 1937 UL®: It consisted of the 4-speed transmission and was a Solo Sports model. 


1942 WLA®: The company mass-produced this motorcycle for the military during World War II 1948 FL®: It was the first to get the famous Panhead V-twin engine 


1952 K-Model®: it was a lightweight model and focused on being sporty and perfect for racing 1957 Sportster® XL: Harley’s first economical bike to reach all customers. It is also easy to maneuver. 


1961 Super 10®: With an air-cooled and two-stroke engine, it was a smaller and entry-level motorcycle 1965 FL Electra Glide®: The company introduced their famous electric start with this motorcycle. The Panhead engine was last seen in it. 


1971 F.X. Super Glide®: A mid-range motorbike that comprised of the powerful V-twin engine and Sportster’s control and style1977 FXS Low Rider®: One of the best-sold models from the company that had extended forks. 


1980 FXB Sturgis®: The limited edition was produced in honor of the Sturgis motorcycle rally. Harley only made 1500 bikes of this model. 1984 FX/FL Softail®: The Softail model looked similar to the 40s and 50s motorcycle with the bossy V-twin engines. 


1990 FLSTF Fat Boy®: This was a cruiser motorcycle. It was mainly made in 1984 and 1989 for the Daytona Bike Week to mark the occasion. 1992 FXDB Daytona®: Only 1700 motorcycles of this model were produced as a tribute to Daytona Beach. 


2002 FXDWG3®: It is the most factory-customized motorcycle Harley built ever. 2007 FXDB Dyna Street Bob®: it has a streamlined design with a minimalistic look. The bike doesn’t have a passenger seat. 


2014 XG Street®: The economical yet sporty bike was made to attract the youths 2019 Livewire™: It is the first electric motorcycle from the company and received design accolades worldwide 

As you see from the list, Harley has undergone massive design changes and engine upgradation in its history. 

Harley Davidson Engine History:

The history of Harley Davidson is inseparable from its engine upgradation. Harley has redesigned its motorcycle engine for almost 10 to 20 years. The bigger and more powerful engine has helped the company to manufacture excellent motorbikes. 

Time Frame 

Engine Name and Properties 


Einzylinder Engine: It is a simple single-cylinder engine 


V-Twin: The V-Twin is a two-cylinder engine with an improved design and displacement facility 


F-head: This was an improved version of the V-twin engine with more prowess and capacity 


Flathead engine: This engine was used in Harley motorcycles till 1952. However, in a few Servi Cars, the engine continued till 1973. Its cylinder heads had a flat, curved design from where it got the name 


Knucklehead engine: Harley’s first engine that came with overhead valves. This engine reached 48HP in the later years. Also, it paved the way for the powerful big twin and air-cooled engines 


Panhead: It got the first electric start and was seen in the Harley Electra Glide model first. It had better lubrication and improved cooling effect for performance and longevity. 


K-model: This was a limited-time engine identical to the flathead engine but with more power. 


Ironhead engine: Harley introduced this compact yet sporty engine for their Sportster versions. 


Shovelhead engines: It was one of the most promising engines from the company. Also, it was their lase engine without any computer-aided design. 


Evolution engine: The Evo engine saw a complete redesign and was made bigger and better. 


Twin-Cam: The twin-cam engine indeed has more torque and power. At first, it had a problem with oil circulation. Harley fixed the issue by changing the oil tank in the later models. 

Since 2017

Milwaukee Eight engine is the latest and most powerful engine from the Harley lineup. 


Harley Davidson has become the most iconic and stylish motorcycle brand in the last 120 years. Thus, the history of Harley Davidson is inspiring, with many ups and downs. Despite it, Harley has stayed on its track and gifted us the best versions of motorcycles. 

Over the years, they have improved the engine design, motorcycle performance, and style to become a pioneer. It will be interesting to see how the company incorporates the growing need for electric bikes as it brought it in 2019. Also, the company is changing its design language faster to make its motorcycles more eco-friendly which is an appreciable effort. 

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