In 1903 the first Harley-Davidson was assembled in Milwaukee, and soon it became an iconic USA product. At the turn of the 20th century, many motorcycle companies were trying to make their way in a lucrative but competitive market. Only two of these companies have survived – Harley-Davidson and the Indian (which went out of production for 50 years). By 1907 Davidson and his two brothers, together with Harley, were well on their way to success. The 45 degree V-Twin, which was air-cooled, was reliable (by the standards of those days!) mode of transport and was soon in demand.
The World Wars
During the First World War, the US army became their biggest customers. After the First World War Harley-Davidson and the Indian were the only two manufacturers to survive. Over the next twenty-five years, Harley-Davidson prospered and the at the start of the Second World War production had to keep up with the demands of the army’s orders – a total of 90 000 units. Amongst other models, the Sportster, which debuted in 1957, became the most successful model and is still being produced.
In the ’60s Harley-Davidson was bought out, and in 1965 the company went public and merged with American Machine and Foundry. This arrangement wasn’t very successful, and in 1980 it was sold back to the present day owners, which includes members of the Davidson family. Today, Willie Davidson is President (styling). The next ten years saw the introduction of iconic models such as the Softail and the Road King. Then in the ’90s H-D got control of Buell Motorcycles and Buell bikes are now being distributed through H-D outlets.
Harley-Davidson has kept up with its marketing, and the brand is known all over the world. They have produced all sorts of branded products, which have been an excellent supplement to their turnover. In 2009 H-D changed its chassis to a cast, rigid frame with a more extended swinging arm. They have also ventured into three-wheelers. One feature of their bikes that has never changed is the 45 degrees V-Twin engine. Although H-D is famous for its cruisers, there is also a racing side to their stable. They have been, lately, successful in hill climbs and dirt track racing. Since the Second World War has made its name on road and track, with two consecutive wins Daytona 200. H-D engine, fitted to a streamliner, also holds the land speed record of 265 mph. On the dirt, the XR 750 excelled with Scott Parker achieving 93 wins and 9 Championships.