Harley Davidson: The History

Harley Davidson is considered as one of the most respected brands in motorcycles today. But just like any legendary figure, this company started from the bottom.

This article will chronicle the history on how Harley Davidson rose to become a power in the motorcycle industry.


It all started with the vision of one man: William S. Harley.

His dream was to create a motorized bicycle that is functional for just about any kind of terrain. He has created some engine prototypes, but those are noticeably underpowered, especially when traversing the hilly roads of his hometown Milwaukee.

With the help of his childhood friend Arthur Davidson, they created their first motorcycle in 1903. This is when Harley Davidson Inc. was officially born.


The duo, together with Davidson’s 2 brothers, worked on the first bikes of the brand.

They achieved modest success during the time, with some of their products even appearing on some of the earliest motorcycle races in America.

During their early years, the Harley Davidson team made all of their bikes inside a small wooden shed, with all of them chipping in a countless amount of hours working on their bikes.

It’s in 1910 when their distinctive “Bar and Shield” logo was created. This logo would be patented a year later, and will be synonymous to the brand ever since.


Motorsport is something that is directly associated with Harley Davidson, especially during its early days. One guy who exemplified this tradition early on is motorcycle racing legend Leslie “Red” Parkhurst. Riding Harley Davidson motorcycles, he won multiple races and broke land speed records. And to celebrate his victories, he would bring a hog during his victory laps. It’s the reason why Harleys are called “hogs” up to this day.


Another venture that allowed Harley Davidson to cultivate their reputation is their stint as the supplier of bikes for the US Military.

During World War I, half of the bikes they produced were actually sold to the Army for use in active war duty. During this time period, not only have the performance and reliability of Harley Davidson motorcycles improved, but some of the distinct characteristics of their bikes began to emerge.

Among these modifications included the use of the V-Twin engine and the teardrop-shaped fuel tank. They also created 2 innovations that were ahead of its time back then: front disc brakes and twin cams.


Harley Davidson was a survivor of the Great Depression, and also played a huge role in the American effort during World War II.

All these not only strengthened their reputation as a bike builder, but it also improved their reliability and construction practices. By the end of the war, the demand for private Harley Davidson bikes was extremely high.

In spite of challenges brought by foreign brands such as Triumph, HD remained strong, coming up with solid offerings such as the Panhead.

Over the years, they steadily expanded their motorcycle catalogue, offering everything from sport bikes to scooters.


One thing is for certain. In their over 100 years of existence, just about everything they did worked.

That is mainly why Harley Davidson is considered as a living legend in the motorcycle industry.