Nowadays this is pretty much a household name all over the word. Just like other great brand names, there probably isn’t one godforsaken village, hidden in the remotest part of the world, where there isn’t at least a person who knows about it.
Over time this name became equivalent with cruiser motorcycles.
The company itself considers 1903 as its year of origin, however, the first stones (or rather marbles) in the company foundation were laid in 1901. That was the year when William Harley first got the idea to fit a small 116 cc engine – which he built – to the frame of a regular bicycle.
He and his friend, Arthur Robinson, worked on the power-cycle for two years before completing it with the assistance of Arthur’s brother, Walter Davidson, in 1903.
Once ready they gave it a test-run only to realize the bike was far from what they intended it to be, as for the small 116 cc engine, coping with the mild hills of Milwaukee presented a nearly impossible task.
They immediately started work on another bike – a more powerful one – with a bigger, 405 cc engine.
This time around, having received more outside help, the boys managed to finish the bike a lot sooner. Utilizing a loop-frame similar to the Milwaukee Merkel motorcycle they completed the project on September the 8th 1904. The next step was to offer bare engines for others to build bikes around, and by April 1905 they already had production set up in a small shed in Davidson’s backyard. They produced only about a dozen machines that year, but bigger things were in store for the company in the future.
The actual factory was built up in 1906 on Juneau Avenue – the same place where the company headquarters are today. Over time as production picked up pace, aided by the army’s needs for a reliable, robust motorcycle during the two world wars, many changes also took place at the plant, where old buildings were torn down to give way for newer, improved structures.
The earliest prototype of the now famous V-twin engine was introduced at the Chicago Automobile Show in 1907. Back then it featured 880cc capacity and it produced 7 horsepowers.
Although largely successful in their enterprise, the survival of both World Wars and the Great Depression, the company had its fair share of hardship as well. In 1969, the company was sold. With the increasing influx of superior quality Japanese motorcycles, the “Harley Davidson” soon got mock-dubbed ” Hardly Ableson”.
As the leadership of the company was regained in 1981, the brand name got a long needed refreshment, with the launch of new models and a general change in policy, the company once again became industry leader.
Harley Davidson even attempted to have the name “Hog” trademarked, but they got denied given the fact that the term had already become a generic name for all big-capacity motorcycles.
( the name: “hog” supposedly comes from the logo of a racing team that used to land consistent wins in moto-racing around 1920. Word has it, they used to put a real live pig on the back of the victorious Harley motorcycle and take it for a victory lap.)
Today the good name of Harley’s hogs is a guarantee of quality. Their motorcycles became the trend-setters as far as cruisers are concerned, and they present very good resale value. The actual value of such a motorcycle might not even drop at all, if maintained well enough.
The popularity of these cruisers led to the establishment of the H.O.G (Harley Owners’ Group) in 1983. The H.O.G. even has a newspaper out, called Hog Tales.
Membership numbers in the tens of thousands, with many local chapters, and the group organizes Harley meetings and group rides, they also feature exclusive products and discounts.
In a word: the golden age of the Harley-Davidson cruisers is now, and it’s never before been more fun to be a Harley-Davidson owner.