Once on the doors of a tiny shed where enthusiastic young designers assembled their first motorcycle, the aunt of one of them jokingly wrote in red paint: Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Then she hardly imagined that the production would give the world a biker subculture.

How it all began

At the beginning of the last century, motorcycles were mainly engaged in the Old World. In America, there were only a few two-wheeled vehicle companies - for example, back in 1901, the Indian Motorcycle Company appeared. As for the Harley-Davidson brand, which will be discussed below, it was created two years later.

In 1903, brothers Walter and Arthur Davidson, together with William Harley, assembled their first motorcycle. He was still very far from the image of an overseas iron horse that we are used to: powerful, shining with chrome, capable of moving at high speed over considerable distances. The first Harley looked more than funny. It was small, with a single-cylinder engine, and also had bicycle pedals, which were needed to accelerate the motorcycle to the speed at which the engine could start, as well as to overcome long climbs. However, “accelerate to speed” is a loud saying, because in an hour this vehicle could cover no more than 7–8 kilometers.

Photo # 1 - Motorcycle from a tin can: the history of the Harley-Davidson company

The French motorcycle De Dion-Bouton was the model for the first Harley-Davidson model. The keen friends of the Davidsons and Harleys, who, by the way, were a little over twenty at that time, assembled all the mechanisms by hand, using any available means for this. For example, a carburetor was made from an old tin can, and gasoline for testing was bought in pints from a nearby pharmacy. The second model turned out to be more powerful, and now it has already begun to be sold - at first, only a few motorcycles a year.

The prototype of the next Harley-Davidson motorcycle was created in a shed measuring three by five meters. Some units were also designed in the workshop of the railway depot, where William Davidson worked. And even after a very worthy performance of this prototype at the races and the official start of sales, the motorcycles continued to be assembled in the same barn. Later, when the first factory was built, a shed was placed in the center of the production area as a memory of the iconic company's humble origins. Years later, in the early 1970s, contractors hired to clean the factory yard accidentally demolished the legendary timber structure.

In 1907, the company managed to occupy an important part of the market: an agreement was concluded according to which "harleys" were bought for the local police. Ironically, in 1916, the same motorcycles, "Harley-Davidson", were used by opponents of the law enforcement officers - at that time the Mexican rebel Pancho Villa militants, who carried out raids on the border American cities. They were opposed by the troops of General Pershing on motorcycles "Indian" - so this brand became the main competitor of the "Harleys".

Meanwhile, more and more motorcycles were produced every year. The design was not outstanding, for example there were only two colors available - black and gray. At the same time, the maximum speed had to be increased, for which a powerful engine called the V-Twin was created. By the 1920s, its volume has increased to 1200 cubic centimeters. At the same time, the Harley-Davidson gets its own gearbox. The engine had only one drawback: the valves were constantly clogged and worn out quickly, and were difficult to operate and maintain. Competitors used a different design.

Serving the country and the world

In 1920, 27,000 Harleys were sold worldwide. Advertising for the brand was everywhere: the famous logo was printed on sweaters, T-shirts, even on women's suits. However, in 1929 the Great Depression began, which lasted almost ten years. Many companies went bankrupt, and the motorcycle industry was also almost destroyed. There are only two factories left in America — Harley-Davidson and Indian. They managed to stay afloat, since their clients were government agencies - the army and the police. In fact, demand exceeded supply.

For the same reason, the development of both companies was facilitated by the Second World War. The American authorities have entered into multimillion-dollar contracts with both manufacturers to supply motorcycles to the Allies. Almost 30,000 WLA Harleys were sent to the Soviet Union. We have them equipped with a sidecar from a motorcycle M-72 and a rear seat. Such motorcycles enjoyed a good reputation among Soviet soldiers, as they were unpretentious and reliable at the same time. After the war, the Moscow police drove them for a long time.

You have to understand how great the army's needs were. Two-wheeled vehicles practically disappeared from the domestic market: it was simply impossible to buy a motorcycle in a store! Then William Harley went for a little trick: having connections in the Pentagon, he made an agreement. That a certain part of the products will still be sold domestically. The main competitor, the Indian company, in pursuit of profit sent everything that it produced to the front, as a result, the brand was forgotten during the war years, while Harley-Davidson remained a recognizable brand in the country.

At the right time in the right place

After the Second World War, the production of civilian motorcycles "Harley-Davidson" is restored. The first post-war model was the sporty WR with a 750 cc engine. A new factory opens in Wisconsin, and the first motorcycle with a hydraulic fork appears in 1949. A few years later, in 1952, American bikers are experiencing a mini-revolution in the layout of their vehicles: from now on, the clutch of their "horses" is manual, and the gear changes are foot. People quickly get used to it, and the innovation becomes ubiquitous.

And after the war, a completely unexpected image of the owner of the "harley" is born. Young soldiers who have returned home are disappointed in their old ideals and look at their homeland with different eyes, feeling unnecessary for the country. Many people fail to find themselves in a peaceful life, to find a suitable job. Half-drunk youth, dressed in black leather jackets with stripes, drive army "Harleys", terrifying all of America. Pogroms initiated by the "rebels" begin, as well as the persecution of those who ride motorcycles of other brands: the equipment could be taken away, carried on a rope through the streets (like a horse), hung on a tree and even burned. Local residents hide, barely hearing the roar of a motorcycle engine, the raging bikers are pacified by the National Guard and firefighters with the help of water cannons.

The Harley-Davidson company itself is shocked by such a "hooligan" image of its products and fears for its reputation, but cannot refuse its main consumers, who, moreover, have submitted many valuable ideas when modifying their motorcycles. For example, it was they who came up with the metallic color, adding metallic powder to the usual paint ...

But journalists and directors liked the new image of biker bandits extremely. This is how, for example, the cult film "The Savage" with Marlon Brando in the title role appeared. Of course, all the heroes of the tape went only on "Harleys".

On the verge of failure

In the early 1950s, the company that was the main competitor of Harley-Davidson for half a century, Indian, quietly ceases to exist, unable to withstand competition with foreign, primarily Asian motorcycles. Which also began to be brought to the United States.

Harley-Davidson soon begins to experience difficulties. Profits fall, production is on the verge of bankruptcy. The controlling stake is bought by AMF, it also becomes the actual owner of the company and makes the wrong decision to diversify the lineup by releasing a small Sprint motorcycle with an engine volume of only 250 cubic centimeters. This vehicle had nothing to do with the classic "Harley", but the brand's reputation was badly damaged. The buyback of the controlling stake and, accordingly, the restoration of the independence of Harley-Davidson took place only in 1981.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Harley-Davidson motorcycles were not nearly as popular as they once were. "Japanese" are much cheaper, more reliable and more convenient. But the motorcycle industry of the Land of the Rising Sun appeared at one time thanks to the American one: back in 1935, licenses for the Harley-Davidson technology were sold to the Japanese Sankyo Company.

The renaissance strategy of the brand is that all technically significant parts are produced by third-party firms, and the company itself concentrates on the appearance of motorcycles and their stylization for American retro. This, accordingly, resonates with patriotic consumers.

Nevertheless, the 1970s-1980s were marked in the life of Harley-Davidson not only by financial problems, but also by the emergence of many famous models and sports victories. For example, racer Cal Raybourne in 1970 sets a new world speed record for motorcycles on the Harley - 426.5 kilometers per hour. The race takes place on the famous Bonneville salt lake. By the way, the same lake is featured in the wonderful film "The Fastest Indian".

In 1972, Harley-Davidson began producing the XR-750 for track racing, becoming the best-in-class motorcycle that remained largely unchanged over the next 30 years.

In 1973, the company opens another plant, this time in the state of Pennsylvania. And in 1980, Harley-Davidson motorcycles first received a Kevlar drive belt, replacing the traditional chain drive. This belt does not need to be constantly adjusted, it is practically maintenance-free and can withstand high loads.

New turn

The largest motorcycle club, Harley-Davidson, was founded in 1983 and immediately became the largest motorcycle club in the world. In the first ten years, 90 thousand people turn out to be in its ranks. By the two thousandth year - already half a million, and by this year, 2018, - a million.

In the 1990s, the Softtail Fat Boy model appeared, which became widely known not only because of its funny name (literal translation from English - "fat boy" or "fat kid"), but also because of its unusual shape. And also thanks to the films "Terminator" and "Terminator-2" with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, by the way, turned out to be a big fan of motor vehicles even outside the set. Then an assembly plant opens in Brazil - the first Harley-Davidson plant outside the United States.

Today there are seven main lines of motorcycles in the model range of the brand. Some are more affordable and more classic-oriented, while others are addressed to young consumers who are not so close to the image of the classic American motorcycle and who want something more modern and stylish. And, for example, the Touring family is a serious heavy equipment for long trips and travel, with wind protection and voluminous luggage cases.

In addition, Harley-Davidson produces tricycles, and a separate factory division of the company is engaged in customizing, that is, individualizing motorcycles. This is the closest thing to car tuning, only the result of the work looks even more colorful and exclusive.

The entire second half of the last century in the United States is called the "Harley era". And, perhaps, this is one of the few global companies that has become a legend without putting much effort into it. In today's provocative advertisements, the company claims that Harley-Davidson ranks second in the list of the most popular tattoo words - after the word “mother”, of course.

Things to know (Q&A)

What is the rarest Harley Davidson?

Here are the ten most expensive Harley Davidson motorcycles.

  1. Easy Rider – $1.35 million.
  2. Cosmic Starship – $1Million. ...
  3. 8-Valve Racer (1916–1923 – $1,000,000. ...
  4. Model 5-D Twin (1909) – $400,000. ...
  5. Unrestored Singles (Pre-1910) – $300,000. ...
  6. DAH Hillclimber (1932) – $200,000. ...
  7. JH “Two-Cam” (1928) – $150,00. ...

What was the first Harley Davidson motorcycle called?

This race was the first documented appearance of Harley - Davidson motorcycle . First model features: The 1905 Harley - Davidson Model No. 1 was almost identical to the bikes built in 1903 and '04.

What are the bad years for Harley Davidson?

The 10 Worst Harley - Davidson Motorcycles Ever Made

  1. 1 2001 Ultra Classic. via cycletrader.com.
  2. 2 1981 Sportster. via Sportsterpedia. ...
  3. 3 2014 Electra Glide. via ridinghighharleydavidson. ...
  4. 4 HD Street 500. via avante. ...
  5. 5 FXSTB Night Train. via BestCarMag. ...
  6. 6 1981 XR-750. via pinterest. ...
  7. 7 Road Glide Ultra. ...
  8. 8 2004 Dyna Superglide. ...

What color was the first Harley Davidson?

1950 and 1951

Harley - Davidson offered its motorcycles in 1950 in Metallic Green, white, Flight Red, Azure Blue, Riviera Blue, Ruby Red, Metallic Blue, Persian Red and Rio Blue. The motorcycle maker offered Flight Red through most of the 1940s and revived Azure Blue from the 1948 model year for 1950.

What is the most badass Harley?

These Are The 10 Most Badass Harley -Davidsons Ever

  • 9 1958 Harley -Davidson Duo-Glide.
  • 8 1983 Harley -Davidson FXRT.
  • 7 2009 FXSTB Night Train.
  • 6 2018 Softail FXDR 114.
  • 5 2005 FXDX Dyna Super Glide Sport.
  • 4 2009 Harley -Davidson FLHT Electra Glide Standard.
  • 3 2013 Sportster 48.
  • 2 1983 Harley -Davidson XR-1000.

What are the best years for Harley Davidson?

Top 10 greatest Harley - Davidsons of all time

  • 1948 Harley - Davidson FL Hydra-Glide. ...
  • 1965 Harley - Davidson Electra-Glide. ...
  • 1957 Harley - Davidson XL Sportster. ...
  • 1977 Harley - Davidson XLCR 1000. ...
  • 1983 Harley - Davidson FXRT. ...
  • 1990 Harley - Davidson Fat Boy. ...
  • 1953 Harley - Davidson KR750. Created with Raphaël 2.1.2. ...
  • 1970 Harley - Davidson XR-750. Created with Raphaël 2.1.2.

Who really owns Harley Davidson?

Harley Davidson acquired by Japanese owned Kawasaki Motor Company LTD. Milwaukee, April 1, 2014 — Harley - Davidson , Inc. (HOG) has announced agreement to be acquired by Japanese owned Kawasaki Motor Company LTD today, Tuesday, April 1, 2014 for an undisclosed sum.

Does Kawasaki own Harley Davidson?

Harley Davidson acquired by Japanese owned Kawasaki Motor Company LTD. Milwaukee, April 1, 2014 — Harley - Davidson , Inc. (HOG) has announced agreement to be acquired by Japanese owned Kawasaki Motor Company LTD today, Tuesday, April 1, 2014 for an undisclosed sum.