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Harley-Davidson Motorcycles: The Rise to Fame and Popularity

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Harley-Davidson Motorcycles: The Rise to Fame and Popularity
Harley-Davidson Motorcycles: The Rise to Fame and Popularity

When a motorcycle goes down the road, you know if it is a Harley-Davidson. These motorcycles have a distinct sound to their engines. The pistons are timed, so one fires with the turn of the crankshaft and then the next fires on the next revolution. Exhaust pipe modifications can enhance or damper the sound of the engine. Still, the unique sound that comes from a Harley-Davidson motorcycle is uniquely made by its engine, which is unchanged. A-1 Auto Transport knows how important your Harley-Davidson is to you. When you need to have your motorcycle shipped, we offer different options to fit your budget and your needs.

The History of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles

The Harley-Davidson motorcycle company was founded in 1903 by childhood friends William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The shop in the beginning days was a machine shop at the home of a friend, Henry Melk. The prototypes of power-cycles were found unable to climb the hills of Milwaukee without the assistance of pedal power. They marked this off as their first learning experience.

The three began working on another prototype, this time they used an improved engine type and an advanced looped framework similar to the 1903 Milwaukee Merkel motorcycle design. It was with this design that their prototype was no longer categorized as a motorized bicycle and began the path for future motorcycle designs. 

This new prototype was constructed in a shed behind the Davidson brother’s home. Most of the significant parts were possibly fabricated at the West Milwaukee rail shop, where the oldest Davidson brother, William, worked as a tool foreman. By September of 1904, this prototype was functional. It was used by Edward Hildebrand to compete in a motorcycle race held in Milwaukee at State Fair Park. Hildebrand and the prototype placed fourth.

Beginning of Production

The Harley-Davidson company placed a small ad in the Automobile and Cycle Trade Journal in January of 1905 that offered engines for those who were in the profession of do-it-yourself type trades. By April of the same year, they started producing complete motorcycles on a limited basis. In Chicago, a Harley-Davidson dealer named Carl H. Lang sold three of the five that were built in the shed behind the Davidson home.

The first factory was built on Chestnut Street, which was later renamed to Juneau Avenue in 1906. This location would later become the corporate headquarters for Harley-Davidson. The first building located at this location was a single-story wooden structure that measured 40 ft. X 60 ft. in size. It was during this first year that the company produced about 50 motorcycles in total.

Factory Expansion

Harley graduated from engineering school in 1907, which is the year that they expanded the first building. Davidson also quit his job at the railroad to work full time with the motor company. That year, production increased to 150 motorcycles. The main target area was to the police department, which is still a market that has been essential since this time.

The Harley-Davidson patented “Ful-Floteing Seat” was introduced in 1912. The seat was composed of a coil spring inside of the seat tube. This tension could be adjusted to accommodate the motorcycle rider’s weight. These were the seats used by Harley-Davidson until 1958.

The original factory along Juneau Avenue was demolished in 1913, making room for the new building, which would take up two city blocks. The new building was five stories and took up two blocks along Juneau and wrapped around the block to 38th Street.

Production in 1914 increased to 16,284, and despite the competition with the rival motorcycle manufacturer, Indian, Harley-Davidson was coming out victorious.

World War I Through The Great Depression

The United States entered World War I in 1917, and military demands for motorcycles during the war were high. The military had already been using Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Still, the war was the first time that they adopted them for use in military efforts. The United States military purchased over 20,000 Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

In 1917, Harley-Davidson also launched a bicycle line. The reasoning behind it was to recruit more customers to purchase their motorcycles. The models came in men’s, women’s, and youth sizes. They were built for Harley-Davidson in Dayton, Ohio, by Davis Machine Company. Due to a lack of interest, the line was discontinued in 1923.

The 1920s

Harley-Davidson entered the 1920s as the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. The company was responsible for the production of 28,189 machines and had dealers in 67 countries. Otto Walker set a race record in 1921, driving a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He was the first to win at a speed higher than 100 mph.

The V-Twin was the primary motorcycle type for Harley-Davidson, which was first introduced in 1911. The V-Twin was the majority of what Harley-Davidson produced starting in 1913. In 1929, Harley-Davidson introduced the 737 cc flathead V-Twin. This model was produced in an effort to compete with the Indian 101 Scout and the Excelsior Super X. 

The Great Depression

The beginning of The Great Depression began a few months after the 737 cc model was released. Over the course of the next few years, the sales of Harley-Davidson fell from 21,000 in 1929 to 3,703 in 1933. Despite the reduction in their sales numbers, Harley-Davidson released a new lineup for 1934. This lineup included the flathead engine and an art deco style. To make it through the Depression, Harley-Davidson manufactured powerplants based on their motorcycle engines. The three-wheeled delivery vehicle named the Servi-Car was also produced during this time. They kept the Servi-Car in production until 1973.

The 1930s

Between 1930 and 1940, Alfred Rich Child opened a Japanese production line with the 74 cubic inch VL. Sankyo Seiyaku Corporation held the license, severing the relationship with Harley-Davidson. They continued to produce the VL under the Rikuo name.

The same year that the relationship was severed, Harley-Davidson released the 61E and the 61EL models, introducing the Knucklehead OHV engine. This name is used to describe the shape of the Harley-Davidson engine’s rocker box shape. By 1938, the Knucklehead OHV was introduced into the F and the FL, discontinuing the flathead UH and ULH in 1941.

World War II

Harley-Davidson was one of two motorcycle manufacturers to survive The Great Depression. Again, Harley-Davidson was tasked with producing high numbers of motorcycles for the war effort. During the war, Harley-Davidson produced more than 90,000 military motorcycles to be used by allied forces. 

The company would receive two Army-Navy E Awards in 1943 and 1945 for its excellence in production. Production of these motorcycles ended after WWII but resumed from 1950 to 1952 during the Korean War.

Post War Harley-Davidson

War reparations brought Harley-Davidson the design of a German motorcycle, the DKW RT 125. The company adapted this design, manufacturing, and selling it from 1948 to 1966, creating models like the Hummer.

In 1960, Harley-Davidson bought 50% of Aermacchi’s motorcycle division. They began importing Aermacchi’s 250 cc single, calling it the Harley-Davidson Sprint. The imported bike came with the Harley-Davidson logo and markings already on the motorcycle.

By the end of the 1960s, Harley-Davidson had increased the engine of the Sprint to 350 cc, which remained in production until 1974 when it was discontinued. The lightweight, American made two-stroke motorcycles were relaced with Aermacchi’s Italian built ones, bringing the models M-65, M-65S, and the Rapido to the forefront of sales. 

In 1974, Harley-Davidson purchased full control of the Aermacchi motorcycle division. It was used for production until 1978 when it was sold to the Castiglioni family and Cagiva.

Did Harley-Davidson Experience Controversy?

The Harley-Davidson Motor Company experienced its fair share of controversy over the years. From restrictive practices, claims of stock manipulation, and problems with police motorcycles, Harley-Davidson has been in the eye of the media since founded.

Harley-Davidson applied to the United States Tariff Commission for a 40% tax on imported motorcycles. In 1952, Harley-Davidson was charged with restrictive practices. Restrictive practices are commonly used in the study of labor relations. These practices might be used to describe agreements used to fix prices being charged on goods, services, or labor.

The American Machine and Foundry (AMF) bought the company in 1969. They streamlined the production process and reduced the workforce. Their tactics resulted in a labor strike. The lower pricing from their cost-cutting produced lower quality motorcycles. The company almost went bankrupt due to the AMF’s tactics.

Two successful commemorative bikes were created in 1976 and 1977. However, one was considered a controversial move on the part of Harley-Davidson’s brand. The Liberty Edition was produced for America’s Bicentennial in 1976. One year later, Harley-Davidson released the most controversial motorcycle to date, the Harley-Davidson Confederate Edition. This motorcycle was a stock Harley-Davidson model with the Confederate paint details.

Claims of Stock Manipulation

Harley-Davidson reached a peak demand in the late 1990s, after being sold by AMF to a group of investors that included Vaughn Beals and Willie G. Davidson. During the peak demand period, Harley-Davidson began working on a program to expand the number of dealerships available. The problem, even with the current number of dealers, the waiting list for the popular Harley-Davidson models was over a year long.

When demand for Harley-Davidson motorcycles went down in 2003, this led to a drop in stock prices. April 2004 listed the price of shares going from over $60 to under $40. Before this announcement was made, the retiring CEO Jeffrey Bleustein made a profit of $42 million using his employee stock options. This profit triggered a class-action lawsuit against the company by investors claiming that Harley-Davidson intentionally defrauded them.

Faulty Police Touring Harley-Davidson Models

Before the claims of stock manipulation, Harley-Davidson was faced with another dilemma. The Touring models used by police came under scrutiny. Around 2000, police departments began reporting problems with the Harley-Davidson model. These departments reported that the officers were reporting instability at high rates of speed. 

In Raleigh, North Carolina, Officer Charles Paul was killed when he crashed after reporting a high-speed wobble on his motorcycle. The California Highway Patrol began testing on the Touring in 2006, and test riders reported that there was a wobble or instability when driving at high speeds on the test track.

Models and Harley-Davidson Plants

The Harley-Davidson brand of motorcycles falls into one of seven model families. These model families are:

  • Touring
  • Dyna
  • Softail
  • Vrod
  • Sportster
  • Livewire
  • Street

These model families are distinguished by their engine, frame, suspension, and other characteristics for only that family.

Facilities for Harley-Davidson have changed many times since the small building in the backyard of the Davidson brother’s home. Today you will find the following locations and their operations including:

  • York, Pennsylvania
    • Vehicle operations
    • Site for manufacturing the Touring class, custom Harley-Davidson models, and Softail. Home of a 2007 strike by workers and the union that lasted for two weeks until Harley-Davidson agreed to the terms requested by the employees
  • Tomahawk, Wisconsin
    • Tomahawk Operations
    • The facility is responsible for the windshields, sidecars, saddlebags, and more
  • Kansas City, Missouri
    • Powertrain and Vehicle operations
    • Manufacturing facility for the VRSC, Sportster, and other models
  • Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin
    • Pilgrim Road Powertrain Operations
      • Offers two types of tours
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin
    • Home to the Harley-Davidson Museum
      • Offers tours, exhibits, culture, history, restaurant, café, and gift shop

 

Shipping and Transporting Your Harley-Davidson

If you own a Harley-Davidson brand motorcycle, you know that the price can vary based on the features and the family the model belongs to. With a range that can go from $8,000 to $12,000 on average, a motorcycle is an investment you want to protect when shipping your Harley Davidson.

When you find yourself in a situation where you need to relocate and ship a motorcycle domestically or overseas, you want the best to do it. A-1 Auto Transport offers a variety of options to transport your motorcycle safely. Domestic or international shipping can be done through our experts. You can call our office and obtain a free quote for motorcycle shipping services.

 

Joe Webster
Written By:Joe Webster
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Joe Webster began his journey in the auto transport field by attending the University of Southern California (USC), where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Marketing. 

After college, he started his career in the auto transport industry from the bottom up and has done virtually every job there is to do at A-1 Auto Transport, including but not limited to: Truck Driver, Dispatch, Sales, PR, Bookkeeping, Transport Planner, Transport Manager, International Transport Manager, Brokering, Customer Service, and Marketing. Working with his mentor Tony Taylor, Joe Webster has learned the ins and outs of this industry which is largely misunderstood. 

With over 30 years experience in the industry, we've been helping people ship their vehicles, motorcycles, RV's, heavy equipment, household goods and more across the country or overseas without a hitch. Ask us anything.

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