Harley Davidson, America’s motorcycle

Harley Davidson, the most emblematic motorcycle company in the United States, was born in 1903, by William S Harley and Arthur Davidson. It is currently a publicly traded company and manufactures about 200,000 motorcycles a year.

The beginning of Harley Davidson in America

The company was founded in Milwaukee by William Harley and Arthur Davidson and in their first year they managed to manufacture 3 motorcycles.

In 1904 the first Harley-Davidson dealership was created, named CH Lang of Chicago who managed to sell one of the first three production Harleys. In 1905 a Harley Davidson motorcycle wins the 15 mile race in Chicago, united states

In 1906 a new factory of more than 200 m2 was built, increasing the number of workers to six. Six years after founding the company, they present their first V-twin motorcycle with seven horsepower. The image of two cylinders in a 45 degree configuration will end up becoming one of the icons of Harley-Davidson.

Shortly after, the true takeoff of Harley Davidson began, with the arrival of the First World War.

The war motorcycle, Harley Davidson

During the year 1916, General Pershing in the war with Mexico ordered to attach machine guns to the sidecars of 12 Harley Davidsons. A few months later, the United States would enter the First World War, where it would use more than 20,000 motorcycles, most of the Harley Davidson brand.

In 1920, Harley-Davidson was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. Its machines could be bought in 67 different countries. They came to sell up to 24,000 motorcycles in 1929, but the Great Depression and the stock market crash was not indifferent to this important brand, drastically reducing sales of its American motorcycle.

But in 1941 the conflict with World War II came again. Civil motorcycle production is almost completely suspended in favor of military production. During these years Harley Davidson manufactures 60,000 motorcycles of the WLA model for military use.

Harley Davidson and its image

In the 50s and 60s they began to become a symbol, associated with the image of Hollywood stars. The bad boy stereotype projected by bikers ended up damaging the brand’s image, although a few years later they managed to regain the elevated status of the middle of the century.

All this of the bad image of the bikers, is nothing more than a tabloid vein of the media. Since 1947, in the small town of Hollister, motorcycle races and biker congregations were organized. The event began to gain a lot of fame over time, and the townspeople were delighted as the bikers regularly brought in a lot of income.

The party and the motorcycle stunts through the streets of the town came to require the action of the police and the authorities to disperse and control the large number of bikers. The situation reached the point of several drunken bikers with minor injuries and the businesses where they sold alcohol were closed a little earlier, but nothing further.

The press, however, echoed it, exaggerating the situation and the behavior of the bikers. Hollywood did not miss the opportunity, and accommodated the events in the film The Wild One, starring Marlon Brando in 1954 and this had a great impact on public opinion, presenting the bikers as a horde of misfit drunks that led to banning the meetings in different cities around the country except Hollister.

Harley Davidson today

Around 1981, the designer Willie G. Davidson, grandson of William A. Davidson, decided to buy back the company that his predecessors sold in the 70s. What clearly seemed like a bad business since sales fell to 28,000 units in 1982. The mythical brand could not compete with the increasingly cheap and modern imported motorcycles.

But the aid came from the state, in 1983 the American President Ronald Reagan imposed a tariff on imported Japanese motorcycles that increased their cost by 40%. In 1987, Harley Davidson announced that it was profitable again.

Despite the new trends in motorcycles, Harley Davidson realized that it was more profitable to exploit its image and mythical brand personality than to compete in technology with its international rivals.

In 1994 Harley-Davidson entered Superbike racing with the introduction of the VR 1000.

It is in 98 when Harley Davidson begins to manufacture outside the United States, the place chosen for its new factory was Brazil. With this move, the company sought, on the one hand, to lower costs while entering the South American market. The last economic crisis that began in 2007, has put the company in a difficult situation, since the repeated decline in sales has led to the restructuring of the company. This has resulted in the depreciation of the company’s share price from year to year.

It is difficult to know how many Harley Davidsons there are today, in total 218,273 Harley-Davidson motorcycles were sold in the world in 2019.


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