Harley-Davidson: The Empire Born in a Small Milwaukee Workshop

Founded by William Harley and Arthur Davidson in 1903, it is one of the most important brands in the world linked to the motorcycle industry.

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The little workshop was only 15 square meters. It was tiny, but it was full of dreams. There those two guys in their twenties spent hours and hours trying to adapt a small motor to a bicycle. They had several failures until they finally achieved their goal: to climb the hills of Milwaukee without the need to pedal. It was 1901 and William harley y Arthur Davidson They did not know that they had kicked off one of the most important brands in the world linked to the motorcycle industry.

The little workshop where one of the most important motorcycle brands was born.

The company was called -atinely- Harley-Davidson Motor Company and took final form on August 28, 1903 after the arrival of the other two Davidson brothers, William and Walter. Almost a year later, on September 8, 1904, the first Harley-Davidson officially debuted in a competition at Fair Park. The debut was excellent: Edward hildebrand He arrived fourth and unleashed the joy of the novice and restless entrepreneurs.

After that challenge, the series production of the HD began. In 1905 they built a dozen units. All made in that shed at the back of the Davidson house. In 1906, already installed in a larger workshop, the numbers began to rise. That year they built 50 motorcycles and in 1907 they already exceeded 150. These first motorcycles were equipped with 440 cm3 single-cylinder engines derived from the 405 cm3 engine developed at the beginning of the century.

Those Harley-Davidsons reached a top speed of 70 km / h, but Bill Harley wanted them to be faster and more powerful. Rather than continue working with the single cylinder, he decided to increase power by using a V-twin impeller with a 45 degree rake angle. The V-Twin was born, which in time would become the hallmark of the brand.

Harley-Davidson First War
Harley-Davidsons also participated in the First World War.

Harley-Davidson was one of many companies that profited from the First World War. Through an agreement with the US Army, it produced 15.000 units. After the conflict, and in less than two decades, it established itself as the most successful company in the world, having a presence in 67 countries. That success allowed him to overcome the Great Depression, something few contemporaries ever achieved. World War II was another big deal for the firm, which again landed another contract.


With peace back on the planet, many of the former American combatants kept the Harleys they had used on the battlefield and adapted them to cross the country from end to end. They removed the fenders and other elements to make them lighter. By stripping it of all the chaperio, the appearance changed radically and thus the chopper motorcycles were born.

In the movie Easy Rider, the Harley were great protagonists.

In parallel, artists like Elvis Presley y James Dean make these machines the symbol of their generation. Hollywood did not miss the opportunity to tell its point of view of this fashion. He immediately associated those motorcycles - and the Harley-Davidson brand in particular - with gangs of motorcyclists like the fearsome Hells Angels (Angels from Hell). The series of films that were made between 1950 and 1970 affected the reputation of the company. Perhaps the most famous film is "Easy Rider" (1969) starring Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson y Dennis Hooper, whose characters cross the entire United States on Harley-Davidson.

In addition to the bad reputation he got from the film industry, the US government's decision to increase tax rates was added. That caused a sharp drop in sales.

Harley-Davidson XLCH
A 1969 Harley-Davidson XLCH.

But the worst was yet to come. In 1969 the factory was acquired by the American Machine and Foundry (AMF), which was in charge of increasing production capacity by opening new plants, but lowering construction quality. The Japanese brands that had come to the land of Uncle Sam took advantage of the situation and quickly became benchmarks in the market for having more reliable and economical products. Only in the 1980s, now with a new investment group made up of 13 executives from the previous management, Harley-Davidson recovered from so many ups and downs.

Since then it has improved its motorcycles with technological advances, making its engines more efficient and complying with strict environmental regulations. It incorporated different injection technologies, multivalves and exhaust systems. It built a new generation of 1.450cc Twin-Cam engines for the classic models and the new 3cc injection, water-cooled, 1.130 horsepower Revolution for the latest generation V-ROD.

Harley-Davidson has a large number of users and followers.

But why did these motorcycles become a symbol of the United States? In large part because of its history that combines success, failure and resurrection. But also for the design and reliability of its models that give it a certain distinction and exclusivity.

The company took advantage of this devotion to its models and in 1983 founded the official club: Harley Owner Group (HOG), which organizes mass meetings, caravans and has thousands of members. In addition, it has an extensive line of merchandising products that serves to complement the passion that its users feel for the brand. In 2008, coinciding with the 105th anniversary of the firm, the Harley-Davidson Museum. It has more than eight hectares of green areas that offer an excellent panorama of the city of Milwaukee and has several jewels on display such as Elvis Presley's KH 1956 and the famous Serial Number One, the first motorcycle of 1903.

For many, a Harley-Davidson is synonymous with freedom and even a lifestyle. That is why some do not hesitate to get their famous logo tattooed. And to think that it all started in a small workshop.

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Diego durruty

Journalist with 30 years of experience. Worked in magazines STROKE, The graphic, Coequipier y Only TC, on the Internet sites SportsYa!, e-driver.com y kmcero.com and on the radios Rock pop y Vorterix.com. He covered the Dakar rally for the German agency dpa. He currently drives Two Daring Guys, a car magazine that is broadcast on Tuesdays from 18 to 19 by RadioArroba.com; is editor of motorsport in Red Bull Argentina, columnist on the show WorldSport (AM Splendid) and in Surf & Rock FM.  He is also a teacher in SPORTS. Now you can read it on his blog: automundo.com.ar.

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