Motorcycles first appeared in 1885. In America, however, this industry was in its infancy.
In 1903, brothers Walter and Arthur Davidson, together with William Harley, assembled their first motorcycle. For example, the Indian motorcycle company, founded back in 1901, became the main competitor for Harley-Davidson for a long time.
Initially, its products were not much different from their counterparts. In fact, the first motorcycle was then a regular bicycle that had a single-cylinder engine. He used a leather belt to drive the rear wheel. There were also pedals and chains usual for a bicycle, with the help of which it was possible to accelerate the vehicle to the required speed or help when climbing a hill. The first engine had a volume of 165 cubic centimeters and was similar to all existing analogues.
The motorcycle parts were handcrafted. That device moved at a speed of 7-8 km / h, which was comparable to fast walking. The second model has already been assembled on the basis of a more powerful engine, and it was she who went on sale. The "real" motorcycle weighed about 13 kilograms and had a 405 cc engine. Work on the creation of the first models was carried out in a barn in the courtyard of the Davidson house. But most of the knots were made by the team from railway workshops.
In its first year, the company produced only three motorcycles, and in 1904, already eight. In 1905 - 16, and in 1906 - already 50. In January 1905, the first advertisement was published, announcing the start of sales, first of engines, and then of motorcycles. In 1906, the first Harley and Davidson factory on Avenue Street began operating. It was a wooden building measuring 12 by 18 meters.
If the first models were exclusively black, then a variant with a gray color appeared. Thanks to this color scheme and low engine noise, bikers even called those bikes "gray quiet friend". However, the company was striving for a more powerful and powerful engine, which was the reason for the famous 7-horsepower V-Twin.
The fact is that in 1907 William Harley graduated as a mechanical engineer, which made it possible to better do what he loved. The factory acquired a second floor, which made it possible to produce 150 motorcycles in 1907. The company managed to conclude an agreement with the local police, which allowed to increase volumes. Thanks to the new engine, it was possible to reach a top speed of 97 km / h, and sales from 1908 to 1909 increased from 450 to 1150 units.
The new "Harley" had vacuum valves, a belt drive was used, which distinguished it from analogues. And although obvious defects led to a quick abandonment of the model, the V-Twin layout itself was reused in 1911. This time, the device also received mechanical valve control and the use of a chain damper. The technology began to develop, already in 1912 the company presented its first version of the gearbox. In 1913, a chain drive was developed, and the next year a two-speed drive. In 1912 the company increased the volume of its engines - from 812 "cubes" to 1000.
In 1913, the brick building, having stood for only three years, was demolished. Instead, a luxurious five-story building made of red brick and reinforced concrete appeared. By 1914, the company had surpassed its main competitor, Indian. 16284 Harleys were produced that year.
1916 saw the first documented use of the company's motorcycles in hostilities. With these two-wheeled vehicles, Mexican insurgents carried out their raids on American cities. The local authorities, under the leadership of General Pershing, performed on Indian motorcycles.
During the First World War, the company received an official military order from the British army - 500 motorcycles. After entering the hostilities and America, "Harleys" were needed by the American military. By 1920, the company had become the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. Its products were sold by dealers in 67 countries. In total, more than 28 thousand cars were produced annually. And in 1921, Harley-Davidson racer Otto Walker won the race at an average speed of over 160 km / h.
In 1919, small "V-Twins" of 578 cm³ appeared. And in 1921, the famous 74th model with an engine capacity of 1200 cm³ appeared. The company constantly improved the design of its engine, but failed to get rid of its typical problems - rapid wear, constant clogging, difficulties with maintenance. But competitors from the "Indian Motorcycle Company" at that time produced, albeit less efficient, engines, but worked out to perfection. As a result, the management of Harley-Davidson realized that it was time to create their own V-shaped engines with a longitudinal arrangement.
The first such Harley-Davidson motorcycles had a 730cc Flathead V-twin engine. This motor became a real classic, being released until 1973 on three-wheeled, military and even racing models. However, a successful engine appeared just before the Great Depression. During this period, the company's sales fell by half, but it still managed to survive.
In the mid-1930s, as the economy stabilized, Harley-Davidson unexpectedly gained a strong market position. With a significant demand for motorcycles, there were practically no quality offers. The company quickly increased sales, not forgetting about the development of new engines. Back in 1931, development began on Panhead, which appeared only five years later.
The era of the founders of the company came to an unexpectedly fast end. William Davidson died in 1937, and his brother Walter died in 1942. In 1943 she did not become William Harley. In 1950, Arthur Davidson, the last of the company's founding fathers, died in a car accident. We can say that this is how an important stage in the life of the famous brand ended. But during this difficult period, the company did not flinch and continued the business it had begun. True, the popularity of the "K" and "KN" series, cult for American bikers, began to be influenced by British models, which poured into the American market in abundance after the end of World War II.
In 1957 a new V-Twin engine with a volume of 883 cc was released. The new motorcycle received a gearbox linked to the engine. This blocky design became the foundation of the acclaimed XL Sportster, the racing leader for the next ten years. Since the 1950s, fans of the brand have received an improved suspension, additional lights, an improved windshield. Since 1958, Harley-Davidson motorcycles have received an electric starter, which has resulted in the installation of a large battery and increased weight. As a result, motorcycles in full gear reached a mass of 360 kilograms.
Meanwhile, the competitors did not doze. They thoroughly "bit" the American giant with their cheap, but at the same time, high-quality products. The Harley-Davidson brand was held in high esteem except by the army, police, and a few fans. By the way, they loved to improve the design of motorcycles. And in the 1960s, the company noticeably deteriorated its reputation. At one time, she generally imported Italian motorcycles to America.
In 1965, the private structure became a joint stock company, and after 4 years it became part of the American Mechanical Engineering and Steel Company. Many fans have not suffered such a loss of identity with their favorite brand.
But in the 1970s, Harley-Davidson took off again. After the release of the cult movie "Easy Rider" with two choppers, brands and shares of the company went up, and public interest in "Harleys" was revived. In 1971, the FX Super Glide came out and immediately became a hit. The Glide family had 11 successful models in five years.
The design and engineering developments of the 70s were relatively successful, but atypical for Harley-Davidson. It became clear that the new owners from AMF were developing the brand in the wrong direction. So it was decided by the Harley-Davidson board of directors to buy out its controlling stake, which happened in 1981. The brand is gaining independence again, it remains only to return the dominant status.
The company immediately offered its clients several important innovations for an additional fee: a new engine layout, a five-speed gearbox, and belt drives. Gradually Harley-Davidson regains its cult status, its shares are constantly growing in value.
The company's marketing policy is to create a community of brand loyal consumers. No wonder they say that Harley-Davidson is a lifestyle. The buyer of the brand realizes his old dream of purchasing a beautiful and stylish device, reliable and with infrequent driving, and with rare maintenance.
Powerful and beautiful motorcycles are a symbol of the road open to travel and some kind of connection to the elite brotherhood of motorcyclists. It's no coincidence that Harley-Davidson models consistently win the most fuel-efficient and comfortable motorcycle category. Today the company has a turnover of $ 5 billion, of which $ 140 million is net profit. More than 6300 employees forge the brand's glory.