A Historical Timeline of the Harley Davidson Motor Company


  1. 1901 William S. Harley, at age 21, finishes a blueprint for an engine designed to fit a bicycle.
  2. 1903 Harley and Arthur Davidson build the first production Harley-Davidson motorcycle in 1903. It features a a 116cc engine working from a 10 x 15-foot shed on Chestnut Street in Milwaukee. That’s still the address of Harley-Davidson’s corporate office.
  3. 1904 C.H. Lang of Chicago, the very first Harley-Davidson dealer, opens for business.
  4. 1906 The Motor Company builds a new 28 by 80-foot factory at the Chestnut Street location and the company grows to six employees. The nickname “Silent Gray Fellow” is applied to an early machine as a reference to the fact that the bikes were painted dove gray, and that they were quietly reliable.
  5. 1907 William A. Davidson joins and Harley-Davidson Motor Company is incorporated. The first stock offering is shared by the Harley and Davidson brothers.
  6. 1908 Walter Davidson scores a perfect 1,000 points at the 7th Annual Federation of American Motorcyclists Endurance and Reliability Contest. Wowed by that demonstration, the City of Detroit becomes the first to buy a H-D motorcycle for its police force.
  7. 1909 Harley makes its first V-Twin. which features a displacement of almost 50 cubic inches and produces a total of seven horsepower.
  8. 1910 The now-famous ‘Bar & Shield’ logo is created in 1910 and trademarked a year later.
  9. 1911 The F-head single-cylinder engine is made and remains in service until 1929. The inlet-over-exhaust design with overhead intake valve and a “side” exhaust valve proves reliable and popular.
  10. 1912 Harley-Davidson exports its first motorcycles to Japan. Construction begins on a six-story headquarters in Milwaukee, a Parts and Accessories Department is opened and the company boasts more than 200 dealers across the United States.
  11. 1913 Bill Harley creates a race department to handle the needs of competitors and builders.
  12. 1914 The first sidecars designed specifically for H-Ds are manufactured and Harley-Davidson becomes one of the last motorcycle manufacturers to switch from leather drive belts to chain drives.
  13. 1915 H-D motorcycles upgrade their transmission systems and now feature three-speed, sliding-gear transmissions with a final and primary drive on the same side of the bike.
  14. 1917 Fully one-third of the company’s production is purchased by the Army, and to train Army mechanics the company starts the Quartermasters School. It would later become the Service School and used to provide factory-trained mechanics to dealerships.
  15. 1918 Nearly half of all H-D motorcycles manufactured are sold to the U.S. military in World War I. Corporal Roy Holtz becomes the first American soldier to enter Germany and he does it riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
  16. 1919 The 37-ci Sport model is created with its horizontally-opposed, fore-and-aft V-Twin.
  17. 1920 H-D boasts reaches the 2,000 dealer mark in 67 countries and is the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. The factory racing team, “The Wrecking Crew,” takes a small pig as a mascot and the Harley is nicknamed a “hog” as a result.
  18. 1925 The teardrop gas tank replaces previous flat-topped versions and Joe Petrali becomes one of the first salaried “factory racers” in the world.
  19. 1928 The first twin-cam engine is created for the JD series motorcycles which makes the bikes capable of a top speed between 85 and 100 mph. A front brake is offered for the first time.
  20. 1929 The D model, with its rugged 45-cubic-inch flathead V-Twin engine, is introduced and will be sold in various configurations for the next 40 years. As the Great Depression looms, the company sells 21,000 motorcycles in 1929.
  21. 1932 The three-wheeled Servi-car starts a run of more than 4o years as the most popular utility motorcycle in history. Joe Petrali strings together five straight national championships on the dirt track and four straight hill-climb titles to dominate motorcycle racing like no one since.
  22. 1933 The Motor Company sells only 4,000 motorcycles as the Depression grinds on.
  23. 1935 The company begins to license production of its motorcycles in Japan, and the Sankyo Seiyakyo Corporation purchases tooling and starts producing Harleys. These bikes are sold as Rikuo, which translates to “King of the Road.”
  24. 1936 Harley introduces the EL, an overhead valve, 61-cubic-inch bike which earns the nickname of ‘Knucklehead’ due to the shape of its distinctive rocker-boxes. H-D also introduces an 80-cubic-inch side-valve engine.
  25. 1937 Joe Petrali sets a land-speed record of just over 136 mph on a machine powered by a streamlined Knucklehead. The first WL models are manufactured. William A. Davidson dies two days after signing an agreement which makes the company a union shop.
  26. 1938 Ben Campanale wins the Daytona 200 on a 45 cubic-inch WLDR in a race run on a 3.2-mile beach course. The Jackpine Gypsies hold the first Black Hills rally in Sturgis and that event goes on to become the most well-known annual gathering of motorcyclists in the world.
  27. 1941 United States enters World War II and the production of civilian motorcycles comes nearly to a halt.
  28. 1942 When U.S. soldiers who capture Wehrmacht motorcycles in North Africa find that the BMWs and Zundapps with their “boxer” engines are better suited to tough military duty. Harley-Davidson and Indian introduce machines with shaft drives and flat-twin motors styled after the German bikes. Walter Davidson dies.
  29. 1943 William S. Harley dies.
  30. 1945 By the end of WWII (1941-45) the company had produced almost 90,000 WLA models for military use.
  31. 1948 The company’s 61 and 74 c.i. OHV engines are updated to use aluminum heads and hydraulic valve lifters, one-piece rocker covers which resemble cake pans, and that look earns the new motor the nickname ‘Panhead.’ The Allies grab up German patents as war reparations and the small two-stroke motors built by DKW are copied by Harley-Davidson and used in the bike which will come to be known as the ‘Hummer.’
  32. 1949 Hydraulic front forks are introduced on the new Hydra-Glides.
  33. 1950 Arthur Davidson dies.
  34. 1952 Harley-Davidson creates the 45 c.i. side-valve K model to compete with the increasingly popular – and much faster – British-made twins of the time.
  35. 1953 Indian Motorcycles spirals into oblivion and leaves the field open to H-D as the only serious motorcycle manufacturer in the U.S. for the rest of the century. To compete on the race track with the British 500 cc machines dominating dirt track and road course races, the H-D racing department creates the KR from the 750cc, flat-head WR.
  36. 1955 The KR takes seven consecutive Daytona 200 wins.
  37. 1957 The Motor Company introduces the Sportster, a larger-displacement version of the K motor fitted with an OHV head. The 55 c.i. machine rivals all of the English bikes for performance and only falls shorts of the British Vincents for pure performance.
  38. 1958 The Duo-Glide comes out with hydraulic rear suspension.
  39. 1960 Harley-Davidson buys a half-interest in the Italian company Aermacchi.
  40. 1961 The Harley-Davidson Sprint becomes the first Aermacchi-created design to reach American showrooms . Short-track racers snap them up for their low center of gravity and light weight.
  41. 1964 The Servi-Car becomes the first Harley to come with an electric starter.
  42. 1965 The Duo-Glide also gets an electric starter and becomes, by virtue of that addition, the Electra-Glide.
  43. 1966 Harley updates the old Panhead motor in the quest for more power and the new engine’s rocker boxes, which some think resemble coal shovels, earn the new design the nickname “Shovelhead.” The Shovelhead motor stays in production relatively unchanged for 20 years.
  44. 1969 The introduction of the Honda CB750 Four – and the brutal competition it offers to American buyers – leads to the sale of the company to the American Machine and Foundry Company. AMF, a maker of bowling balls and bowling equipment, is crushed by the fast, sophisticated and affordable Honda. AMF management presides over a nosedive in the quality of Harleys and the “pre-AMF” tag becomes the standard by which buyers select their used H-Ds .
  45. 1970 The XR-750 is introduced to take on the Japanese competition at the track and features a motor based on a destroked Sportster powerplant. None of the H-D factory entries finish higher than fifth in that year’s Daytona 200.
  46. 1971 the FX 1200 Super Glide (using the front end of the XL series and frames and motors from the FL series) becomes the first “cruiser” motorcycle.
  47. 1973 Harley opens a new assembly plant in York, PA.
  48. 1977 One AMF-era bike, the 1977 XLCR, stands the test of time. That bike was the second major project for Willie G. Davidson,  grandson of one of the founders, but it was roundly panned by Harley customers back in 1977. A miniscule 3,100 were sold and the model was dropped from the line after a year, but you could still buy a new one off the showroom floor well into the 1980s. The FXS Low Rider is introduced.
  49. 1979 The FXEF “Fat Bob” is called “fat” because of its dual gas tanks, and “bob” for its bobbed fenders.
  50. 1980 The FLT is introduced with rubber-isolated drivetrain and an engine and five-speed transmission which are hard bolted together to reduce vibration. A Kevlar belt replaces the chain as the final drive on some H-D models. The FXWB Wide Glide is also introduced.
  51. 1981 AMF mismanagement leads Harley-Davidson to the brink of extinction as customer abandon the sinking ship and profits tumble. A group of H-D executives offers to buy the company for $75 million and AMF, knowing they were in over their heads, signs off on the deal. What follows is nothing less than a startling corporate turnaround as the new owners focus on product development modern quality control standards.
  52. 1982 The FXR/FXRS Super Glide II are released , and those models feature a rubber-isolated, five-speed powertrain which is a huge improvement over previous setups. H-D adopts just-in-time inventory systems which ultimately lowers costs and improves quality.
  53. 1983 Harley battles with the International Trade Commission and manages to get a tariff applied to the purchase of Japanese motorcycles of  more than 700 cc in displacement. The Japanese motorcycle manufacturers are forced reconfigure their motors to under 700cc for the U.S. market to avoid the tax.
  54. 1984 The 1340cc V2 Evolution engine is installed in five models, and though development of that powerplant began in the AMF era, build quality is far superior to the AMF versions  – and oil-tight. The Softail comes along and features a concealed rear suspension while managing to look like the rigid-chassis hogs of the glory days, and buyers love the change.
  55. 1987 H-D institutes an Initial Public Offering and the company’s stock is traded on the NYSE for the first time. Ticker symbol? HOG. H-D, confident that they can now compete,  petitions the ITC to kill the tariff on imported motorcycles and  that move is a sign to Japanese companies that make V-Twin cruisers that the game was on.
  56. 1988 The classic Springer front end returns on the FXSTS Springer Softail.
  57. 1990 The Motor Company introduces the FLSTF Fat Boy.
  58. 1991 The first model in the Dyna line, the FXDB Dyna Glide Sturgis, hits the market.
  59. 1992 Harley-Davidson replaces chains with drive belts on all their major model lines as drive belts provide a smoother ride than chains, last longer, and eliminate chain lubrication and adjustment hassles.
  60. 1993 H-D purchases a minority interest in Erik Buell’s Buell Motorcycle Company.
  61. 1995 Harley-Davidson models are equipped with fuel injection systems for the first time.
  62. 1997 The company opens a new 217,000 sq. ft. design center in Milwaukee and FL engine production moves to a newly purchased plant in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. A new plant in Kansas City, a big one at 330,000 sq. ft., takes over the production of the Sportster line.
  63. 1998 H-D opens its first factory overseas in Manaus, Brazil, and acquires all remaining shares of Buell.
  64. 1999 The Touring and Dyna lines are rolled out and they feature the new Twin Cam 88 motor.
  65. 2000 The characteristic sound of a Harley motor becomes the subject of a long and costly legal fight, but H-D ultimately drops its U.S. Patent Office application. A public relations nightmare, the suits are quietly settled and the company moves on to more pressing business.
  66. 2001 The VRSCA V-Rod, featuring a motor designed with input from Porsche, features fuel injection, overhead cams, and liquid cooling.
  67. 2003 Some 250,000 people descend on Milwaukee to celebrate The Motor Company’s 100th anniversary.
  68. 2006 The 2006 Dyna motorcycles are offered with a six-speed transmission and the company announces the opening of its new museum in Milwaukee to be completed in 2008.
  69. 2007 Harley upgrades the Big Twin motor  to 96 cubic inches and adds the six-speed transmission from the Dyna line to all models.
  70. 2008 The Motor Company opens the new museum in time for Harley’s 105th anniversary. It also buys MV Agusta for $109 million in the hope of putting MV’s European distribution channels to use.
  71. 2009 Keith Wandell becomes the first person in nearly 30 years to become CEO of Harley-Davidson without previous connections to The Motor Company. The US economic recession forces Harley-Davidson to discontinue the Buell line and put MV Agusta up for sale. Profits dropped 84 percent over the previous year.
  72. 2011 Harley regains the confidence of investors after painful labor and manufacturing changes are made to the company’s processes and sales make a comeback
  73. 2012 New models aimed at recapturing younger buyers like the “48” and “72” attract the attention of buyers looking for old school styling and modern engineering.

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