Founder: William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson Founded: 1903 Industry: Motorcycles


In 1901, William S. Harley created a blueprint of an engine that would fit in a bicycle. It wasn’t until 1903 that William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson opened the first factory. The original factory was a 10 x 15-foot wooden shed. The Serial Number One Bike was the first created by Harley-Davidson in 1903. Harley-Davidson Motor Company was incorporated on September 16th 1907. The original stock was split four ways between William S. Harley, Arthur Davidson, Walter Davidson, and William A. Davidson. The first motorcycle for policy duty was sold to the Detroit Police Department in 1908. After a couple of factory changes over the first decade of the company, finally in 1912 construction began on a six story headquarters and main factory building on Juneau Ave. in Milwaukee. In the same year, the first Harley- Davidson product to be sold internationally was delivered to Japan. In 1916, The Harley- Davidson Enthusiast begins publication, which is the longest continuously published motorcycle magazine in the world. With World War I at its peak, roughly half of all motorcycles produced where for the U.S. military. By the year 1920, Harley-Davidson was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, at the time; they had 2,000 dealers in 67 countries. Throughout the next few decades, Harley-Davidson continues to expand, and created many types of motorcycles and engines. They also won multiple awards in motorcycle races. In 1947, Harley-Davidson began selling the classic leather motorcycle jacket. In 1971, Harley-Davidson began snowmobile production. In 1983, Harley Owners Group, H.O.G. is created. Immediately it becomes the largest factory-sponsored motorcycle club in the world. Within the first six years, H.O.G. had over 90,000 members. As of the year 2000, the membership exceeded 500,000. In 1998, the first assembly facility opened outside the U.S. in Manaus, Brazil. In 2003, more than 250,000 people attended the 100th anniversary celebration and party in Milwaukee. In 2008, Harley-Davidson opened the museum at 6th and Canal St in downtown Milwaukee.

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The values for Harley-Davidson begin with the culture of the company and its consumers. Harley-Davidson’s culture reflects the bold, rebellious attitude of the products. The number one value of Harley-Davidson is to include the strong customer influence. Which reminds the employees that their work is fulfilling the dreams of personal freedom every minute of every day for its customers. The input by the customers is put into every decision since 1903. The lifelong ambition to ride a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and be apart of the Harley Owners Group has propelled Harley-Davidson with a competitive advantage around the world. Harley-Davidson understands how important H.O.G. is to its members by offering various benefits to enhance the experience. H.O.G. sponsors events around the world in which members can meet each other and share the their experiences. Harley-Davidson also offers a Learn to Ride program, which allows potential customers to understand the motorcycles, this exemplifies how important the customers safety is to Harley-Davidson. All in all, Harley-Davidson is customer driven in everything they do; they value the customer’s experience over the revenues generated.

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A little over a century ago, William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson attached a motor to a bicycle and created a world-renowned company. The classic leather jacket began sales in 1947 and has been a staple in the motorcycle industry. While other companies from Japan have taken over the sport motorcycle industry, no company has ever been able to compete with Harley-Davidson in cruiser industry of motorcycles, especially in the United States. Harley-Davidson motorcycles are customizable, allowing customers to pick specific features to make the motorcycle personal. The Harley’s Owners Group allows members to be apart of a culture in which they can attend events and receive other benefits.

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— This story is written by Kali Thiel, director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at or 262-243-2149.

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