It all began with two friends in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1903. William S. Harley stands for the H in HD. Arthur Davidson is one of three D’s. The other two D’s being his brothers, Walter and William Davidson. William Harley and Arthur Davidson began working on the prototype and eventually sought the help of Walter and William. Walter was a skilled mechanic. William was an experienced toolmaker. Together the group formed the HD Company, which was later incorporated.
During 1903 HD turned out a grand total of 3 motorcycles. All were bought and paid for before completion. Gray was the standard color of the first HD motorcycles, which were often referred to as the “Silent Gray Fellows”.
By the end of 1905 the HD Company was not only selling motorcycles, but also motorcycle motors, marine motors, reversible propellers and float feed carburetors. The price of the motorcycle was $200.
The popularity of the HD motorcycle continued to grow through out the following decade. By 1914, nine departments of the federal government of the United States used HD’s. The U.S. Postal service alone used more than 4,800 Harley Davidson motorcycles for rural mail delivery.
In 1916 the military began using HD’s in border skirmishes with Pancho Villa. The motorcycles were equipped with machine guns. HD motorcycles were also used in World War I with half of all models produced being shipped overseas. The war also was responsible for the establishment of the first Harley-Davidson Service School. The HD Company saw a need and met it.
The 1920’s brought an end to the war and a beginning to the world of racing. HD made quite an impact. Harley-Davidson suffered, but managed to survive the Great Depression and continued to prosper through the 1930’s.
Unfortunately World War II came in the 1940’s and HD was pressed into service once again.
The 1950’s brought about new, more aggressive marketing strategies and expansion for this great company. Once again war broke out, this time in Korea. Motorcycles were replaced in popularity with the military with the Jeep. HD was free to concentrate on its civilian consumers.
The 1960’s brought about as much change for HD as everyone else in the United States. This was also when the company began to branch out into an unrelated field of leisure product with the production of 3-wheeled golf carts. By the end of the decade these carts cornered about one third of the United States market, and were even used oversees. HD also began marketing an extensive line of motorcycle accessories.
The 1970’s saw continuing success in the racing venue. Great advancements were made in the racing bikes that were produced by HD. In late 1970 the company also unveiled its brand new snowmobile. Perhaps the biggest change was the merger between HD and the AMF.
The 1980’s began with a buyback, and the HD Company returned to private ownership. The company seemed to show a renewed interest in building better machines So much so that they won the contract with the California Highway Patrol in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1989.
The 1990’s were ushered in with the appearance of HD’s most customized factory custom motorcycle to date, the FLSTF Fat Boy. This bike was reminiscent of the past while still being up to date with the times.
The Twenty first century has come and HD remains strong. Its current line of bikes includes the Sporster, the Dyna, the Softail, the VRSC, and a Touring line. Each line includes several models. Bikes now sell from between $6,000 and $25,000.