Harley-Davidson Inc. is an American premium cruiser motorcycle manufacturer. Founded in 1903, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the conglomerate holds the record for being the world's oldest motorcycle manufacturer which is still in production. HD is only one of the two American motorcycle companies who survived the great depression. The other one is Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company. Today, Harley enjoys a history of more than a century period. Or in other words, it's said that the history of world motorcycle is written along with HD.
The history of Harley Davidson Motor Company began in 1901, when William S Harley, one of the founders, sketched up a motor-bicycle's engine. It was a small engine displaced only 116 cc. He continued his experiments on the new engine along with his childhood companion and colleague, Arthur Davidson in the machine shop of their friend, Henry Melk. Alas, they completed their first project and the first Harley Davidson motor-bicycle was born in 1903. Later, along with the help of Walter Davison, they found out that the motor-bicycle was not able to climb up hills without the pedal assistance. But, they continued their observation and experiments in order to develop other efficient engines. As a result, they developed a 405 cc with 25 cm flywheels weighing 13 kg. This invention granted Harley out of being a mere motor-bicycle producer. On 8th September, 1904, HD was scribed in the historical page for the first time after getting placed fourth in a Milwaukee motorcycle race held at State Fair Park.
In 1905, Harley commenced selling motorcycles in very limited units. First advertisements were appeared in the 'Automobile and Cycle Trade Journal'. And through its first dealer, Carl H. Lang of Chicago, HD sold 3 motorcycles. In 1906, the first factory of HD was established by Harley and 3 Davidson brothers at Chestnut Street in a small 40 ft x 60 ft single-story wooden square. The consortium produced 50 motorcycles in its first production year. In 1907, with the unity of four founders (William Harley, William Davidson, Arthur Davidson and Walter Davidson) the consortium was officially incorporated as Harley Davidson Inc. Then the factory was slightly expanded and it helped to triple its production by 150 per annum. Meanwhile, William Harley learnt his graduation on mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In the same year, the consortium developed its first V-Twin engine. It was equipped with an 880 cc engine which produced up to 7 horsepower. This was also Harley's first motorcycle to reach a top speed of 100 kmph. Later, the production was hiked to 450 units in 1908 and to 1150 in 1909.
In 1913, the Yellow Brick Factory got replaced by a new 5-story building. In the year, the production house saw new 16,284 machines. During World War I, HD supplied 15,000 machines to the United States Military Force. By 1920, Harley became the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer by producing 28,189 two wheelers at that year. In 1920s, the conglomerate introduced some interesting findings. A 1,212.6 cc, V-Twin engine, which was introduced in 1922 and the Teadrop gas tank in 1925 were few of them. By the end of 20s, the Great Depression was broken out. It severely affected the company. The production was dipped to 21,000 units in 1029 and to pathetic 3,703 units in 1933. Still, HD endured the crisis and unveiled it line-up for 1934. However, HD opened its account with the 1210 cc VL in Japan in 1935. In 1936, HD unveield the 61E and the 61EL variants with the 'Knucklehead' OHV engine. Despite everything HD survived the Great Depression. And during the World War II, Harley was again chosen to supply motorcycles to the US Army. In 1934 and in 1945, the company was rewarded Army-Navy 'E' Awards for Excellence in Production.
In 1952, HD was hammered by the US Tariff Commission to pay 40% tax on imported motorcycles. This severely affected the sales figure of the company as the company was forced to hike its bikes' price. Later in the mid of 20th century, HD jumped into Hummer and Aermacchi production. HD acquired the design of a German motorcycle, the DKW RT 125 and produced bikes from 1948 to 1966. In 1960, HD unveiled the Topper Scooter. In the following year the 250 cc Aermacchi horizontal single bikes' import commenced. The motorcycle was badged as Harley-Davidson Sprint. Later the engine of the Sprint was amassed to 350 cc in 1969. Then the Aermacchi made two-stroke powered the M-65, the M-65S, and the Rapido were replaced by HD's American built lightweight two-stroke motorcycles.
In 1969, the whole consortium was troubled when the company was acquired by American Machine and Foundry (AMF). They cut the number of workers. This created long strikes and some horrible incidents between the management and the workforce. It resulted low production as well as low quality of the motorcycles. The sales declined and mocked as 'Hardly Ableson', 'Hardly Driveable,' and 'Hogly Ferguson'. The company was almost to bankrupt. Hence, in 1982, the consortium was handed over for $80 million to a 13 men crew which is pioneered by Vaughn Beals and Willie G. Davidson. In 1990, HD introduced the Fat Boy and became the market leader again. In 1993, the Dyna FXD was introduced replacing the FXR models. In 2001, Harley Davidson logo was appeared in the car for the first time. It was Ford's F-Series F-150 line up to be sealed the HD logo. The Ford-F150 Harley-Davidson Edition still continues as it is placed in the 2013 model line up.
Meantime, HD began its trade with Buell Motorcycle Company in 1987. Buell bought engines for its superbikes. In 1993, Harley bought 49% share of Buell and increased the share to 98% in 1998 and completely by 2003. In 2008, Harley acquired the Italian premium motorcycle manufacturer, MV Augusta for $109M USD. But in 2009, the company sold back the Italian firm back to the former owner, Claudio Castiglioni. He had also been the Chairman of MV Augusta since HD bought the venture.
In 2009, Harley Davidson officially announced its Indian entry and opened its very first dealership in 2010. Later in 2011, HD established a Completely Knocked Down (CKD) plant, in Gurgaon, to reduce the duty tax. Today, Harley has the sale of 14 variants in 9 dealerships across India. Meanwhile, the consortium has an altogether tally of 31 motorcycle models from its homeland, the United States. The price range of Harley Davidson machines starts at Rs. 5.6 lakh for the Superlow and ends at Rs.35.45 lakh for the Ultra Classic Electra Glide in India.
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