Where Did the Name Harley-Davidson Come From


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Where Did The Name Harley Davidson Come From

Are you a Harley-Davidson biker curious about the history of the iconic brand and want to find out there did the name come from? If yes, then you are certainly in the right place.

The name Harley-Davidson came from the names of the founders of the iconic motorcycle brand. Harley-Davidson was started by William S. Harley and the three Davidson brothers, namely Arthur, William, and Walter. Many people wonder why “Harley” came first, even though there were three Davidson brothers. The answer to that is that the idea of creating a motorized bicycle was William S. Harley’s vision. The brothers agreed to this, and they all collectively decided to name the brand “Harley-Davidson” and not “Davidson-Harley”.

In this article, you will get to learn all about the history of the Harley-Davidson brand, where did the name Harley-Davidson come from, interesting things you might not know about the history of the brand, and more. Stick around to get all the answers that you are looking for.

Where Did the Name Harley-Davidson Come From

Whether you are a beginner biker or you’ve spent years and years riding on Harley-Davidson bikes, there is no denying that there are very few brands that can match the performance of Harley-Davidson bikes. Not many brands have managed to come in touching distance with the success and iconic status of this brand. But who were the people behind the start of this brand, and where did the name Harley-Davidson come from?

Most people would guess that the company was probably started by someone named Harley and his partner Davidson, hence the name. However, you would only be partially true. The company was actually founded by William S. Harley and the three Davidson brothers – Arthur, Walter, and William.

Now, you might be wondering why the brand was named Harley-Davidson and not Davidson-Harley, despite there being only one Harley and three Davidson brothers. Interestingly, the story goes that the original idea to build a motorized bicycle came from William S. Harley. This is why everyone agreed that his name should come first. This turned out to be a great choice, as “Davidson-Harley” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Harley-Davidson”.

One of the secrets to the success of this iconic brand is that all four founders were true motorcycle enthusiasts. Whether it was taking part in racing and endurance runs or simply taking their bike out to the lake for a day of fishing, the four founders lived and breathed motorcycles. All four founders continued to work for the company until their deaths. Arthur Davidson managed to outlive them all and ultimately passed away in 1950.

An Iconic Logo was Needed to Go Along with the Iconic Name

Harley-Davidson was founded by William S. Harley, Walter Davidson, Arthur Davidson, and William Davidson in 1903. However, the founders did not have a logo when they came up with the name. In fact, the company did not have a logo until 1910 when they adopted a basic-yet-effective shield and bar design with the name written in bold. 

Since then, all the brand’s logo versions throughout the decades have been modeled around the original logo. Now, should be mindful of the semblance of history each time you spot a Harley-Davidson bike blazing through the roads.

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Throughout the history of the brand, its logo has undergone a number of changes. For instance, the 1930 version only featured the company’s name written in red with a yellow outline and a white backdrop. In the 1933 version, the logo was retained, but the background got changed to orange and black. As a result, they were able to highlight the inscription in a better way.

From 1940 to 1946, the logo had a metal drop-shaped look with the inscription “Harley Davidson”. In 1955, a large-size letter V (as a nod to the popular engine V-twin) was featured on the backdrop of the classy Harley Davidson inscription.

The shield and bar design has been used in several variants of the logo over the years. Sometimes, this version also made it to the classic combination of black and orange, even appearing on motorcycles. Moreover, there are versions of basic, crisp, steel logo designs.

Photo Inside Harley-Davidson Store With Motorcycles And Customers

The Harley-Davidson Logo Design Elements


Throughout the history of the company, its motorcycles and emblem markedly changed. The Harley-Davidson emblem came in different shapes, colors, and sizes, but the inscription has always remained the same. It is the main attribute that did not change.

The most popular emblem that is still in use is the shield and bar, which carries an air of mystery. The emblem is designed in a shield shape and has a broad horizontal stripe at the center. There are two variations of color – the first one features white letters against a black backdrop and the second one is the inscription Harley-Davidson in white, with the remaining inscription in orange.


While Harley-Davidson has changed from the black and white theme to a serious “chrome” appearance, with the current black and orange theme being a much better fit for the brand. Black has been the go-to color of Harley-Davidson for a while. When you see black, you typically think of simplicity, elegance, sleekness, and class. Then again, black can also have an edgy feel to it, which is an apt way of summarizing riding.

Lastly, the orange element strikes the perfect balance between being assertive and inviting. After all, people are supposed to get along, right? Harley-Davidson couldn’t agree more.

Orange is both creative and enthusiastic, as it radiates energy in a way that black cannot. Some people have also joked that Harley’s choice of color is a bit Halloween-themed. 

While black radiates simplicity and edge, orange promotes the brand’s energy and personality. The touch of white seen around the logo isn’t lost either, as it promotes purity and balance.


Even though Harley-Davidson played around with the script typefaces when it kept on altering its logo, such fonts were quite rare. The majority of the brand’s logos have featured stylish and blocky sans serif fonts.

Interesting Things You Might Not Know About the History of Harley-Davidson

William S. Harley and the three Davidson brothers were true visionaries. The four of them lived at an opportune time and blazed their trail into motorcycle history. It had been less than 10 years earlier when the very first motorcycle was manufactured. However, in 1903, the four of them started their own company, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company.

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You probably know about some of the most popular Harley bikes, but there are some interesting facts you might not know about the brand’s early history. You might have watched videos and series about the early days of Harley-Davidson, but there are many interesting trivia that many don’t know about.

1. The motorcycle craze of that era

The craze for motorcycles was definitely brewing during that era, even before Harley-Davidson was started. Bicycles might have been all the buzz in the late 19th century, but things changed when the first motorcycle arrived in 1894. It was the Hildebrand and Wolfmuller motorcycle, a bike that would go on to change the entire industry. The first reported motorcycle race was held in 1897. 

Let’s not forget the likes of Ralph C. Hamlin. In 1901, Ralph won a race in Los Angeles, riding the “Orient” motorcycle. This was the perfect time to enter the motorcycle cycle, and William Harley and Arthur Davidson did just that.

2. The founders were childhood friends

William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson were close friends from Milwaukee. As a teenager, William used to work in a bicycle factory. The immense popularity of bicycles at the time simply cannot be understated. In the 1870s, the “safety bicycle” truly revolutionized the future of two-wheelers. It meant that the bikers could easily touch the ground, unlike the tall Penny-Farthing. The rear wheel of the bicycle was chain-driven.

3. Harley and the Davidsons have a miniseries

The story of the start of Harley-Davidson came alive on the screen when the miniseries “Harley and the Davidsons” got released. The Discovery three-part series follows the four founders as they start and grow their brand.

The miniseries might not be entirely accurate, but it is definitely an enjoyable watch nonetheless. The miniseries might even rank as one of the best TV shows for motorcycle lovers.

4. Walter Davidson was known for his bike racing skills

Walter Davidson was Arthur’s older brother. He was a machinist who used to work in Parsons, Kansas. Arthur wrote to him, asking him to return to Milwaukee. They wanted him to be the first one to ride their bike. Although Walter returned only to find out that the bike wasn’t close to completion at all.

However, Walter did end up becoming known for his bike racing. This was highlighted by the fact that in 1908 he won an endurance race through the Catskill Mountains in New York State.

5. Arthur and William used to ride to the fishing spot

Arthur Davidson had Scottish heritage and shared the same pastime of fishing as his friend William Harley.

To reach their fishing spot, they would ride their bicycles. However, the two friends would soon end up building their own motorcycles.

6. Joseph Merkel was a source of inspiration for the boys

Joseph Markel’s loop frame on his motorcycle designs heavily inspired Harley and the Davidson brothers with their designs. The 1911 Flying Merkel is among those bikes that were worth much more than most supercars.

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The bike had a loop frame, a frame that curled around the engine. Meanwhile, the engine sat lower. It offered a rigid frame and lower center of gravity, which ultimately improved handling.

7. The early models of Harley-Davidson

The 1904 Harley-Davidson Model 0 came powered by a 24-inch cubic-inch engine. The bike shared the same black and gold paint job as the 1903 builds.

The 1905 Harley-Davidson Model 1 was very similar to the motorcycles that they had built earlier. It came powered by a 24.74-inch engine with a single-speed transmission.

8. The Model 5 Series and the introduction of the V-twin engine

The Model 5 Series might not have the technological advancements that the bikes today have, but it was still one of the best Harley-Davidson bikes of that decade. The Model 5 Series came out in 1909, with the Model 5-D being the highlight of that series. 

In 1907, a prototype of the V-Twin appeared at the Chicago Automobile show. This was the launch of the first production V-Twin.

9. Harley-Davidson was originally called Harley-Davidson Motor Co.

William Davidson, Arthur’s eldest brother, made up the team alongside two more Davidson brothers and William Harley. He worked with the three other visionaries, and The Harley-Davidson Motor Co. was started.

In 1903, the first Harley-Davidson bike was constructed. The factory was a backyard shed with the sign on the shed reading “Harley-Davidson Motor Co.”


What was the first Harley-Davidson bike called?

The Harley-Davidson Model 1 was the first motorcycle produced by the iconic American manufacturer Harley-Davidson. The bike came at a price of $200 dollars and only 38 pieces were manufactured.

What is the oldest motorcycle brand?

Peugeot Motorcycles is the oldest motorcycle company, and it was started in the 1890s. In 1898, Peugeot Motorcycles presented the first motorcycle equipped with a Dion-Bouton motor at the Paris Motorshow.

What does the term Hog mean to a Harley-Davidson biker?

The term “HOG”, in relation to Harley-Davidson bikers, has a story that goes all the way back to the early 1920s. In the 1920s, there was a Harley-Davidson company racing team called the “Wrecking Crew”. This team dominated the dirt track races that they entered, while they were also known for their winning combination. For fun, they decided to designate a small mascot as a part of the team – a pig. Each time they won a race, they would pick up the pig, place the pig on the gas tan, and take a victory lap.

It wasn’t long until racing fans and media caught on to this and started calling them the “Harley Hogs”. Over time, the nickname changed to just “Hogs” and eventually became a popular slang term for the beloved Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

In 1983, the company decided to take advantage of this long-standing nickname and turned the nickname into an acronym for the group, the Harley Owners Group.

What does the Harley-Davidson skull mean?

The skull symbolism expresses a Harley-Davidson biker’s commitment until death, to motorcycling, to their Harley-Davidson club, and to the fellow members of that club. It is also a way to carry with you all the others who came before you.

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