Where Was the First Harley-Davidson Built


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Where Was The First Harley Davidson Built

Are you a Harley-Davidson biker curious about the history of the company and where the first Harley bike was built? If yes, then you are definitely in the right place. 

Where was the first Harley-Davidson built is a common question that most Harley bikers have when they want to know more about the brand. The first Harley-Davidson bike was created in a wooden shed in Milwaukee by William S. Harley and the Davidson brothers (Arthur, William, and Walter). The bike was called Harley-Davidson Model 1 and had a capacity of 24.74 cubic-inch (405.41 cc), single-speed transmission, a tubular loop frame, and weight around 185 lb or 84 kg. Further, the bike could only achieve a top speed of 40mph or 64 km/hr.

In this guide, you will get to know all about the first Harley-Davidson bike, where was the first Harley-Davidson built, the Harley-Davidson models by the decade, and more. Continue reading to get all the answers that you are looking for.

Where was the First Harley-Davidson Built

The first Harley-Davidson bike was built in a 10 x 15 foot wooden shed in Milwaukee by William Harley and the three Davidson brothers. After drawing up plans for a small engine designed to fit on the regular bike frame, Harley worked with Arthur and Walter Davidson to create motor-bicycle. They finished the first model in 1903. While the test was largely successful, the bike wasn’t able to climb hills without the rider providing pedalling assistance.

However, Harley and the Davidson brothers did not give up. They immediately started working on a new and improved machine. They created a loop-frame design and a bigger engine. After finishing the prototype in 1904, the entered their motorcycle into a local motorcycle race at the State Fair Park, where it ended up placing fourth.

Now that they finally had a working model, Harley-Davidson engines got listed in the January 1905 Automobile and Cycle Trade Journal. Only 4 months later, the bikes were finally in production. In the first year, five bikes got produced, four of which were sold by Carl H. Lang of Chicago. He was also the first Harley-Davidson dealer.

First Built Harley-Davidson Building

By 1906, Harley and the Davidson brothers were able to move out of the shed and into their first factory. It was located at the current site of the Harley-Davidson headquarters. They produced 50 bikes during the first year in the factory, 10x more than the year before.

Within one year of building their first factory, they were already preparing to expand the building with a second floor. In September, Harley-Davidson officially incorporated. They produced 150 bikes in 1907 and started selling them to police departments.

The company continued growing year after year. New designs and new features constantly kept on being introduced. The factory was expanded numerous times to keep up with the growing demand of Harley-Davidson bikes.

Harley-Davidson has played a significant role in American history. The company produced more than 20,000 bikes for the US military during World War I. It was also one of the few two American motorcycle brands to survive the Great Depression. Further, Harley-Davidson played a key role in World War II as well. The company produced more than 90,000 bikes for use during that time. After almost 120 years, Harley-Davidson has grown from its humble beginnings and became an iconic brand.    

What was the First Harley-Davidson Bike Like


In early 1901, William S. Harley, who was just 21 years old, developed a project for a small engine capacity of 7.07 cubic-inches. The following two years, him and his childhood friend Arthur Davidson worked hard on a bike with an engine using a garage in the house of their friend, Henry Melk.

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The work got finished in 1903. This was followed by work on a new, more modern motorcycle. The first “real” Harley-Davidson bike had a bigger engine – a 24.74 cubic-inch with 9¾-inch flywheels weighing 28lbs crankshaft.

The prototype got completed on September 8th, 1904, and on the same day it was used in motorcycle racing at the State Fair Park. The rider was Edward Hildebrand, and he finished in the fourth place. This race was also the first documented appearance of the Harley-Davidson bike.

Features of the first model

The 1905 Harley-Davidson Model No. 1 was identical to the motorcycles built in 1903 and 1904. The bike featured an inlet-over-exhaust single engine, a capacity of 24.74 cubic-inch, single-speed, belt drive transmission, a tubular loop frame, a weight of 185 lbs, and a top speed of 40mph or 64 km/h. Sometimes, the pedal-power was needed when the engine alone could not provide enough power.

Interesting facts about the first Harley

In January 1905, small advertisements started to be placed in the Automobile and Cycle Trade Journal, offering bare Harley-Davidson engines for do-it-yourself trade. By April, complete bikes were in production on a limited basis.

That year, the first Harley-Davidson dealer, Carl H. Lang, sold three bikes from the five bikes built in the Harley-Davidson backyard shed. In 1906, a new factory measuring 28×80 feet was built on the Chestnut St. site, later renamed Juneau Avenue. 

The staff size got increased to 6 full-time employees. Moreover, the first motorcycle catalog got produced by the Company and the nickname “Silent Gray Fellow” got used for the first time. 

The company produced almost 50 bikes in 1906. Harley-Davidson Motor Company was incorporated on September 17th, 1907. The stock got split four ways among the founders, and the staff size more than doubled from the previous year.

Early Days of Harley-Davidson Models

Harley-Davidson founders William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson worked together on the prototype for the brand’s first motorcycle in a 10-by-15-foot shed. The prototype was completed in 1903, but they immediately started working on a newer and more modern bikes. A new prototype that featured a bigger engine got completed in 1904. This model was used in motorcycle racing at State Fair Park in Milwaukee. The Harley-Davidson Model No. 1 was the first production bike, and it came out in 1905. During this time, the company was only producing bikes on a limited basis.

The first Harley-Davidson factory got built in 1906 on Chestnut Street in Milwaukee, where they produced 50 bikes that year. The following year, the company was officially incorporated. In 1917, almost 50% of Harley-Davidson’s sales went to the U.S. armed forces to be used in World War I. The first service school was operated in Milwaukee for training Army mechanics.

In 1920, Harley-Davidson completed its facility on Juneau Avenue. It was seven stories high, and it still exists until now for use as the corporate office center.

Between 1941 and 1945, Harley-Davidson started informing dealers that, due to commitment with the Army, the dealers were guaranteed one new motorcycle per model year for the duration of World War II. An estimated 88,000 bikes were built for the military at this time, alongside a huge supply of repair parts.

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Production increased through the years, with the company thriving through a range of historical events. Even today, Harley-Davidson remains an iconic American motorcycle brand.

Harley-Davidson Models by Decade

While it would be a near impossible to list out every Harley-Davidson models by year, breaking it down by decades will help highlight some of the milestones that the iconic company has had. Following the first production bike in 1905, the brand introduced its first V-twin powered bike in 1909. It led to a jump in production and more innovations as the decades went by.

Harley-Davidson bikes in the 1910s

1911 7D – The first successful V-twin produced by Harley-Davidson, this model helped champion an engine configuration that went on to be used consistently in years since.

1914 10-F – This V-twin became the first bike to feature two speeds, which was a major advancement for the brand. It even featured a step-started, similar to the modern-day kick-starter.

Harley-Davidson bikes in the 1920s

1925 JD – The introduction of the Harley-Davidson JD helped the brand make an impact in the industry as far as styling goes. The bike came with a fuel tank sporting rounded, teardrop shape.

1929 D-Series – To compete with the popular Scout being produced by Indian motorcycles, Harley-Davidson came out with the D-Series, which introduced the side-valve, 45ci, V-twin engine called the “45” or “flathead”.

Harley-Davidson bikes in the 1930s

1932 R-Series – To replace the D-Series, Harley-Davidson introduced the R-Series. This new styling helped shape the brand as a staple of Americana. It even helped the brand through the Great Depression.

1937 UL – As the brand made its comeback from the Great Depression, Harley-Davidson released the UL, which was a Sport Solo model that featured a recirculating oil system and the four-speed transmission system.

Harley-Davidson bikes in the 1940s

1942 WLA – The Harley-Davidson WLA was produced for the U.S. Army during World War II. The bike featured a V-twin engine and was fitted with special features and equipment specially-designed for the war.

1948 FL – There were multiple changes introduced to Harley’s engines with the 1948 FL, which saw a new “Panhead” V-twin engine.

Harley-Davidson bikes in the 1950s

1952 K-Model – The K-Model was designed while keeping the image of a race bike in mind. With this model, Harley-Davidson was looking for something lighter than some of its previous releases.

1957 Sportster XL – The Sportster XL was introduced with the hopes to get the bikes to customers all over the country. The bike was produced to be economical and easy to maneuver.

Harley-Davidson bikes in the 1960s

1961 Super 10 – The Super 10 was touted as a small, entry-level bike. The bike came with a two-stroke, air-cooled engine.

1965 FL Electra Glide – The FL Electra Glide featured the last of the Panhead engines. This was also the first bike to come with an electric start. Because of this combination, it has become a popular collector’s bike.

Harley-Davidson bikes in the 1970s

1971 Factory Experimental FX Super Glide – This model became the first custom in the chopper movement from Harley-Davidson. The bike was a midrange line that offered the handling of a Sportster while having the power of a big-twin engine.

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1977 FXS Low Rider – The FXS Low Rider was a variation of the FX Super Glide, and it featured extended forks. It was an instant success and outsold most models during its first production year.

Harley-Davidson bikes in the 1980s

1980 FXB Sturgis – Harley-Davidson came out with this model to honor the historic Sturgis motorcycle rally, which was held annually in South Dakota. It came with classic black paint with red trim. It was a limited-edition model, with only 1,500 or so models made.

1984 FX/FL Softail – Harley-Davidson released a revelation in the 80s with the introduction of the Softail platform, which was designed to look like Harley-Davidson bikes from the 40s and 50s. The suspension of the bike featured hidden shocks too.

Harley-Davidson bikes in the 1990s

1990 FLSTF Fat Boy – The FLSTF Fat Boy was a cruiser bike designed for Daytona Bike Week in 1988 and 1989. The production model would go on the market in 1990, and it ended up being a massive hit.

1992 FXDB Daytona – The FXDB Daytona was a tribute made to Daytona Beach. The bike featured chrome trim and a pearl paint job, with only 1,700 bikes produced.

Harley-Davidson bikes in the 2000s

2002 FXDWG3 – The Harley-Davidson FXDWG3 came with a factory-custom look, and it was designed for people who wanted something slightly different. The bike featured custom mirror stalks and grips and paint accented with flames.

2007 FXDB Dyna Street Bob – The design of the Harley-Davidson FXDB Dyna Street Bob was actually inspired by minimalist styling. This bike ditched a passenger seat and pegs for a streamlined look and appealed more to the solo riders.

Harley-Davidson bikes in the 2010s

2014 XG Street – The XG Street was a sporty displacement bike that was introduced to capture the younger market. This bike mimicked the K-Model in that it was largely marketed to be a fun, inexpensive option.

2019 Livewire – The Harley-Davidson Livewire was the first electric vehicle that was designed by Harley-Davidson. It features a battery capable of providing 146 miles of city range.


Which is the oldest Harley-Davidson bike?

Harley-Davidson Serial Number One is the oldest Harley-Davidson bike, and it currently resides in the H-D lobby at Juneau Avenue. This bike dates back to the 1903-04 era. The founders of the company built at least one prototype before that while also producing bikes after it, which differed both in general configuration and the power of the engine.

Which is the most sold Harley-Davidson bike of all time?

The Harley-Davidson Sportster is easily the best-selling bike from the American motorcycle brand. With production starting in 1957, there have been numerous versions of the bike, but the basic features largely stayed the same.

Are Harley-Davidson bikes high maintenance?

You should expect a bill of almost $400 for an average 5,000-mile service visit, depending on the services that need to be done. If you’re a rider who drives almost 20,000 miles each year, you can expect to spend almost $1,600 annual for regular scheduled maintenance.

Who owns Harley-Davidson now?

Harley-Davidson Inc is owned by Institutional Investors who hold the majority ownership of HOG through the 88.7% of the outstanding shares they control. This interest is higher than at almost any other company in the motorcycle industry.

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