By now, the word of Harley-Davidson was spreading rapidly. Their motorcycle was breaking many records, including a fuel economy record in 1908, which was now set at 188.234 miles per gallon by the Harley-Davidson. In 1909 the first 1000 cc V-twin powered motorcycle was introduced. It produced a modest seven horsepower. The 45-degree V-twin would become one of the more recognizable images of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
1910 brought the legendary "Bar and Shield" logo that was placed on their motorcycle. This would become the defining symbol of Harley-Davidson to this day. Numerous first place winnings in races, endurance contests and hill climbs give Harley-Davidson more recognition. The "F-head" engine is introduced in 1911. It will be the power workhorse until 1929, when the "Flathead" engine is introduced.
The year 1912 saw further growth of the Harley-Davidson Company. Construction began on a new 6-story factory. Harley-Davidson also became an exporter this year and their first overseas sale was made in Japan. In the states there were now over 200 dealerships.
1914 saw the addition on the sidecar to the Harley-Davidson. The Company also formally put their hand in the ring of motorcycle racing this year and would soon dominate the sport and become known as the "Wrecking Crew".
1915 saw the emergence of the three-speed sliding-gear transmission. In 1917, one-third of all Harley-Davidsons were sent overseas to the U.S. Military to fulfill their patriotic call and to aid in the war effort. The following year, roughly half of the motorcycles produced were sold to the U.S. military. In the end, about 20,000 motorcycles were used in the war, most of them Harley-Davidsons. By this time Harley-Davidson was the biggest motorcycle factory in the world with nearly 2,000 dealerships worldwide.
The 1920's saw some changes to the appearance of the motorcycle, which are more recognizable today. One such change was the identifiable teardrop shape gas tank. In 1926, single-cylinder engines were once again available, having been discontinued in 1918. In 1928, the first twin-cam engine and front wheel brakes were available on the Harley-Davidson. With this modification, the motorcycle could reach speeds in excess of 85 mph.
The 1930's and subsequent years saw more record breaking and award winning Harley-Davidson's. In 1932, the three-wheel Servi-Car was introduced and would become a familiar commercial and police vehicle. Along with appearance changes such as the "eagle" design, which was painted on all Harley-Davidson gas tanks, changes were also made to the engine. In 1936, an overhead powered 61 cubic inch engine called the EL was introduced and became very popular earning the nickname "Knucklehead."
In the 1940's, the Harley-Davidson once again answered the patriotic call and sent its motorcycles overseas to aid in the war effort. In 1941, civilian production on the motorcycle was mostly suspended as the company turned out motorcycles for the war. Because of their commitment and excellence, Harley-Davidson received the Army-Navy "E" award; this wouldn't be the last time. In November of 1945, civilian production once again started. In 1947, Harley-Davidson purchased the old A.O. Smith Propeller Plant and used it as a machine shop. The parts made here were shipped back to the old factory on Juneau Avenue for final assembly. In 1949, hydraulic front brakes were introduced on the Hydra-Glide models.
In 1952, the Harley-Davidson introduced an integrated engine and transmission motorcycle to compete with motorcycles from Great Britain. In 1953, there were only two American motorcycle companies, and one would fall. The Indian motorcycle company, which competed with the Harley-Davidson, went out of business as a result of Harley-Davidson's success. 1955 saw the beginning of what would be seven-year consecutive victories at the Daytona 200. The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, was pictured with a 1956 Harley-Davidson on the cover of the May edition of Enthusiast Magazine. In 1958, more improvements were in store for the rear of the motorcycle. These improvements included the first rear breaks and a hydraulic rear suspension on the Duo-Glide model.
Recognizing the importance of fiberglass in motorcycle production, in 1962 Harley-Davidson bought 60% of stock on the Tomahawk Boat manufacturing Company. Fiberglass components then could be made for the Harley-Davidson. In 1964, the three-wheel Servi-Car was outfitted with an electrical starter. This was the first Harley-Davidson to embellish this luxury. The Electra-Glide models replaced the Duo-Glide models and were given an electric starter. In 1969, Harley-Davidson merged with American Machine and Foundry Company (AMF).
The beginning of the 1970's saw a revolution of the Harley-Davidson. In 1971, the cruiser was born. This machine united a sporty front end with the frame and power train of the FL series. 1973 saw the move of assembly operations to a new 400,000 square foot plant in York, Pennsylvania. The year 1975 was the first of four consecutive years that the Harley-Davidson won the AMA Grand National Championships in dirt track racing. In 1977, the FXS Low Rider and the FLHS Electra Glide Sport were introduced to the public. The FXS featured a special lower seat position (hence the distinguishing term Low Rider…). The FLHS was a low cost base line FLH Electra Glide with modifications intended to make the model sportier.
The beginning of the 1980's saw another change in the partnership of the engine and transmission. In 1980, the FLT model was born with a 5-speed transmission hard bolted to the engine. Also this year, the drive train was replaced with a Kevlar belt. In 1981 senior members of Harley-Davidson bought back Harley-Davidson Motor Company from AMF.
In 1982 Harley-Davidson enacted the Materials as Needed (MAN) application in their production. This would cut production costs and improve the quality of the parts. In 1983 the group H.O.G was founded and became the largest factory-sponsored motorcycle club in the world. By the year 2000, the club had over 500,000 members. In 1984 the 1340 cc V-twin engine was introduced, seven years in the making. Also this year, the Softail model became available. The Softail was most primarily distinguishable by hidden rear shock absorbers.
In 1987 Harley-Davidson began its "Buy Back Program" which offered full trade in value within two years on certain models. Also at this time, the Harley-Davidson Company obtained a place on the New York Stock Exchange for those interested in taking a financial stake in the company. In 1988 Harley-Davidson celebrated their 85th Anniversary in Milwaukee, an event that brought forth 60,000 aficionados of the Harley-Davidson. At the end of this revolutionary decade for Harley-Davidson, the FXSTS Springer Softail model was introduced into the lineup. The FXSTS Springer Softail was a modern day recreation of the 1940's Harley-Davidson. It had the classic biker look with the 1340 cc engine symbolizing the new era of Harley-Davidson.
In the early 1990's the Fat Boy design was introduced and quickly caught on. It was destined from the start to become a Collector's item among biking enthusiasts and definitely achieved that status throughout its existence. Also in 1990, Construction on a 31 million dollar state of the art paint facility began in York, Pennsylvania. It was finished the following year.
In 1991, The Dyna line of Harley-Davidson's was introduced with the FXDB Dyna Glide Sturgis. 1994 saw the jump of Harley-Davidson into the Superbike racing with the VR1000. The VR1000 featured a dual overhead cam and a liquid cooled engine and showed that Harley-Davidson was not fully averse to manufacturing a race inspired sport bike.
In 1996 a state of the art Parts and Accessories distribution plant was opened in Franklin, Wisconsin. The following year a new Product Development Center opened in Milwaukee. Also in 1997, a 330,000 square foot plant in Kansas City made its first Sportster. In 1998, assembly operations were taking place in another part of the world, Brazil. In the year 2001 Fuel injection was available on the Softail models.
Throughout all of Harley-Davidson's history, the Harley-Davidson has been known for its unique characteristic sound. This sound is unique to the Harley-Davidson because of the way that their engines are designed.
In a standard engine, the piston goes through the intake, compression, combustion, and exhaust strokes every two revolutions of the crankshaft. Thus, when the exhaust valve opens and the compressed gases in the cylinder escape you hear a 'pop' denoting that it has gone through a crankcase revolution cycle. On standard twin cylinder engines, the pistons are timed so that one fires on one revolution of the crankshaft and the other fires on the next, each firing on individual strokes of the crankshaft.
What makes a Harley-Davidson special is that the pistons are connected to the crankshaft in such a way that they both fire with 45 degree offsets before and after a full 360 degree revolution of the crankshaft, thus giving the sound of two 'pops' and then a pause … the unmistakable 'pop-pop' sound of the Harley-Davidson.
What is a history of a machine without talking about the people whose lives it has affected? In the case of Harley-Davidson, this question could take many books to answer. The Harley-Davidson has spawned an entire biker culture and style, with its motorcycles providing the roots, and has very literally changed the course of American history.
The Harley-Davidson was there for every major war of the past 100 years and received four Navy "E" awards for excellence in wartime production. Some believe that it was the war veterans who started the Harley biker culture. Veterans came home from war and went out and bought Harleys because they fell in love with the bike and the company when they were at war. These bikers would ride their Harleys with strong American pride and to some it would be a remembrance of their fellow soldiers whom they fought side by side with but who perished for our freedom.
From these bikers evolved the rough and tough breed of bikers with their leather jackets, tattoos, and long hair. These bikers may look hard as nails, but they are always there to help others in need. When was the last time that you saw a stranded biker on the side of the road? There aren't many. When a fellow biker is in need, other bikers passing by know that this person is a friend and are almost always willing to help out.
Other functions associated with the biker culture are mass gatherings at organized events (such as those that are organized by H.O.G. and the Harley-Davidson Company itself), partaking in Harley cruises and just hanging out with fellow Harley riders.
Aside from the typical image of a biker, there are many other varying types of people who enjoy the allure of a Harley-Davidson. Musicians, artists, businessman, politicians, students, women, men, senior citizens, teenagers, Americans, Asians, Europeans, anyone who answers the 'call', are all examples of the types of Harley riders you will see.
The Harley does not discriminate, and that fact alone is what makes the Harley culture so widespread and legendary.