- Harley-Davidson has been around since 1903.
- Harley-Davidson has seen it all — including two world wars — but the company is now up against new challenges.
- But the brand remains an American icon, and its history is fascinating.
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Harley-Davidson isn’t just the most famous motorcycle company in the world — it’s also one of the most legendary and beloved brands in human history.
Harley-Davidson got its all-American start in 1903, at the dawn of the Motor Age. Two friends got together and combined bicycles with newfangled engines. Horses would never forgive them. Fast forward 116 years and Harley’s market capitalization is nearly $6 billion.
That’s not to say that the last 100 or so have been a completely smooth ride. Harley made it through two world wars and a very rough restructuring during the financial crisis. And now it’s up against new challenges, as CEO Matt Levatich works to globalize sales amid a US market decline, recruit younger riders, and contend with the itchy Twitter finger of President Donald Trump, who has praised and penalized Harley in equal measure.
Let’s take a look back at Harley-Davidson’s long and illustrious history:
In 1903, William Harley and Arthur Davidson founded the company that would bear their names. William’s brother, Walter (shown here) became the company’s first president and also an early Harley racer.
Harley-Davidson’s first motorcycles were essentially bicycles with engines.
Two world wars helped Harley-Davidson to create the brand’s image of freedom that it’s still known for today. The company produced bikes for both World War I and World War II.
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