Interesting Facts About William S. Harley: Early Bicycle Development

William Sylvester Harley (1880 –1943) was an American businessman and mechanical engineer. He was a co-founder of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company.
Born in 1880, William S. Harley developed a great interest in the early bicycle development that fueled his fascination with engineering and mechanics. Harley was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to William Harley Sr., an engineer, and Mary Smith from Cambridgeshire, England who immigrated to the US in 1860.
With his best friend Arthur Davidson, he started outfitting bicycles with a motorized engine. Harley, Davidson, and Davidson’s two brothers came together to form the Harley-Davidson Motor Company in 1903. Soon, it became the world’s preeminent motorcycle manufacturer. Ambitious and with a good eye for business and innovation, Harley started his career at a bicycle factory.
Working with him was his childhood friend, Arthur Davidson, who, like William S. Harley, had a mind for mechanics. They shared a deep interest in bicycles. The two believed that they could develop a mechanized bike that would be easier to ride. Soon, the two friends experimented with gasoline engines on their bikes.
Below are some interesting facts about William S. Harley:
1. Harley, Arthur Davidson, William A. Davidson, and Walter Davidson were inducted into the Labor Hall of Honor because they “used and believed in its products and relied on the dedication of its employees to produce quality motorcycles.”
2. Harley passed on while he was serving as the company’s chief engineer and treasurer. His leadership and creativity were quite instrumental to the introduction of new bikes and the overall success of the company.
3. After the four men formed the Harley-Davidson Motor Company in 1903, they operated out of a small shed in the backyard of Davidson family. The original idea for a motorcycle came from Harley. To credit him for the idea, his name was given top billing.
4. Harley was behind much of the development of the company. As a perfectionist, he dedicated a lot of time to develop the world’s first two-cylinder motorcycle engine. In 1907, he created and patented a V-Twin engine. In just a few years, the company’s growth rocketed to an astounding 3,200 bikes annually.
5. For the next many decades, Harley-Davidson saw a significant boost in popularity and sales. Their bikes were in-demand from the United States military. A 1916 battle at the Mexican-U.S. border pushed the US military to order Harley-Davidson bikes for the first time. They also acquired the bikes during the global conflicts that followed. When World War I started, the company sent one third to a half of their production to the war effort.
6. The American military acquired over 60,000 Harley-Davidson bikes for the Allies’ use overseas during WWII. William S. Harley oversaw the deals between the War Department and the company. Their motorbikes, post-war and into the 1950s, were the only American brand on the global market.

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