For decades, Harley-Davidson has epitomized the essence of powerful chopper motorcycles, dominating the open roads with their thunderous engines and iconic leather jackets. Yet, amidst this contemporary image lies a forgotten history spanning well over a century. Founded by two friends with a passion for mechanics, Harley-Davidson's journey began modestly, evolving from a chance encounter at a vaudeville show to the creation of their inaugural motorcycle, the Harley-Davidson Model 1.
In the early 1900s, William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson, both immersed in the automotive world, embarked on a venture sparked by inspiration from an engine-powered tricycle act. Their initial attempt, the Model 0, fell short of their vision, leading to the development of the Model 1, the company's first official product. While not the first motorcycle ever crafted, the Model 1 symbolized the dawn of Harley-Davidson's legacy, boasting a 24.74 cubic inch single-cylinder engine mounted on a custom-built body.
Despite its humble appearance, the Model 1 demonstrated impressive capabilities, reaching speeds comparable to the early Ford Model T. Equipped with a pedaling mechanism alongside the engine, riders could augment power with their own efforts. This pioneering motorcycle made its mark in 1904 at the Wisconsin State Fair Park, solidifying Harley-Davidson's presence in the burgeoning industry.
Today, finding an original Model 1 is a rarity, given the era's lax maintenance standards. However, a few specimens remain in the hands of collectors and museums worldwide. While authentic acquisitions are nearly impossible, enthusiasts can explore replicas crafted by companies like Heroes Motors, albeit at a premium price. Despite the passage of more than a century, the legacy of the Harley-Davidson Model 1 endures as a testament to one of the West's automotive marvels.