Exploring Harley-Davidson's Inaugural Six Decades (1903-1963)

In a humble beginning back in 1903, the first seeds of what would become the iconic Harley-Davidson brand were planted in the backyard of the Davidson home on Highland Boulevard in Milwaukee. A modest 10 x 15-foot shed served as the inaugural Harley-Davidson shop, marking the genesis of a legendary journey. This nugget of history, sourced from the Harley-Davidson.com history page, illuminates the roots of a global phenomenon.

Fast forward to 1904, a pivotal year for the burgeoning company. With the first addition to their original small plant, Harley-Davidson expanded its capacity, enabling the production of seven motorcycles—a significant stride forward in their nascent journey.

Captured in a timeless photograph from 1907, company officers and employees proudly stood in front of the first plant, located on the present site of the Harley-Davidson facility on West Juneau Avenue in Milwaukee. This snapshot immortalizes a moment of early triumph and camaraderie.

As demand surged for Harley-Davidson motorcycles, so did the need for expanded manufacturing space. In 1908, a 40 x 60-foot brick addition to the factory emerged, a tangible symbol of the company's growth and success.

Throughout the years, Harley-Davidson motorcycles became synonymous with adventure, endurance, and a pioneering spirit. From early endurance race bikes like the one Walter Davidson posed with in 1908, to the innovative side-cars of the 1910s, each innovation pushed the boundaries of what was possible on two wheels.

The company's impact rippled beyond Milwaukee, as evidenced by photos from 1912, showcasing Harley-Davidson riders in Madison and a man using his motorcycle to transport a calf—an early testament to the versatility of these machines.

World events, such as World War I, saw Harley-Davidson motorcycles assuming pivotal roles. In 1917, a third of all Harley-Davidson motorcycles produced were sold to the U.S. military, aiding in various wartime efforts. Post-war, Harley-Davidson motorcycles continued to make history, with a photo from 1918 claiming to capture "the first Yank to enter Germany" astride a Harley-Davidson.

Through the decades, Harley-Davidson's legacy continued to evolve. The Roaring Twenties saw stylish riders taking to the streets of Milwaukee, while the 1940s witnessed the brand's patriotic spirit in advertisements supporting U.S. Bonds.

As the years progressed, so did the company's product lines. From training schools for repairmen in the late 1940s to innovative scooters dropping off baseball players in the 1950s, Harley-Davidson remained at the forefront of innovation.

By the early 1960s, Harley-Davidson had firmly entrenched itself as an American institution. From rugged off-road bikes like the Ranger, designed for sportsmen exploring remote terrains, to sleek new models showcased alongside emerging product lines like golf carts, the company epitomized versatility and adaptability.

In 1963, Harley-Davidson president William H. Davidson addressed employees during the company’s 25-year club picnic, reflecting on a quarter-century of achievements. Old and new models of motorcycles and scooters stood alongside innovative ventures like fiberglass boats—a testament to the company's enduring spirit of innovation and exploration.

From a modest shed in Milwaukee to a global powerhouse, Harley-Davidson's journey embodies the American dream—a testament to resilience, ingenuity, and the spirit of adventure.