When World War I started in 1914, the automobile did not own the roads. Motorcycles filled the gaps as dependable, reliable vehicles. In the war, their utilitarian nature was put to good use.
American and European armies used motorcycles extensively to gather reconnaissance, deliver messages and, in some cases, engage in combat. In 1917, roughly one-third of all Harley-Davidson motorcycles produced were sold to the U.S. military; in 1918, that figure rose to 50 percent.
By the end of the war, it is estimated that the Army used some 20,000 motorcycles — most of them Harley-Davidsons [ref].
Carl Oscar Hedstrom and George M. Hendee founded the Hendee Manufacturing Company in 1900 with the goal of producing a “motor-driven bicycle for the everyday use of the general public.”
In 1901, they rolled out the Single, a 1.75-horsepower motorcycle that could reach a top speed of 25 miles per hour. They also decided to roll out a brand-new trade name for their motorcycles. That name was Indian, and it was the world’s best-selling motorcycle until World War I.
Founded by William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson in 1902, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company went on to produce the most influential machines of the industry. Its first models used the basic DeDion-Buton layout and borrowed heavily from chassis designs already employed by other motorcycle manufacturers, including Indian, Excelsior and Pope.
The Harley-Davidson eventually made its presence known with its sturdy, strong and durable machines. In 1908, Walter Davidson, riding what came to be known as the Silent Gray Fellow, scored a perfect 1,000 points at the 7th Annual Federation of American Motorcyclists Endurance and Reliability Contest.
Soon after, Walter Davidson, Arthur’s brother, set the FAM economy record at 188.234 miles per gallon. By 1920, Harley-Davidson was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world.
That’s the past. As for what’s to come…
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