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Cool Factoids From One of the Coolest Brands: Harley-Davidson

Jun 20, 2018 ·

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Harley-Davidson is perhaps the world’s most recognizable motorcycle manufacturer. Throughout its 118 years of operation, the company has contributed greatly to American history and culture.

If you’re a motorcycle enthusiast, you’ll definitely be interested in some cool factoids about the brand that you may not have been aware of. Keep on reading to see the 10 we’ve put together here.

1. Their First Motorcycle Was Built in a Shed

Many businesses start small, but most didn’t start in a 10-by-15-foot wooden shed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1903.

The door to that shed read “Harley-Davidson Motor Co.,” and that’s where William Harley and Arthur Davidson constructed their first motorcycle. It wasn’t much more than a bicycle with a small gas-powered motor, but a former classmate of theirs bought one.

A year later, C.H. Lang sold one of the first Harley-Davidson® motorcycles ever made, making him the brand’s first dealer. Three years later they built a new factory, this one 20 feet by 80 feet, on Chestnut Street (now Juneau Avenue).

The original shed in Milwaukee was torn down by accident in 1972, though there are replicas that still exist.

2. Harley-Davidson Took a Crack at Bicycles

Since the first prototype had the dimensions of a bicycle, Harley-Davidson’s founder thought that it wouldn’t be too far a stretch to manufacture and sell bicycles.

The company began constructing bicycles in 1916 using components made by the David Sewing Machine Company in Dayton, Ohio. Even though their bikes were considered stylish, the high prices mixed with a saturated marketplace forced them to shut down the program just five years after it began.

There was bright side, though. Harley-Davidson learned a lot about marketing. They targeted adolescent boys and painted the bikes olive drab in support of the military; acquainting young children with the brand would benefit the company down the line.

3. They Overtook the Competition by Forming a Racing Department

Many motorcycle manufacturers were already active in the United States by the time Harley-Davidson was up and running.

The market leader, Indian, had been producing motorcycles for five years. And in 1910, it’s estimated that Indian produced double the 3,000 motorcycles that Harley-Davidson produced that year.

Then Harley-Davidson had an idea. They had lifted a policy against racing competitions between factories after they noticed how well that strategy was working for Indian’s sales. That’s when they formed an internal race department, and in 1914 their team was given the name “The Wrecking Crew.”

Their success showed to the world the quality and spirit behind Harley-Davidson’s machines. As a result, Harley-Davidson vaulted into the lead as the world’s biggest motorcycle maker. Soon after, more than 2,000 dealers across 67 countries sold their motorcycles.

4. Harley-Davidson Produced World War I Motorcycles

World War I saw the introduction of motorcycles in the field for several countries. Once the U.S. joined the war in 1917, the military ordered more than 15,000 motorcycles, and more than half of them were produced by Harley-Davidson. While Harleys had already been used by the military in the Pancho Villa Expedition, World War I was the first time they were adopted for official military issue.

That relationship with the military helped improve Harley-Davidson’s reputation and recognition both domestically and abroad.

Because motorcycles in WWI were on the front lines, they were outfitted with machine guns mounted on their sidecars. They were also used as ambulances where sidecars were used as stretchers to carry one or two wounded soldiers.

5. Harley-Davidson Also Produced Motorcycles For World War II

In World War II, Harley-Davidson suspended the production of civilian bikes as part of the war effort. The Army also needed a more advanced motorcycle to stand up to the German BMW R71. Harley-Davidson was one of only two American cycle manufacturers to survive the Great Depression, so it produced many of the bikes needed for the troops.

Harley-Davidson produced the XA® (Experiment Army) model, a shaft-driven bike with a direct four-speed shift and left-handed throttle for firing a gun while riding. It also had two gas tanks and a sealed beam headlight, which were all new features.

The most prominent model manufactured for the war was the WLA®, which had a lot in common with civilian models. Harley-Davidson produced around 60,000 to contribute to the war effort.

Due to Harley-Davidson’s prominent role in military aid, the company was granted four Army-Navy “E” Awards, an honor given to businesses whose production facilities achieved "Excellence in Production" status for wartime equipment.

Motorcycle on the dyno

6. The Harley-Davidson Wrecking Crew Coined the Term ‘Hogs’ for Motorcycles

While it’s reasonable to assume that calling a motorcycle a “hog” originates from the snort-like roar of their engines, it actually dates back to Harley-Davidson’s Wrecking Crew.

Harley-Davidson racing team member Ray Weishaar would carry around the Wrecking Crew’s mascot during his victory laps — and that mascot was a pig! The nickname came about during a 200-mile race in 1920 where Weishaar was photographed with the piglet after the team claimed victory in the top three spots.

Although Harley-Davidson was unsuccessful in trademarking the term for their bikes, they were able to change their New York Stock Exchange ticker symbol to HOG in 2006.

7. Evel Knievel Set Records With the XR-750

Stunt performer Evel Knievel retired in 1980, but the daredevil is still a household name known for a range of motorcycle stunts and jumps. Throughout his career, he attempted more than 75 ramp-to-ramp jumps.

In 1971, Knievel set a world record by jumping over 19 cars with his Harley-Davidson XR-750®. He also set the record for longest jump (133 feet over 14 Greyhound buses) in 1975 on his XR-750®.

Record are meant to be broken, and Knievel’s were. But the new record holders also rode XR-750s.

Knievel’s historic bike, which was custom made with steel, aluminum and fiberglass, is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

8. Harley-Davidson Produced a Motor Scooter

Harley-Davidson produced a scooter called the Topper® from 1960 to 1965. It was the only motor scooter the company ever manufactured.

The brand produced the Topper® in response to the scooter craze happening in the late 1950s. The scooter was equipped with a 165-cc two-stroke engine and featured a rope-recoil starter similar to the ones in lawn mowers.

While scooters were popular, the market soon was dominated by Japanese brands and manufacturers, so the Topper® was a short-lived product. Harley-Davidson stuck with what they had been producing for much longer and with what they were known for — motorcycles.

9. Harley-Davidson Made Its Movie Debut in ‘The Wild One’

The use of Harley-Davidson® motorcycles in the movies has no doubt influenced the outlaw image that’s often associated with the brand.

It’s believed that the first appearance of a Harley-Davidson® bike in a movie was in the 1953 film “The Wild One,” starring Marlon Brando. His nemesis in that film, played by Lee Marvin, rode a Harley-Davidson Hydra Glide®. It was a great first appearance to make, as the movie is considered to be one of the original outlaw biker films.

Since then, Harley-Davidson® motorcycles have appeared in other iconic films. Some of the ones that probably come to mind include “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” which features a memorable chase sense, and 1969’s “Easy Rider,” a road classic that features the main characters moving cross-country on their bikes.

10. Harley-Davidson Licensed With a Japanese Company

In the early 1930s, Harley-Davidson struck a licensing deal with the Rikuo Internal Combustion Company in Japan (eventually shortened to Rikuo). Rikuo was one of the first motorcycle manufacturing companies in Japan.

Rikuo made around 18,000 Harley-Davidson® motorcycles between 1937 and 1942 for the Japanese police and military. Rikuo manufacturing was eventually stopped in 1959, with the brand becoming nonexistent by 1962.

Today, there are Harley-Davidson factories around the world, including locations in Brazil, India, Australia and Thailand.

Motorcycle being worked on in a garage

Visit the Harley-Davidson Museum

Anyone interested in learning more about Harley-Davidson’s exciting history might be interested in taking a trip to see the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee.

The museum is a great way to learn about the rich history of the company and gives visitors a chance to see the many different motorcycle models that have been created through the years. As described on their website, you get to “ride along on an epic trip through time.”

From stories to interactive exhibits, it’s a great place to put on your list of places to visit.

How to Train to Become a Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Technician

Are you interested in working with Harley-Davidson® motorcycles? Getting foundational knowledge and hands-on experience can help put you on the right path. Attending a trade school is a great place to get the education you need.

The Motorcycle Technician Training program at Motorcycle Mechanics Institute (MMI) can prepare you for an entry-level career working on motorcycles.1 You can graduate from the program in as little as 48 weeks.7

While the technician training program is a great way to set yourself up for success as a mechanic or technician, you can also take things a step further and look into Harley-Davidson specialized training to further increase your experience and credentials.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Motorcycle Technician Training program or a specialized training program, you can browse our site, including our blog answering nine different questions about MMI. You can also request more information here or call us at 800-834-7308.

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1) MMI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

2) For program outcome information and other disclosures, visit

7) Some programs may require longer than one year to complete.

Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.


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