Google, Yankee Candle, Hewlett-Packard, and Disney are just a few examples of the highly successful businesses that have started in a garage. When you think about it, a garage is the perfect place to start a business: You have the space and privacy you need to bring your business plan to life. Today, I’m going to continue my series featuring businesses started in a garage by highlighting Harley-Davidson. Let’s roll on with the story behind these famous motorcycles, sometimes called hogs.
The story begins in 1901 with 20-year-old William Harley, who created a plan for a small engine designed to fit onto the frame of a bicycle. This engine added to the bike’s speed as the rider pedaled. In 1903, Harley joined forces with friend Arthur Davidson to take this idea to the next level. They set up shop in a 10-by-15-foot shed/garage and created the first version of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The garage had adequate shelf space for the parts, tools, and other materials necessary for their work. One of the first people to purchase their 1903 model was a school friend named Henry Meyer.
Growing the Business
Soon, this pair of ambitious inventors was joined by Arthur’s brother, Walter. The Harley-Davidson business continues to grow as the three men created five more models of the motorcycle they sold to their school friend. The first Harley-Davidson dealer was Carl H. Lang of Chicago, who sold one of the first three motorcycles the company made. As the business grew, the inventors went on to produce more motorcycles. In 1906, they made 50 motorcycles, prompting them to move their operations to a larger building on Chestnut Street in Milwaukee. The inventors hired six employees and even put out a motorcycle catalog.
In 1908, the Harley-Davidson motorcycle received even more attention when Walter Davidson achieved a perfect score in the seventh annual Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM) contest measuring endurance and reliability. Davidson and his motorcycle also set a FAM economy record of 188.234 miles per gallon. People in the world of motorcycles were hearing good things about Harley-Davidson.
Harley-Davidson continued developing innovations, including improvements on the design of the V-twin engine and a patent for the Ful-Floteing seat, which was more comfortable for riders of differing sizes. In 1917, after the start of World War I, a third of the motorcycles made by Harley-Davidson were sold to the U.S. military for use in the war.
The Mid-20th Century and Beyond
Harley-Davidson celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1953. Its famous logo featuring the letter “V” for the V-twin engine and the words “American Made” was put on a medallion placed on the front fender of all 1954 Harley-Davidsons. Another highlight of the decade saw singer Elvis Presley posing for a motorcycle enthusiast magazine on his 1956 Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
More Highlights in Harley-Davidson History
- 1960: Harley-Davidson makes the Topper scooter, the only scooter model the company ever made.
- 1968: Racer Cal Rayborn claims back-to-back wins on Harley-Davidson’s 750 KR at the Daytona 200
- 1986: The 1340cc V2 Evolution engine is put on the market after being in development for seven years.
- 1988: A traveling museum featuring classic Harley-Davidson models and memorabilia of the company’s history starts a tour around the country.
From its humble beginnings in a 10-by-15-foot garage, Harley-Davidson cruised to the top of its industry and continues to thrive. I hope this inspires you to consider making your garage into the birthplace of your new business! Thanks for reading. – Alan