The Life of William Harley: Motorcycle Manufacturer

On December 29 in the year 1880, one of the pioneer industrialists in the motorcycle industry was born in Wisconsin, United States. His name was William Sylvester Harley, the co-founder of Harley-Davidson Motor Company.

William Harley
William Harley (Credit: Harley-Davidson Archievs via Wiki Commons)

William Harley was the son of English immigrants. At age 15, he went to work at the Meiselbach bicycle factory where he rose to become a draftsman. Later, he transferred to another bicycle company Barth Mfg. Co. where he conceived his idea of a motorized bicycle. Working with his neighborhood friend Arthur Davidson, he produced a proto-type motor-bicycle in the machine shop of Henry Melk in 1903. The following years showed increasing number of motorcycles built. In 1907, the two founded the Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Two of Arthur’s brothers joined the company later. In 1909, the company built a factory big enough to produce over 1,000 units.

In 1908, William Harley graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison where he obtained a degree of mechanical engineering. After graduation, he returned to Harley-Davidson Motor where he remained as chief engineer until his death. As an avid motorcycle racer, he travelled to different places where there was a motorcycle race. He met with other racers from different countries with whom he introduced his company’s newest model.

William Harley died in 1943 at the age of 62. He had two sons and a daughter with his wife Anna. In 2019, Harley-Davidson had sales of over $5.4 billion with more than 5,600 employees.



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