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Bill Harley and Arthur Davidson: Innovation on Two Wheels | Wisconsin Biographies

Bill Harley and Arthur Davidson: Innovation on Two Wheels | Wisconsin Biographies

* What does it take
to get a good idea rolling? Vision?
Necessity? Sometimes
you need to fish around for the best ideas. And Bill and Arthur
loved fishing just like their pal
Ole Evinrue. “Hello!” The only bad part
was the ride home. Tackling the steep hills
with their weak bikes. “These hills
are steep!” “And our bikes
are weak!” As I was saying,
in the late 1890s lots of people were inventing
lots of awesome things. People were fascinated
with machines and what they could do
to improve people’s lives. Bill and Arthur wanted
to build a better motorcycle. They didn’t invent
the motorcycle. They simply wanted
to make it better. “I want to
make it
better” “Me too.” * So Bill and Arthur
set up shop in the basement
beneath the family home but quickly
wore out their welcome. So they moved into
a small wooden shed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Soon they were joined
by Arthur’s brothers Walter and William. Walter
and William Davidson worked at the Milwaukee Road
rail car shop and provided
much needed parts, tools and expertise
that Bill and Arthur needed. Even so,
it took the team two years to finish
the first bike. In 1903, they sold
their first motorcycle to their friend Henry. And by 1904,
sales were taking off. Bill Harley and the Davidson
brothers were in business. Harley Davidson Motor Company
had arrived. The new company
faced stiff competition. They decided the best way
to get people to notice their motorcycles
was by winning races. Winning races helped prove
that Harley Davidson made the best motorcycle
on the market. With all their success,
the factory expanded and business grew more than
they could have ever dreamed. Then, came
the Great Depression. Despite the hard times Harley Davidson
stayed in business and sold their motorcycles
at lower prices. They also adapted
their bikes to many uses. One of these uses
was providing
motorcycles during World War I
and World War II. The increase in production
meant more jobs for men and especially women. It was during
this time that the original founders
of the company Bill, Arthur, William,
and Walter, passed away. The old fishing buddies
left behind a special legacy
in Milwaukee. Many returning GIs
had fond memories of their Harleys
from the war. Some even took them home. Many of them
became lifelong customers. The Harley Davidson Company became one of Wisconsin’s
top employers. People all over the country
were hitting the road on Harley Davidson motorcycles
made in Milwaukee. The company has had
its share of ups and downs but Milwaukee
still takes pride in being part
of Harley Davidson history. Launched by two kids
riding their bikes Harley Davidson
is still rolling ahead today. Sometimes, you just need
to go fishing for good ideas and see
what you catch.

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