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Though the company has had its share of ups and downs throughout the years, Harley-Davidson is undoubtedly an American institution, and the oldest continuously functioning motorcycle company in the nation. From its humble beginnings to its ability to weather national disasters and its adaptability in a constantly changing market, the manufacturing giant has more than earned its place in history. Here are ten things you didn't know about Harley-Davidson before today.
They survived the Great Depression.
The Great Depression of the 1930s was one of the worst financial crises in modern history. Almost every industry suffered some sort of loss, and the motorcycle industry was no exception. Compared to other forms of transportation, motorcycles were seen as more of a luxury than a necessity, which was a death knell for all but the largest motorcycle companies. When the dust settled and America was on the mend, just two motorcycle manufacturers were left standing. Alongside the Indian Motorcycle Company, Harley-Davidson survived by the adaptation and creation of industrial engines in addition to motorcycles during this time.
The company started in a small shed.
What is the deal with massive companies growing out of sheds and garages? Just like some of your favorite modern tech companies, Harley-Davidson's lineage can be traced back to a 150-square-foot shed with the company's name carved into the wood exterior. This shack was where the very first Harley-Davidson "motorcycle" was built in 1903. This first prototype was essentially a bicycle with a motor attached, but it marked the beginning of what would become a legendary motorcycle company.
The company provides bikes to law enforcement agencies.
One of the more interesting things you didn't know about Harley-Davidson is probably the fact that they are a major supplier of motorcycles to police officers all over the world, but especially in the United States. Contrary to the stereotypical biker image of a Hell's Angel riding a customized chopper, you are probably more likely to see a police officer riding a Harley coated in black and white. Most impressively, this partnership is over 100 years old, as the company has been providing bikes to law enforcement since 1907. Think this had anything to do with the construction of best motorcycle helmets for every type of rider?
Harley-Davidsons have served in many wars.
In addition to their extensive police service, Harley-Davidson bikes have also served the United States military since World War I. The British military is believed to be the first to adopt motorcycles for its soldiers, but they only had a small supply of inferior bikes in use before Americans entered the war in 1917. By the end of the war, Harley-Davidson had supplied the military with more than 15,000 bikes, providing the company with great public recognition and bolstering its funds prior to the Great Depression.
Harley-Davidson bikes have broken records.
Prior to World War I, motorcycle racing was really picking up speed in America. Harley-Davidson sponsored a racer named Otto Walker for several years, and it was this partnership that would set a world record for speed at the time. Walker participated in several long distance races before an injury forced him to take a sabbatical. It wasn't long before he was back on the bike, however, and he started racing for Harley again. In 1921, the racing team of Harley-Davidson and Otto Walker was well-established when Walker set a world record by maintaining an average speed of 100mph for the entire duration of the race.
Harley has an environmental warranty.
Diehard fans of the brand probably know a lot about Harley-Davidson's history of breaking records and producing high quality bikes, but one of the things you didn't know about Harley-Davidson is probably the fact that they offer an environmental warranty on all of their bikes. Contrary to the devil-may-care attitude associated with the biker image and although not necessarily one of the most fuel-efficient motorcycles you can buy, the company has taken steps to guarantee that every part of every Harley will be EPA compliant. Regardless of any effect on the company's image, Harley-Davidson's commitment to reducing emissions is much appreciated.
Their ads used to focus on how quiet the bikes can be.
Much of Harley-Davidson's modern audience favors the brand for the loud rev of the engine and "outlaw" imagery. It may come as a surprise, then, to learn that Harley's approach to advertising was drastically different prior to the 1960s. In fact, those ads were pretty much the opposite of today's, featuring well-heeled men and women and boasting about the quietness and civility offered by contemporary technology, such as the twin engine.
The origin of the term "hog" is related to Harley-Davidsons.
Even outside of hardcore motorcycle enthusiasts, pretty much everyone is familiar with the term "hog" referring to a heavy bike like a Harley-Davidson. I'm betting one of the things you didn't know about Harley-Davidson, however, was exactly how that nickname came to be. Calling bikes "hogs" can be traced back to the 1920s, when a successful racing team of farm boys would parade around their hog mascot after winning a race. In response to the popularity of the term, Harley-Davidson even established HOG as an acronym for "Harley Owners Group."
The origins of chopper culture started with Harley-Davidsons.
It should come as no surprise that Harley-Davidson is closely tied with the origins of biker and chopper culture. These origins are rooted in Harley's close relationship with the US military. After World War II, returning soldiers sought to ride the same bikes they rode in the service. While the contemporary FL model Harley had a powerful big twin engine, the exterior metal parts of the bike were ornate and heavy, slowing the bike down. Seeking speed, many bikers "chopped" off chunks of metal from the bikes to reduce weight, leading to the term "chopper."
All four founders are in the labor hall of fame.
If you didn't know there was such a thing as the United States Department of Labor Hall of Fame, don't worry: You are not alone. Such a thing does, in fact, exist, and the founders of Harley-Davidson were all inducted in 2004. William Harley, Arthur Davidson, Walter Davidson, and William Davidson were praised for their ingenuity and dedication in starting the company. Speaking of things you didn't know about Harley-Davidson, it was also noted that the founders truly had faith in their product, as they each started out with one of the best beginner motorcycles and rode a Harley for the remainder of their lives.