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First Harley Davidson
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First Harley Davidson

Carroll Gantz
Harley, William
First Harley Davidson

The first Harley-Davidson motorcycle was produced in Milwaukee in 1902 and launched in 1903 by William Harley and the Davidson brothers, William, Walter, and Arthur. The Werner Brothers in France had been manufacturing bicycles with attached engines since 1897, but Harley integrated the engine into the frame. In 1936, a new Harley-Davidson 61 EL motor-cycle, designed by its founders, was introduced. It became known as the original "Hog." After World War II, Harley-Davidson was one of the only two surviving motorcycle manufacturers. Indian, the other, produced its last cycle in 1953. Some of the post-war H-D designs were worked on by Brooks Stevens (1911-1995). In the 1950s a film, The Wild Ones, starring Marlon Brando, branded motorcycles as weapons of counter-cultural elements; gangs, to be specific. This non-traditional trend continued in the 1960s, with a book by Robert Pirsig called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which nevertheless captured the interest of many industrial designers with its message of product excellence and quality. In 1969, motorcycles embodied the counter-culture youth image in the film, Easy Rider, starring Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson. In addition to this 1960s stigma of a fringe market, Harley Davidson was suffering hard times due to competitive Japanese imports like Honda and Kawasaki. The company was sold to AMF in 1969. In 1975 a Windjammer motorcycle aerodynamic wind-deflector was designed and produced by Craig Vetter which set a new typeform for the ways motorcycles look. Japanese designs were also changing the image of cycles into that of stylish sport vehicles. The counter-culture image faded. In 1981, Harley-Davidson was re-acquired by its original management and by 1991, was producing 60,000 cycles per year and struggling to keep up with demand. A real turn around success story. Eric Buell designed for H-D from 1979 to 1984. Harley-Davidson in 1995 launched its Heritage Classic model, which brought back the character of their original 1936 "Hog." Its distinctive sound and visual expression of raw power distinguished it from its sporty and stylish Japanese competitors. In 1998 motorcycles in general got an upscale image with The Art of the Motorcycle exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, which for a time resembled a parking garage ramp. It was the novelty museum blockbuster of the year. It seems that cycles finally were being appreciated as the mechanical art form they had always been.

100 Years of Design consists of excerpts from a book by Carroll M. Gantz, FIDSA, entitled, Design Chronicles: Significant Mass-produced Designs of the 20th Century, published August 2005 by Schiffer Publications, Ltd.
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