One of the illustrious alums of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at UW-Madison is William S. Harley, co-founder of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company. In 1903, Bill and two brothers named Arthur and Walter Davidson put together a motorized bicycle and started their production in the Davidsons' parents' garage in Milwaukee. Harley was 21 years old.
Not being over-confidant, the three kept their day jobs at Barth Manufacturing Company and worked evenings and weekends to double their production in 1904--to two motorcycles. In 1905, they speeded up and built eight machines. By 1906, they were on a roll and built and quickly sold fifty cycles from the new shed constructed for them by the Davidsons' father in the back yard. When they built 150 machines in 1907, it was time to file incorporation papers.
About this time, Harley had decided to pursue a degree in engineering at the UW's (only) campus in Madison. Alumni records show that he received his BSME in 1907. Rejoining his partners in Milwaukee, Harley, the only partner to ever earn a college degree, was promoted from draftsman to chief engineer. The company continued rapid growth, and after supplying motorcycles for World War I, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company was the world's largest cycle company.
Harley served as the company's chief engineer, vice-president, and
treasurer until his death from heart failure in 1943.
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NOVEMBER 1997 Contents