taken from vairous wikipedia sources
In 1901, William S. Harley, age 21, completed a blueprint drawing of an engine designed to fit into a bicycle. He and Arthur Davidson, Harley’s childhood friend, worked on their first bike until 1903 with help from Arthur’s brother Walter when it was released for sale. The first engine displaced 116 cc’s. In 1907, William A. Davidson, brother to Arthur and Walter Davidson, quit his job for the Milwaukee Road railroad and joined the Company. Their first V-Twin was then designed. During the 1910’s, the “Bar & Shield” logo was used for the first time. During World War I (1918), almost half of all Harley-Davidson motorcycles produced are sold for use by the U.S. military in World War I. The “hog” association started in the 1920’s when the racing team’s mascot, a pig, was carried on a victory lap after each race won by the team. By 1931, all of Harley-Davidson’s remaining American competition was gone except Indian (Hendee Manufacturing). During World War II, production of civilian motorcycles was almost entirely suspended in favor of military production. From the period following the war (1945) until the late 1960’s, Harley dominated the American market. But as cheap Japanese imports flooded the market, the company was sold to AMF (a bowling lane manufacturer) in 1969. It streamlined production and slashed the workforce. This tactic resulted in a labor strike and a lower quality of bikes. The bikes were expensive and inferior in performance, handling, and quality to Japanese motorcycles. Sales and quality declined, and the company almost went bankrupt.
But the dark days of the H-D company sparked a revolution in customization. The era of the custom chopper was born. By 1981, AMF sold the company to a group of thirteen investors led by the Harley family. During the 1980’s, the company sought to separate itself from the cheap Japanese market by producing bikes that deliberately exploited the “retro” appeal of the machines, building motorcycles that adopted the look and feel of their earlier machines and the subsequent customizations of owners of that era. By 1990 with the introduction of the “Fat Boy”, Harley once again became the sales leader in the heavyweight market.