The Harley-Davidson company started in 1901 when William S. Harley completed a blueprint of an engine made to fit on a bicycle, and Harley built the first production motorcycle with Arthur Davidson in 1903. C.H. Lang in Chicago became the first Harley-Davidson dealer in 1904.
Harley-Davidson and Indian were the only two American motorcycle companies to survive the Great Depression. The company sold only 4,000 motorcycles in 1933. Joe Petrali set a land-speed record on a streamlined Harley-Davidson Knucklehead in 1937 with speeds over 136 miles per hour. In 1941, the United States entered World War II and their company almost entirely stopped production of civilian motorcycles, but between 1941 and 1945, the company produced almost 90,000 WLA model motorcycles for military use.
In 1969, Harley-Davidson stockholders sold the company to the American Machine and Foundry Company, and motorcycle quality declined. Vaughn Beals purchased the company for $75 million in 1981 and it became a publicly traded company in 1987. It used the stock ticker symbol HOG, in reference to the Harley Owners Group. The company closed two factories and one distribution center in 2009 to cut costs during the financial crisis.
Harley-Davidson celebrated its 100 year anniversary in 2003 with approximately 250,000 fans in Milwaukee. It opened the Harley-Davidson history museum in 2008 for its 105th anniversary.