Vintage Ads: Harley-Davidson and the Birth of a Legend

The model introduced in this 1913 ad proudly claimed to be the first motorcycle with a kick-starter.

Detail of a Harley-Davidson advertisement from November 1, 1913

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Harley-Davidson Inc. was founded in 1903 as a joint venture between one Harley (William) and three Davidsons (Walter, Arthur, William). William Harley’s name comes first because he led the effort to design an engine for what was, at first, a motor bicycle. Harley’s friend, Arthur Davidson, helped him build his prototype motorcycle and, in time, he brought his brothers into the enterprise.

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The model introduced in this 1913 ad proudly claimed to be the first motorcycle with a kick-starter. Until then, motorcycles had to be put up on a stand and pedaled like a bicycle to build up compression in the engine before it could start. Now, the machine could be started “with the rider in the saddle and both wheels on the ground.” Within seven years of this ad, Harley-Davidson was the world’s leading motorcycle maker.

Today, it has put a third of America’s 8.5 million motorcycles on the road. They’re being joined by Harley’s new electric motorcycles, which can go from zero to 60 in three seconds.

This article is featured in the July/August 2022 issue of The Saturday Evening PostSubscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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  1. What a beautiful motorcycle this Harley is, with an impressive array of features. I love it more as as a motor bicycle than an out & out motorcycle. The former has gained in popularity over the last few years. I like the kind you can peddle yourself for exercise and fun, but has the motor if you get tired or are feeling lazy.

    Their new electric motorcycles which can go from 0 to 60 in three seconds I’m sure are wonderful, especially if they’re quiet. Still, to actually go that fast, that quickly, is a bit much. If not for you, than by all means zoom off!


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