Open main menu

William Harley

Template:About Template:Infobox person William Sylvester Harley (December 29, 1880 – September 18, 1943) was an American mechanical engineer and businessman. He was one of the co-founders of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company.


Early lifeEdit

Harley was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1880 to William Harley Sr., a railway engineer, and Mary Smith from Littleport, Cambridgeshire, England who emigrated to the United States in 1860.[1][2]


After moving to Milwaukee's north side on Burleigh Avenue, Harley first worked at the Meiselbach bicycle factory at the age of 15. In 1901, Harley drew up plans for an engine to be mounted on an ordinary bicycle, while working as an apprentice draftsman at the Barth Mfg. Co. Over the next few years, Harley and his childhood friend Arthur Davidson worked on their motor-bicycle with the help of Henry Melk, who owned a machine shop in northside Milwaukee. They later received help from Ole Evinrude, who was then building gas engines of his own design for automotive use on Milwaukee's Lake Street.[3]

Harley received a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1907.[4][5] He co-founded Harley-Davidson with Arthur Davidson in 1903 and served as chief engineer and treasurer until his death in 1943.[4][6] While in college he worked at a Madison architect's office and as a waiter for the Kappa Sigma fraternity house.

Personal lifeEdit

In 1910 he married Anna Jachthuber, with whom he had two sons and a daughter. In his spare time, Harley took up hunting, fishing and golf, and was also noted for his affinity for sketching and wildlife photography.[7] Harley died of heart failure on September 18, 1943 at the age of 62.[8]


He was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.[4]

File:Harley-Davidson monument, Littleport - - 112545.jpg
Monument in Littleport, England. The birthplace of his father William Harley Sr.

In 2003, a Harley-Davidson statue was unveiled in Littleport, Cambridgeshire, to commemorate the centenary of the famous motorcycle company. William Harley, the father of the company's co-founder William Sylvester Harley, had been born in Victoria Street, Littleport, in 1835, before emigrating to the United States in 1859.[9]

Labor Hall of HonorEdit

Because Harley, Arthur Davidson, William A. Davidson, and Walter Davidson "used and believed in its products and relied on the dedication of its employees to produce quality motorcycles", the four men were inducted into the Labor Hall of Honor.[10]


  1. Jean Davidson - Harley-Davidson.
  2. Goulden, Glenda (2008), "2", Foul deeds and suspicious deaths in & around The Fens, Barnsley, York: Wharncliffe Books, p. 35, ISBN 978-1-84563-072-0 
  3. Wagner, Herbert. William S. Harley Biography. Retrieved on February 9, 2017.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 William Harley at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame
  5. Notable Alumni. UW–Madison College of Engineering. Retrieved on March 7, 2018.
  6. Company history. Harley-Davidson Corp.. Archived from the original on February 9, 2012. Retrieved on December 2, 2007.
  7. AMA Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame: William S. Harley. American Motorcyclist Association. Retrieved on September 15, 2016.
  8. William S. Harley Biography,. A&E Television Networks "The Website". Last Updated October 14, 2016. Retrieved on August 1, 2018.
  9. Littleport Harley Davidson statue.
  10. Hall of Honor Inductee: Harley Davidson. United States Department of Labor. Retrieved on March 7, 2018.