The Postwar Years
1953 As Harley-Davidson celebrated its 50th anniversary, its oldest and closest competitor, Indian, went out of business, leaving Harley-Davidson as the sole survivor postwar in a once overcrowded American motorcycle marketplace. 1953 production: 14,050 motorcycles. The 1940s and ‘50s brought changes for Harley-Davidson. The second generation of management rose through the corporate ranks as the original founders died. Harley-Davidson now was the undisputed “king of the road”. But the company did not rest on its laurels.
1957-1958 The Sportster, father of the superbikes, was introduced in 1957, followed in 1958 by the Duo Glide, featuring a hydraulic rear shock suspension to go with the hydraulically dampened front fork. Also in 1958, Carroll Resweber won the first of four consecutive AMA Grand National Championships. Also introduced for the aspiring motorcyclist was the 125 as seen in this ad from the 50’s. New marketing and new models were broadening Hareley’s coverage of the motorcycling public.
FACTOID 1957 New tank logo is designed by Willie G., (who has not yet joined the company). Dick O’Brien named racing director. Royal Canadian Mounted Police receives a Model FLH.
1963 When it became apparent that fiberglass was becoming a versatile material for golf cars and motorcycles, Harley-Davidson purchased and converted a fiberglass boat company in Tomahawk, Wis.The 1950s and ‘60s also saw the explosion of the American “motorcycle culture”, with black leather jackets becoming not only a statement of fashion, but of a lifestyle. The tough “Wild Ones” image, made popular by the Marlon Brando movie of the same name, labeled motorcycle enthusiasts as “outlaws”. In truth the phenomenen started in the late 40’s with returning servicemen who had backpay and a yearn to see the country while trying to deal with the pain and horror of war.
1963 Willie G. Davidson joined Harley-Davidson as design director. (image circa mid 50’s)
1965 George Roeder set a world land speed record of 177.225 mph for 250CC motorcycles on a modified Harley-Davidson Sprint. Bart Markel, aboard a Harley, won the second of his three AMA Grand National Championships.
1965 Harley-Davidson ended family ownership with a public stock offering and then, in 1969, merged with the American Machine and Foundry Company (AMF), which was chaired by Rodney C. Gott, a Harley enthusiast. He may have been an “enthusiast” but Rodney led Harley into what many deemed as Harleys darkest years. AMF Era Harleys Are Widely Collected.