Born on November 11, 1881, Arthur Davidson was only 20-years old when he teamed up with his childhood friend William S. Harley to work on their idea for a motor-driven bicycle. Arthur Davidson had developed a pattern for a small, air-cooled engine, and Harley had earlier experience building bicycle frames. So like the other early automotive pioneers, they spent their free time tinkering with their designs, hoping to develop a working product. When they needed a skilled mechanic, Arthur wrote his brother Walter, a railroad machinist, praising the virtues of he and Harley’s new motorcycle. Infected with Arthur’s enthusiasm, Walter moved to Milwaukee in 1903 to work on what was then only a blueprint. Soon William Davidson joined the effort, and first Harley-Davidson was built.
The Harley-Davidson Motor Company was incorporated in 1907, with Arthur Davidson as secretary and general sales manager. Arthur Davidson’s outgoing personality, good humor, and passionate belief in the Harley-Davidson product made him a natural to take charge of sales at the new company. He tirelessly traveled the country recruiting dealers and establishing a strong dealer network. In the process, he foresaw the need for skilled mechanics who understood the specific needs of Harley-Davidson owners, and the development of the Harley-Davidson Service School stands as one of his legacies.
Arthur was particularly skilled at recognizing new trends that would help company sales efforts. He was quick to implement the use of advertising, the merits of which were just being realized in the early decades of the 20th century. And when installment buying plans began to emerge, Arthur helped to organize the Kilbourn Finance Corporation in 1923, and served for many years as its president.
In his professional career, Arthur remained consistently active. In the 1940s he served as presidents of the American Motorcyclist Association and the Motorcycle and Allied Trades Association. Because of his keen business sense, he served as director for such companies as the Koehring Company and the Kellogg Seed Company. His personal interest in youth activities and outdoor sports led to earnest involvement with the Milwaukee Boys’ Club, the Y.M.C.A., the Izaak Walton League, and the Boy Scouts of America, from which he received scouting’s highest award for distinguished service.
Arthur Davidson was the last surviving member of the four founders when he and his wife were killed in an automobile accident in Milwaukee, on December 12, 1950.