It’s hard to imagine one of Harley-Davidson’s company anniversary events being a small, private ceremony, but that’s how it all began.
The first observance of a Harley-Davidson anniversary can be traced to 1953, when the Motor Company marked its 50th anniversary. A small "birthday" ceremony was held in the front of Milwaukee's Capitol Drive plant during the annual sales conference to mark the occasion.
In the September, 1953 issue of The Enthusiast™ magazine, President William H. Davidson wrote “The founders of Harley-Davidson built well — on a solid foundation of ideals and principles which has resulted in the production of the world's finest motorcycles year after year. It is our pledge to you that Harley-Davidson's course for the future will continue to be charted unswervingly along the same traditional lines of constant development and improvement toward building better and better Harley-Davidsons.”
The next official company anniversary took place in 1978. For the 75th Anniversary, a small number of company executives and guests participated in a celebratory ride from seven different points across America to converge on Louisville, KY, and continue on to Milwaukee, visiting more than 100 dealerships along the way.
The 85th anniversary was commemorated in 1988 and set the standard for Motor Company anniversaries to follow. That year, approximately 60,000 riders converged on Milwaukee for entertainment, poker runs and many other events, and more than $500,000 was raised for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
For the 95th Anniversary, approximately 135,000 riders came to Milwaukee, many by way of designated MDA ride routes. Events included the 15th anniversary H.O.G.® rally at State Fair Park in West Allis, Wis., free entertainment at Veterans Park on the lakefront, and the main celebration at the Summerfest grounds. For those who were there, the week was a powerful testimonial to the relationship Harley- Davidson has with its customers and Milwaukee.
Harley-Davidson’s 100th Anniversary celebration was like no other. Beginning in the summer of 2002 in Atlanta, Georgia, the Open Road Tour circled the globe, carrying the message of the Motor Company’s first century to enthusiasts in eight cities around the world and concluding in Milwaukee, Wisc. over Labor Day weekend, 2003.
Approximately 250,000 people were in the area to help celebrate the occasion with music, tours, displays and exhibits all over Southeastern Wisconsin With the planning for the 105th Anniversary of 2008, rides converging on Milwaukee were a necessity, including stops at the assembly plants in York, Pennsylvania and Kansas City, Missouri. It was estimated that over 125,000 riders attended the events in Milwaukee, and it was the first time enthusiasts visited the brand new Harley-Davidson Museum, which opened only weeks earlier.
The 110th brought the return of a large-scale overseas celebration to complement Milwaukee. This time, Rome, Italy was the gathering center for riders of Europe and many other parts of the world. Events included a bike blessing by none other than Pope Francis in Vatican City. And, over Labor Day weekend in Milwaukee the H-D Museum was the epicenter of the celebration.
In 2018, Harley-Davidson will reach 115 years of continuous motorcycle manufacturing, with celebrations in Prague in July and Milwaukee over Labor Day weekend. No other motorcycle manufacturer can make this claim. Not every company celebrates anniversaries, and none do it in the way Harley-Davidson does.
For more information on Harley-Davidson history visit the Harley-Davidson Museum®.