TBT: Remembering Arthur Davidson

arthur-davidson-in-side-car

REMEMBERING ARTHUR DAVIDSON

Arthur Davidson, born in Milwaukee, Wis. on February 11, 1881, was only twenty years old when he and his childhood friend William S. Harley teamed up to work on their idea for a motor-driven bicycle structured for personal use. In the beginning stages of their partnership they brought their respective designs and skill sets to the table, Arthur, with his own pattern for a small, air-cooled gasoline engine, and William, with his previous experience building bicycles.

The Harley-Davidson Motor Company was incorporated in 1907, with Arthur as its secretary and general sales manager. He tirelessly traveled the country recruiting dealers and establishing a strong dealer network, while also advocating for expanding global presence and foreign business. In the process of developing the dealer network, he foresaw the need for skilled mechanics who understood the specific needs of Harley-Davidson® motorcycle owners; the subsequent development of the Harley-Davidson Service School serves as one of his legacies.

portrait-of-arthur-davidson

After the company’s incorporation, Arthur embarked, with a single cylinder Harley-Davidson® motorcycle, no doubt, on a dealer recruitment mission to New England. Due to the success of his trip, dealerships were established in numerous major cities by the end of 1908, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Newark. His activism within the company’s dealer network proved even more successful by 1912, when over 200 Harley-Davidson® dealers were fully operating in the United States, and the first overseas distributorship was established in Japan. He connected to dealers even further through the impassioned articles that he wrote for the Harley-Davidson Dealer magazine about the benefits of high-quality retail displays and service.


In his professional career, Arthur remained consistently active. In the 1940s he served as president of the American Motorcyclist Association and the Motorcycle and Allied Trades Association. Because of his keen business sense, he served as director for organizations such 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 YMCA, 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 tragically killed in an automobile accident in Milwaukee, Wis., Dec. 30, 1950. Arthur will always be fondly remembered, and his legacy lives on at Harley-Davidson.