In the 1890s, two young men became fast friends. They shared an interest in mechanics and design, but they could have had no idea where their shared interests would take them.
By the turn of the century, one had already gained experience working in a bicycle factory, the other as a draftsman. But in 1901, it wasn’t their work that proved the initial spark for a world-changing innovation—it was a bit of entertainment.
Heading to a vaudeville show, these two men went to see the well-known performer Anna Held, who put on a characteristically bawdy production. But of all the fanfare they saw on stage that night there was one particular prop that captured their attention: Held had, the story goes, ridden on a sort of three-wheeler, propelled across the stage by a single-cylinder engine. Unbeknownst to the stage heroine, that short ride across the stage would effectively spark a revolution in automobile and manufacturing history.
Not long after their meeting, inspired by their evening at the theater, the pair began experimenting with single-cylinder engines adapted to bicycles. Their friend, Henry Melk, offered a bit of help as well. Another enterprising friend offered his expertise: a young machinist and engineer named Ole Evinrude, who would go on to become the catalyzing force in outboard marine motors.
Their fledgling effort was a bicycle adapted with a small engine and belt drive. But it was underpowered and did not satisfy their hopes. By 1903, they started over with a new, larger engine and frame designed to fit together.
As they worked through problems, they realized they still needed help. Davidson wrote a letter to his brother Walter, who was working as a machinist for a railroad in Kansas. Arthur made it clear that Walter’s expertise would be valued. So, he resigned from his position to move back to Milwaukee to help. He was critical of the new machine and set to work improving it.