William S. Harley

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William S. Harley
William Sylvester Harley.jpg
William S. Harley
Born William Sylvester Harley[1]
December 29, 1880
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Died September 18, 1943(1943-09-18) (aged 62)
Occupation Mechanical engineer
Years active 1901–1943
Known for Co-founder of Harley-Davidson Motor Company
Spouse(s) Anna Jachthuber[1]
Parent(s) William Harley Sr and Mary Smith
William S. Harley signature.svg

William Sylvester Harley (December 29, 1880 – September 18, 1943) was an American mechanical engineer, entrepreneur and one of the co-founders of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company.[2]

Early life[edit]

Harley was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1880 to William Harley Sr. and Mary Smith from Littleport, Cambridgeshire, England who emigrated to the United States in 1860.[1][3][4]


In 1901, Harley drew up plans for an engine to be mounted on an ordinary bicycle. Over the next few years, Harley and his childhood friend Arthur Davidson worked on their motor-bicycle with the help of Henry Melk, who owned a machine shop in northside Milwaukee. They later received help from Ole Evinrude, who was then building gas engines of his own design for automotive use on Milwaukee's Lake Street.

Harley received a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1907.[5][6] He co-founded Harley-Davidson with Arthur Davidson in 1903 and served as chief engineer until his death in 1943.[5][7] While in college he worked at a Madison architect's office and as a waiter for the Kappa Sigma fraternity house.

Personal life[edit]

In 1910 he married Anna Jachthuber, with whom he had two sons and a daughter.[1] In his spare time, Harley took up hunting, fishing and golf, and was also noted for his affinity for sketching and wildlife photography.[8]

He is buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery and Mausoleum in Milwaukee,[2] and was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.[5]


In 2003, a Harley-Davidson statue was unveiled in Littleport, Cambridgeshire, to commemorate the centenary of the famous motorcycle company. William Harley, the father of the company's co-founder William Sylvester Harley, had been born in Victoria Street, Littleport, in 1835, before emigrating to the United States in 1859.[9]

Labor Hall of Fame[edit]

Because Harley, Arthur Davidson, William A. Davidson, and Walter Davidson "used and believed in its products and relied on the dedication of its employees to produce quality motorcycles", the four men were inducted into the Labor Hall of Fame.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d D'Ambrosio, Brian. From Football to Fig Newtons: 76 American Inventors and The Inventions You Know By Heart. Lulu.com. pp. 107–. ISBN 9781105737725. Retrieved 15 September 2016. 
  2. ^ a b "William Sylvester Harley". Find A Grave. Retrieved 2008-01-06. 
  3. ^ Jean Davidson - Harley-Davidson.
  4. ^ Goulden, Glenda (2008), "2", Foul deeds and suspicious deaths in & around The Fens, Barnsley, Yorks: Wharncliffe Books, p. 35, ISBN 978-1-84563-072-0 
  5. ^ a b c William S. Harley at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame
  6. ^ "2005 Annual Report: Engineering Professional Development". UW–Madison College of Engineering. 2005. Retrieved 2007-12-02. 
  7. ^ "Company history". Harley-Davidson Corp. Retrieved 2007-12-02. 
  8. ^ "AMA Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame: William S. Harley". American Motorcyclist Association. Retrieved 15 September 2016. 
  9. ^ "Littleport Harley Davidson statue". 
  10. ^ http://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/laborhall/2004_davidson.htm

External links[edit]