1906 Harley-Davidson Single
The Bike that helped build Harley
A lot of American companies attempted to get into the motorcycle business in the early 1900s. But by 1906, this bike proved that Harley-Davidson was in the business to stay.
Like most of the 65 or so motorcycle builders in the U.S. in the early years of the 20th century, Harley-Davidson had humble beginnings. William Harley and brothers Arthur, Walter and William Davidson began producing motorcycles in a 10-by-15-foot back-yard shed in Milwaukee.
Only one prototype and two production bikes were built in 1903. And only 11 motorcycles were produced from 1903 to 1905. But by the end of 1905, the company’s one model, a single-cylinder, 24.74 cubic-inch (405cc) motorcycle, had earned Harley a reputation for building quality machines at a reasonable price.
As a result, in 1906 Harley was ready to graduate into the ranks of actual manufacturing companies. That year, it built a 2,400-square-foot factory on Juneau Avenue, where the company’s headquarters remain as it celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. It also produced a catalog, launched an advertising campaign and received orders for 50 motorcycles before they were even built.
Those improvements in the business end were accompanied by some significant changes in the motorcycle. For 1906, the engine was enlarged to 26.8 cubic inches (440cc), and pumped out about 4 horsepower, instead of 3. Also, the front end got a simple spring suspension system, and the company offered a new color option in addition to the standard black: Renault Gray with red pinstriping.
This new color spawned the nickname “the Silent Gray Fellow,” which stuck with the Harley brand for many years and became a part of its advertising campaigns.
That pivotal year set the tone for a brand that would become one of the most successful, and most enduring, in motorcycling history.
Owned by Dr. Richard Moreschini of Pueblo, Colorado, this extremely rare 1906 Harley is an example of the historic company’s origins. And it’s the first motorcycle visitors will see in the new “Heroes of Harley-Davidson” exhibit, presented by Progressive Insurance, in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum at AMA headquarters in Pickerington, Ohio.