One of the four original founders of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, Arthur Davidson, along with William Harley, first began tinkering with the then-new gasoline engines, hoping to take the hard work out of pedaling a bicycle. Soon, Arthur got his brothers involved in the hobby that ultimately turned into a major manufacturing enterprise. Arthur was the driving force in setting up the nation-wide dealer network for Harley-Davidson in the company's early years. Davidson was successful not only in establishing Harley-Davidson dealerships across the United States, but also in many countries around the globe.
Born in 1881, Arthur was the youngest of the three Davidson brothers (Arthur, Walter and William), who along with William Harley, founded Harley-Davidson in 1903. In 1910, Davidson began signing dealers to sell the brand, which was not widely known at the time. Davidson was a great storyteller and was admired for his friendly business style.
Arthur was a great friend to Harley-Davidson dealers. The dealership owners would often turn to Davidson for sound advice. He implemented a Harley-Davidson service school to train qualified mechanics. He recognized the importance of advertising and used that medium to keep the demand high for Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Arthur noted the trend towards installment buying and helped organize the Kilbourn Finance Corporation in 1923 and acted as the firm's president.
In addition to helping guide Harley-Davidson through a period of rapid growth, Arthur Davidson also was a great ally to the American Motorcyclist Association. Davidson recognized the importance of an association of industry members and riders brought together to further the sport of motorcycling. Davidson was instrumental in recruiting corporate memberships to the AMA.
Davidson's primary interest outside of motorcycling was raising prize Guernsey cattle at his farm west of Milwaukee. After World War II, Davidson spent an increasing amount of time on his farm and he became well known for his philanthropy. He was active in and supported the Boy Scouts by establishing a trust fund and donating land for a camp. He also donated to a Wisconsin home for the blind. Davidson remained active with Harley-Davidson until his untimely death in 1950, when he and his wife died in an auto accident in Milwaukee. In a sad twist of fate, Davidson's son, James, and his wife died in an automobile accident in 1966.
He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.