Bill Harley & Arthur Davidson

Innovation on Two Wheels

 1880–1943   1881–1950 

How do you make history?

At the turn of the century (the 20th century, that is), a hilly ride to the lake sparked an innovation opportunity for two boyhood friends. Combining their ideas and skills with some help from family and friends, Bill Harley and Arthur Davidson took the motorcycle to new heights. They built one of the largest companies in Wisconsin, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, which is still sending bikes out onto the roads today.

Meet Bill Harley & Arthur Davidson

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Questions to Consider

Illustration of the geographical shape of the State of Wisconsin with the number 1 superimposed above it

Building a better motorcycle wasn’t all fun and games. The first one Bill and Arthur built didn’t last long on the road, but they didn’t take that as a sign to give up. What qualities did they show by continuing to work on their designs? Have you ever tried to do something you loved, but didn’t find instant success? What happened? How did you feel and what did you do next?

Illustration of the geographical shape of the State of Wisconsin with the number 2 superimposed above it

While Bill and Arthur were not the original inventors of the motorcycle, they took an existing idea and made it better. Do you know of other examples of improving on an existing idea, tool, or process? Have you had an idea for how to make something even better?

Illustration of the geographical shape of the State of Wisconsin with the number 3 superimposed above it

Making motorcycles turned into big business for Harley-Davidson. Think about all the kinds of work that go into making motorcycles. What are some of those industries and jobs? How did those industries impact Wisconsin?

Read On

Illustrated portrait of Bill Harley and Arthur Davidson

Bill Harley & Arthur Davidson

Get the full story with this biography book. Audio files are available on each page if you’d like to listen along!


Project Credits

Dan Kaplan
Becky Marburger
Kurt Griesemer

Associate Producer
Joe Young

The Brave Union

The Brave Union

Animation Voice Over
Dawson McKay

Audiobook Narration
Paul Elite

Audiobook Editing
Kerman Eckes

Catie Pfeifer
Vicki Way Kipp

Educator Support Materials
Mia Forslund

John Vieth
Erika Kachama-Nkoy
Tim Schneider

Charles Barrows

Translation Services
University of Wisconsin-Madison Cultural Linguistic Services

Executive Producer
Peggy Garties

Special Thanks
Marta Bechtol

Story Advisors

Brenda Autz
Park Elementary School
Middleton, WI

Charlene Dupler
Lakeview Elementary School
Wind Lake, WI

Kristen McDaniel
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
Madison, WI

David J. O’Connor
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
Madison, WI

Amanda Price
Marshall Elementary School
Marshall, WI

Beth Thayer
Hillsboro Elementary School
Hillsboro, WI

Corey Thompson
Cardinal Stritch University

Stephanie Unertl
Lake Mills Area School District
Lake Mills, WI

Christina Venn
Sheboygan Falls Elementary School
Sheboygan Falls, WI