100 Years of Harley-Davidson by Willie G. | Rider’s Library100 Years of Harley-Davidson

Of all the centennial celebratory books about Harley-Davidson, there was only one that came from a direct descendent of one of the founding fathers of the Motor Company – “100 Years of Harley-Davidson,” by Willie G. Davidson.

With Willie G. as the author, the book contains many unique images and insights – many more personal and revealing that those found in any other of the many centennial books produced.

For example, there is terrific shot of a young Willie G. with John Harley at the 1952 Jack Pine Enduro in 1952— Willie G. already displaying his trademark toothy smile that he is known for to this day.

The unique perspective of this book is also evident in its introduction by Davidson, who is the grandson of one of the Motor Company’s founders, William A. Davidson. In it, he doesn’t dwell much on the book itself or its content, except to say he would have liked to be able to thank everyone affiliated with Harley-Davidson in any way that had so many positive impacts on his life and that of his family.

Indeed, his introduction to the book is also a thank you note to The Motor Company and its people, dealers and customers for affording him the chance to live the dream doing the work he was meant to do.

Starting from the usual point that most of the Centennial books we’ve looked at begin with, the first chapter is about 1903 to 1927. But unlike the usual focus on the creation of the first bicycle-framed bikes, this book takes the story much deeper. In this portion of the story, Davidson makes the shift from gifted motorcycle designer to accomplished story-teller and historian.

In describing the setting, the times and the harshness of life around the turn of the last century, Davidson illuminates why the creation of a motorcycle company at that point in time was simultaneously impossible and inevitable. Economical, reliable transportation was an idea whose time had come, but making it happen would take imagination and grit—both of which the founders of the Motor Company had.

The book is loaded with archival images that bring the century-long story to life from images taken inside the Juneau Avenue plant in its earliest days to racing and hillclimb competition, through the Great Depression, two World Wars and into the dog-days of the 1970s and resurgence of the 1980s, rise to pre-eminence of the 1990s and up to the Revolution and the VRSCA V-Rod.

From the matte black cover with metal H-D bar and shield emblem on the front to the author with literally a family connection to the subject to the depth of the content, “100 Years of Harley-Davidson” is unique among the raft of Centennial books that were published about Harley-Davidson and well worth tracking down.

Book Data:

  • Title: 100 Years of Harley-Davidson
  • Author: Willie G. Davidson
  • Published: 2002, hard cover.
  • Publisher: Harley-Davidson in arrangement with Bullfinch Press, a division of AOL Time Warner Book Group.
  • ISBN: 0-8212-2819-6

Note to readers: many of the books that we’ll feature in Rider’s Library may be out of print and some may be difficult to find. That could be half the fun. The Internet should make the search relatively easy but ironically, none of the books currently scheduled for eventual retro-review for the Rider’s Library section were found with the help of the Internet. They all were found at book stores, used book stores, antique shops, motorcycle shops, yard sales and so on.