William A. Davidson Vice-President

October 14, 1870–April 21, 1937

From the May 1937 Issue of Motorcyclist magazine

A widely respected and well liked pioneer in the motorcycle industry, William A. Davidson, vice-president of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, passed from his legion of friends in the month of April. His death, which followed an operation for infection, came as a distinct shock to everyone in motorcycle circles and to hundreds in other walks of life.

Born 66 years ago in Milwaukee, Mr. Davidson learned to be a skilled mechanic. When the Harley-Davidson Motor Company was organized over a third of a century ago he brought to it a wealth of experience and judgment from his position as tool room foreman of what is now the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad.

The problem of building a newer form of transportation intrigued him and he became associated with his two brothers, Arthur and Walter and with Wm. S. Harley. The factory at that time was a shed 10 by 1 5 feet. Finances and facilities were limited. There, Mr. Davidson’s many abilities found opportunity for expression.

The shed grew into a factory, the original associates were surrounded with selected men, and a great many manufacturing policies were evolved as the Harley-Davidson product grew to be known all over the world. Through the years Mr. Davidson’s desk was always piled with parts in the process of manufacture. Entering his office, one would find him in contemplation and study of a semi-finished hub; a bearing; a shaft; a rod. He knew the steel of which it was made, the processess it had undergone, and was planning the further improvements it should experience. Countless were the manufacturing methods instituted under his direction.

With all these problems to occupy his mind “Bill” Davidson, as he preferred to be known, was never too busy to offer the usual welcome, “Come in.” He was confidant to everyone from the newest employee to outside manufacturers, bankers or politicians. To the end, though actually vice-president of the firm, he continued to be listed merely as “employee”.

In all this time Mr. Davidson never lost his democratic touch with the boys in the shop. Remembering the days when he, himself, was pounding a hammer, it was his pleasure on Christmas to pack baskets for people, some of whom he had never seen. Sometimes it was to buy coal for the needy, again it might be loaning an overcoat to a friend who had none, but always it was his joy to help others. Never were these deeds publicized.

Typical of the tributes paid “Bill’’ Davidson is the following from one of his co-workers:

“To have known Mr. Davidson, to have worked with him, to have been associated with him, was indeed a rare privilege. His example, his precepts, his deeds, have left their influence on all those with whom he came in contact. The world is happier, a cheerier, a better place for his having been among us.”

Surviving, in addition to the brothers Arthur and Walter Davidson, are the widow, Mary; three daughters, Mrs. Frederick C. Winding, Mrs. Frederick A. Lang, Jr., and Mrs. Godfrey L. Morton; two sons, William H. and Allan G., and two sisters, Mrs. Henry W. Marx and Janet M. Davidson.