William S. Harley

From the November 1943 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine

Once again the Great Referee has swung the checkered flag for one of the real pioneers of the American motorcycle industry, William S. Harley, chief engineer and treasurer of the Harley-Davidson Motor Co. Mr. Harley succumbed to a heart attack at the Milwaukee A.C., on September 18. Stricken while in the best of health apparently, this sudden passing of beloved “Bill” Harley, leaves only two veterans, Oscar Hedstrom and Arthur Davidson, of the small coterie of “founding fathers” who staked their nickels and dimes, their hopes and careers on unswerving faith in the future of the motorcycle way back at the beginning of the century.

leaving the world behind at the age of 62, unreasonably early for one who had lived such a well-ordered life, “Bill” Harley is widely mourned as one of the most popular, most understanding and impartial executives which the motorcycle industry has produced. He came up the hard way, starting as a bicycle mechanic at the age of 15.

From this, developed his first interest in motorcycles. Recognizing the vital need of a technical education to attain the heights in his chosen field, Harley quit work and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin for an engineering course. On his graduation he rejoined his boyhood chums and pals, Arthur, Walter and William Davidson, all of whom likewise had high visions of a prosperous and permanent business future for a good motorcycle. They set out to build one and the Harley-Davidson plant today is a fitting monument to their faith, courage and perseverance.

“Bill” Harley designed all the Harley-Davidsons, from the first one in 1903 to the current model, when the plant went into 100% defense work. He rode in the early endurance runs and was a regular attendant at the big national racemeets where his machines so frequently took the spoils of victory.

Respected and admired throughout the industry, “Bill” Harley was a motorcyclist’s motorcycle man in the fullest sense of the word. His purposeful and straight shooting career furnishes many bright pages in the history of the industry to which he contributed so much.