In 1916, the United States got into a conflict with the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. At one point during this conflict, US Army troops were chasing Villa and his men along the border. Among their means of transportation were Harley-Davidson motorcycles with machine guns mounted in the sidecars.
Soon after this, Harley-Davidson received an order to produce a dozen motorcycles for the Army with the bonus of a partnership. It is widely believed that the first American to enter Germany on the day following the signing of the armistice was riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. By the end of World War I, around half of all Harley-Davidson motorcycles had gone to the U.S. military.
During these times there was a school for military motor mechanics, Harley-Davidson University and by the end of the war around 20,000 Harley-Davidson motorcycles had been used by the military.
In the years during and around World War II, Harley-Davidson started producing the Harley-Davidson WLA; a motorcycle produced for the US Army following specifications and accessories for active members. Around one-third of those bikes were sold to the Russian army, the rest went almost entirely to the U.S. military. Other motorcycles produced in much lower quantities were the XA, a shaft driven motorcycle for desert warfare, the UA model, as well as military G model Servi-Cars.
Harley-Davidson began producing the WLA in small numbers in 1940, as part of a general military expansion. The entry of the US in World War II increased the production (over 90,000). Curiously, all the WLAs produced after Pearl Harbor, regardless of the actual year, had serial numbers indicating 1942 production. This resulted in war-time machines becoming known as 42WLAs. Production of the WLA would cease after the war but would be revived for the Korean War during the years 1949–1952.
Most WLAs were then sold and became more “civilian”. With so many motorcycles available, and cheaper prices, subgroups and subcultures started to arise such as the biker culture and the chopper. Young veterans will come back home hoping to get their hands on a Harley-Davidson like the one they used to ride or envy during service, which led to a post-war popularity of both the motorcycle and the company in general.
I have owned many Harley Davidson motorcycles and have loved all of them. The unique sound and the feel of riding one is unlike any other bike. The picture with this article was my riding buddies form Hawaii Rolling Thunder. Many people have an image of "hell raisers" on thier Harleys. Not true at all. Most clubs are just like ours was. We were a goup of friends, almost all Veterans, that just loved to ride. Most clubs are actually really engaged in charities and community events.
My buddy Robert Patrick came on our podcast this week to talk about his new ownership in Harley Davidson of Santa Clarita. (https://santaclaritaharley.com)
Some of you may know him as the liquid metal shape-shifter T-1000 from Terminator 2, The Walking Dead, The Unit, Spy Kids , and so many other great movies and shows. He talked about his love for this country, our Veterans, and of course Harley Davidson Motorcycles.
Something about Veterans and Harley Davidson motorcycles just seems to go together and now we know it started a long time ago in a country far far away.
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