William Sylvester Harley was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on December 29, 1880. He began working at the Meiselbach bicycle factory in Milwaukee at age 15 and worked his way up to a position as a draftsman. His next job was with Barth Manufacturing in Milwaukee as a full-time draftsman. It was in that job where he met coworker Arthur Davidson, who worked as a pattern maker. They developed a friendship that would grow into something no one could have foreseen.  

Arthur Davidson, born in Milwaukee, Wis. on February 11, 1881, was only twenty years old when he and his childhood friend William S. Harley teamed up to work on their idea for a motor-driven bicycle structured for personal use. In the beginning stages of their partnership they brought their respective designs and skill sets to the table, Arthur, with his own pattern for a small, air-cooled gasoline engine, and William, with his previous experience building bicycles.

The Harley-Davidson Motor Company was incorporated in 1907, with Arthur as its secretary and general sales manager. Arthur’s outgoing personality, good sense of humor, and passionate belief in the Harley-Davidson product made him a natural to take charge of sales at the new company. He tirelessly traveled the country recruiting dealers and establishing a strong dealer network, while also advocating for expanding global presence and foreign business. In the process of developing the dealer network, he foresaw the need for skilled mechanics who understood the specific needs of Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners; the subsequent development of the Harley-Davidson Service School serves as one of his legacies.

After the company’s incorporation, Arthur embarked, with a single-cylinder Harley-Davidson motorcycle, no doubt, on a dealer recruitment mission to New England. Due to the success of his trip, dealerships were established in numerous major cities by the end of 1908, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Newark.

Not long after they built the first production motorcycle, William Harley enrolled in the School of Engineering at the University of Wilsconsin at Madison. He graduated in 1907 and promptly returned to the rapidly growing Harley-Davidson Motor Company. His training as an engineer would prove to be one of the key factors in the successes the company would enjoy in the coming years.

By 1920, Harley-Davidson was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, with 28,189 machines produced and dealers in 67 countries. In 1921, Otto Walker set a record on a Harley-Davidson as the first motorcycle to win a race at an average speed greater than 100 mph (160 km/h).

Today, Harley-Davidson manufactures its motorcycles at factories in York, Pennsylvania; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Kansas City, Missouri (closed May 2019); Manaus, Brazil; and Bawal, India. Construction of a new plant in Thailand began in late 2018. The company markets its products worldwide, and also licenses and markets merchandise under the Harley-Davidson brand, among them apparel, home décor and ornaments, accessories, toys, scale models of its motorcycles, and video games based on its motorcycle line and the community.

According to en.Wikipedia and artsandculture.google.com