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As traditionally American as apple pie, Harley-Davidson began in 1901 with William S. Harley and childhood friend Arthur Davidson starting work on a motor-bicycle, with the first motorcycles available to purchase in 1905. The growth of the company included supplying around 15,000 machines to the military forces during World War 1, and by 1920, Harley-Davidson was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, and in 1929, the flathead engine was introduced, followed by the Knucklehead in 1941. By the outbreak of World War 2, only two American motorcycle companies existed, with Harley-Davidson producing over 90,000 military vehicles, and after the war ended, many of these then came back into civilian hands at relatively low prices, leading to their use by the likes of the Hells Angels.
1969 saw American Machine and Foundry buy the company, followed by workforce cuts, labour strikes, and sales declining – it was in 1981 that a group of investors including Willie G Davidson (the grandson of company founder Arthur Davidson) bought the company from AMF. Harley-Davidson went on to buy 49% of the Buell Motorcycle Company in 1993, going on to complete ownership in 2003, before discontinuing the Buell line in 2009. In 2008 it also acquired MV Agusta, but then diested its interest in October 2009, just a year later. This coincided with a large drop in profits, and company-wide restructuring.
The naming and model conventions for Harley-Davidsons are often changed or disregarded, but broadly speaking the models include the Sportster, Dyna, Softail, Touring and Revolution modes, with the Revolution models including the VRSC bikes such as the V-Rod.