With Memorial Day around the corner, reflecting on the military history of our great nation is inevitable. Harley-Davidson has been honored to be a part of this history, assisting heroes who fought for their country.
World War 1
The first official order of Harley-Davidson motorcycles was in 1916 for General John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing during the punitive raid against the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. Pershing felt that all new technology was going to give the United States an edge, and the agility and ease of use of the Harley was a major asset. This new venture led to a decadeslong partnership.
During World War I, half of Harley- Davidson’s production went to the military. Many types of new models were developed to suit the needs of soldiers on the front lines. Harley-Davidson supplied the United States and its Allies with bikes, including a Navy model called the WLA. The W stood for the 45 cubic inch side valve engine, the L covered its high compression and A signified the customer. Nearly 70,000 WLA bikes were produced from 1942 to 1945.
The Harley-Davidson Service School was born out of necessity during World War I. This led to the creation of what was then known as the Harley-Davidson Quartermasters School, a three week intensive training course. After the war, Harley-Davidson chose to maintain its highly successful program and re-named it the Service School. In the 1990s, Harley-Davidson consolidated its various training programs into Harley-Davidson University.
World War 2
The United States joined the fray in World War II in the final weeks of 1941. This brought Harley-Davidson back into partnership with the military with production focused on military needs, nearly halting civilian production completely. The Service School reverted back to the Quartermasters School and resumed the training of military mechanics.
In 1943, Harley-Davidson was the recipient of the Army-Navy E Award, also known as the Production Award. The award was given to companies that excelled in the production of wartime equipment. The award consisted of a pennant and emblems for all employees to wear. By the end of the war, the company earned three more E Awards for its exemplary work in war production.