1903 Harley Motorcycle Info – First Harley Motorcycle?

For many years the people at Harley-Davidson have claimed the first Harley motorcycle was built in 1903. There are a number of theories that the 1903 date might not be accurate, and that the first running motorcycles produced by the Harleys and Davidsons might not have been until 1904 or event 1905.

The first Harley motorcycle - claimed to be a 1903 model

Rather than get bogged down in that here, we would like to share what is considered by most to be the information on the 1903 Harley-Davidson motorcycles as published in Rick Conner’s excellent book Harley-Davidson Data Book.

The right side of the 1903 Harley motorcycle

The 1903 Harley-Davidson motorcycle was powered by a single cylinder, 24.74 cubic inch F-head engine. It is reported that Harley-Davidson made and sold 3 of them at a price of $200. There were no options and all the original 1903 Harley motorcycles were painted Piano-finish black with Gold double pinstriping.

Technical Data:

  • 24.74 cubic inch F-head, single-cylinder engine with automatic inlet valve and 3.00 c 3.50 inch bore and stroke.
  • 28 inch wheels
  • 51 inch wheelbase
  • weighed 185 pounds
  • 21.5 inch seat height
  • two-ply, 1.25 inch leather belt direct-drive to rear wheel hoop
  • rigid front forks
  • seven piece handlebars
  • loop frame
  • gas tank hung from crossbar
  • coil suspension solo saddle
  • dual bicycle style pedals
  • chrome nickel exhaust valves
  • vacuum operated inlte valves
  • ball bearing rear hub
  • horizontal cooling fins on the cylinder heads
  • two piece exhaust valve
  • iron pistons
  • exposed exhaust valve springs
  • drip feed and hand pumped engine lubrication
  • started bt running alomgside or pedaling
  • one piece cylinder
  • tapered pistons and straight cylinder bore
  • 60 degree seats on exhaust valves
  • clutchless single speed transmission
  • two piece automotive type connecting rods with bolt-on lower ends
  • spoked flywheel with 7/8 inch diameter flywheel crankpin.
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10 Responses to 1903 Harley Motorcycle Info – First Harley Motorcycle?

  1. Dick Werner says:

    Who designed the first production 1905 Harley-Davidson motor? And who reported that 3 motorcycles were made in 1903?

    • Dick Werner says:

      Well, it’s been 3 weeks since I asked those 2 simple questions and this thread has come to a screaching halt. So I will give my answers.

      Perry Mack designed the fisrst production Harley-Davidson motorcycle motor.

      C.H. Lange was supposed to have said that he sold 3 HD’s in 1903. But we know that is untrue because of Herb Wagner’s tireless research where he found court testimony from Mr. Lange where he stated that he first heard of
      HD in 1904 and sold his first HD in 1905. Sworn court testimony!

      Now if we had an original dated blueprint of the first HD that would put everything to rest. Most all blueprints have a date and the signature of the person who drew it. You would think HD kept the blueprints of the first motorcycle they ever built! At least a simple dated line drawing or a dated photo.

      Please, someone, post real evidence from the year 1903 that proves HD made a production motorcycle for sale to the public. Not the fairy tales printed in the teens by Lacy Crolius who was HD’s advertising manager. Not notebooks written in the teens documenting production numbers. Not photos
      taken years after the first HD was built. For cripes sake, HD built a museum
      based on a 1903 motorcycle that never existed. There must be something left that is original to the year 1903!


      • When your’e in the throws of creating a new product – in a garage or whatever, the documentation isn’t your priority. Getting the thing done is. You don’t know that those 1903 things are important until the company becomes more than just a local company, and by that time, many of the 1903 artifacts have changed. I thin the explanation of 1954 vs 2003 says that Harley may have reconsidered its dates as time went on.

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  3. Michael says:

    When I was a kid and dinosaurs roamed, the popular and accepted history was that H&D put their heads together in 1904 and made the first bike for sale in 1905. Dealers would tell you this and it was passed to my generation of riders by the previous generation of riders. I reckon it has some merit.

    Why else would H-D have celebrated their 50th year with a special anniversary edition motorcycle in 1954 ?

    Go on, search the web for pictures and such.

  4. Michael says:

    Still waiting and still nothing.

  5. Ian Smith says:

    I wonder what the price is estimated on the first harley davidson ever? I’m sure someone will say priceless and it’ll never be on the market.but I just wanna know about how much.or does anybody know the price of a 1906 or 1907 that sold in the past.cant find any info on the internet

  6. The H-D Museum claims the first Harley was made in1903:

    “The world’s oldest Hog is in fact the only motorcycle in the museum completely encased in glass. Rightfully so. Many parts are indeed stamped with serial number 001. The bike sits in a display that represents the first Harley-Davidson workshop built in Milwaukee in 1903.”