The Harley Davidson Error


When researching early v-twin motorcycles on the net, it became apparent that many people are convinced that Harley Davidson invented and produced the first v-twin motorcycle.... see here. For example, at this Yahoo Answers site the question is asked, "Anyone know who made the first V-twin engine for the motorcycle?" The winning answer was" Glenn Curtis, in 1905", which, the asker points out, was nothing to do with Harley or Davidson, and the engine was "made before they went into business", but this is not strictly true, as you will see. Other online posts stated that Harley invented the v-twin and everyone else copied them.... here is a forum where the argument rages and concludes that Indian invented the v-twin.

Of the three other answers displayed, one names Harley and Davidson, with a quotation that had obviously misled the researcher...a problem I was to encounter again...and the other two answers named Indian motorcycles as the originator of V-twins, one of whom points out that Harley didn't make a v-twin until 1909, but Indian made one in 1903, whereas Curtiss's v-twin was probably 1905. The questioner disagreed.

However, I realized that the four people involved in the exchange were all mistaken. They were all failing to look ouside the borders of their own country. Was this caused by patriotic enthusiasm, or was it something else? I decided to investigate.

In various online articles, it correctly states that the V-twin was introduced in 1903 (to the public, anyway - see below), but this is the same year that Harley Davidson started trading, and the same year that Indian founder, Oscar Hedstrom broke a speed record. This has meant that lazy Googling has made people jump to conclusions such as, Harley Davidson made a V-twin in 1903, or Indian broke the speed record on an Indian V-twin racer in fact, anyone Googling the term "Harley Davidson V-twin 1903" or "Indian V-twin 1903" could end up getting presented with edited highlights of the sentence you have just read, and reach false conclusions, if they don't open the page and read the whole text....But it could also be that Americans want to believe that Harley (or some other American company) invented the v-twin, causing them not to notice anything that contradicts this belief. Either way, these pages seek to expose the truth about v-twin origins.

I discovered that William S. Harley and Arthur Davidon produced their first production motorcycle in 1903, but did not produce their first production V-twin until 1909. However, according to Wikipedia "In February 1907 a prototype model with a 45-degree V-Twin engine was displayed at the Chicago Automobile Show." According to the book Harley Davidson Century, the prototype was finished in late 1906, but hardly any were produced before 1911.

The Hendee Manufacturing Company, who became Indian, produced their first v-twin factory racer in 1905, and their first production v-twin in 1907, according to Wiki. According to Indian, Indian "introduced the first V-twin motorcycle to the world in 1907"... (and Hendee was Swedish, plus Davidson was tutored by a Norwegian... see story here: The Scandinavian DNA in the traditional American V-twin).

So it was true! Harley Davidson did NOT make the first V-twin...Indian had beat them into production by 2 years...and Indian's facory racers were racing well over a year before the first Harley prototype, ..but it was also true that Indian were NOT FIRST either! Curtiss had beaten them by 1 or 2 years. However, I found that other manufacturers outside the USA had actually been the REAL pioneers.


Here is the timeline:

1870: USA: Granger Foundry, Providence, RI built a 90 degree v-twin steam engine to power printing machines. See Granger Foundry v-twin steam engine

1873: France, Amédée Bollée builds a self-propelled carriage called L'Obéissante and drives it around Paris. It has independently suspended front wheels and two V-twin steam engines, one for each rear wheel.

1880: USA: George Long, of Northfield, Massachusetts built himself a steam engine fuelled by petrol (to heat the water), that powered a tricycle.

1889, Germany, Gottlieb Daimler patented the first petrol (Gasoline)-engined v-twin engine, as sold to Peugeot See Daimler-powered Peugeot v-twin car of 1891

1902, France: De Dion Bouton produces a V-Twin Engine.

1902, France: Griffon produces a De Dion-powered racer


1903, Germany: NSU V-twin on sale to the public

1903, USA: Curtiss sets a land speed record on his V-twin racer (not the V8 - that was 1907)


1904, Belgium, Minerva V-twin racer

1904, USA: Corson of Indian Motorcycle Company visits Curtiss


1905, Belgium, Minerva sold to public

1905, England: J.A. Prestwich (JAP) produce a V-twin engine

1905, England: Chater Lea V-twin on sale to the public (using the JAP engine)

1905, England: Matchless V-twin racers

1905, England: Joe Stevens and his company Co (Stevens Screw Company - later AJS) V-twin on sale to the public

1905, England, Acme V-twins on sale to the public

1905, France: Griffon V-twin on sale to the public

1905, France, Alcyon V-twin racer

1905, France, Peugeot V-twin on sale to the public

1905, France, Rene Gillet selling five different v-twin models

1905, USA: Indian produce first V-twin racers

1905, USA: Curtiss V-twins on sale to the public

1905, Austria, Bock and Hollander v-twin on sale to the public

1905, Austria/Bohemia/Czecholslovakia; Laurin and Klement V-twins on sale to the public

1905, Austria: Puch model 5 V-twin on sale to the public

1905, Switzerland/France: Zurcher/Zedel supply V-twin engines to various manufacturers


1906, England: Norton V-twins on sale to the public, using Peugeot engines, set the world speed record

1906, Switzerland, Moser 330cc V-twin on sale to the public

1906, Switzerland: Moto Reve 274cc V-twin on sale to the public

1906, USA: Indian first V-twin on sale to the public. REF


1907, England, Norton V-twin wins the first Isle of Man TT race

1907: England: NLG produced a V-twin racer that won the very first Brooklands race.

1907, USA: First Harley Davidson Prototype exhibited in Chicago

1907, Belgium: 600cc Minerva V-twin on sale to the public

1907: Australia: Lewis Cycle and Motor Works produced a prototype V-twin with a Minerva engine


1908: England: Rex V-Twins on sale to the public

1908, Belgium: Sarolea V-twin on sale to the public

1908, Switzerland: Motosacoche V-twins on sale to the public

1908, USA: Thor V-twins on sale to the public

1908, USA: Reading Standard racers produced


1909, England: NLG produce a 27hp racer with a 90-degree 2,700cc JAP V-twin engine

1909, England: Rex V-twin on sale to the public...also available in 1908

1909, England, Clyno v-twin exhibited

1909, England, Premier v-twin on sale to the public



1910, England, Clyno v-twins on sale to the public

1910, England, royal Enfield v-twins on sale to the public

1910, England, Trump Motorcycles, v-twin on sale to the public

1910, France, Magnat-Debon v-twins on sale to the public


1910, USA; Flying Merkel v-twins on sale to the public

1910, USA, Cyclone board track racer v-twins being produce

1910, USA: Excelsior v-twins on sale to the public


1911, England: Humber motorcycles v-twin on sale to the public



So all this and more V-twin history happened before Harley started selling their V-twin in 1911, that would become a best-seller. So, the first V-twins were made in France. The first V-twins were on sale to the public in Germany. In 1905 many European manufacturers were producing V-twins when Curtiss started selling his in the USA, and the first Indian racers were made. By the time the Indian V-twins went on sale to the public, in USA, Europe were V-twin-crazy, and winning races on them. It would be another 4 years before Harley Davidson produced a viable V-twin for the public in 1911.

However, Harley Davidson may be the first to have designed a 45-degree v-twin...I am still researching this....the Wiki v-twin page gives the angles of quite a few v-twins, and JAP are listed as 50 degrees. However, this doesn't prove anything as Wikipedia can be edited by anyone and frequently gets facts wrong or misses things. For example, in 1932, the J.A.P. company changed their v-angle from 50 degrees to 60 degrees ref but Wiki do not mention this, or the 57 degree Anzani engine.

USA may also have been the first to produce a v-twin steam engine, since I have not found any references to any before the 1870 Granger Foundry engine.



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