One of the original founders of Harley-Davidson, William Davidson took a big risk by quitting his well paying job with the Milwaukee Road railroad and purchasing the machining tools and presses that helped the young company meet the expanding demand for motorcycles. The company that William, his brothers Arthur and Walter, and William Harley, started in 1903, would go on to become one of the most popular motorcycle makers in the world.
Born in 1870, Davidson was the eldest of the three Davidson brothers. Employees looked at Davidson as a fatherly figure and felt close to the man they affectionately called "Old Bill." Davidson did most of the hiring in the early years, having what many described as a special understanding of human nature. He had a knack for finding people who were loyal and enthusiastic about working at Harley-Davidson. Davidson kept his door open and welcomed employees to drop in at any time if they had a question or problem.
Davidson's unique relationship with his co-workers led to many innovations in the manufacturing process. Davidson would listen to the people on the line, gathering information and learning ideas on new or more efficient techniques that could be implemented in manufacturing parts. Countless improvements in building Harley-Davidsons were instituted under his supervision and direction.
The unsuccessful battle to keep a union out of Harley-Davidson in 1937 was hard on Davidson. Those close to him said he felt hurt that the employees with whom he had such a close relationship felt the need to form a union. Davidson died on April 21, 1937, just two days after signing the agreement admitting a union to his shop.
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