This image, though quite poor quality, represents a milestone moment in the history of America’s most beloved motorcycle brand, Harley-Davidson. It was taken back in the summer of 1905 as the young startup venture was just getting its feet underneath itself. Though countless sources, including a rather erroneous documentary series will proclaim many details concerning the origins of the might Harley-Davidson, the truth remains much murkier than many are willing to admit. What is confirmable though is that by June of 1905 there were at least 4 Harley-Davidson motorcycles on the road and in a letter to the local paper Arthur Davidson officially announced that the Harley-Davidson Motor Co. had been formed to “manufacture motors and motor-cycles.” This grainy glimpse into that watershed moment came just the week before that article ran when two of the young company’s best took their newest machine out to the Milwaukee Mile to tests its measure.
On June 2, 1905, co-founder Walter Davidson rolled up to the starting line of the Wisconsin State Fair horse track onboard the latest Harley-Davidson creation, a 27ci loop frame “heavy.” Despite the excessive weight compared to the day's standards, the new Harley kicked the dirt up to the sky and Davidson beat out Henry Zerbel and his underpowered Merkel by a reported 1/8th of a mile. The next day, on June 3rd, the company’s first employee, a proficient engineer named Perry E. Mack took another of the new big bore Harley’s to the Milwaukee Mile. Mack bolted around the oval, coming in first in the 3-mile race clocking nearly 48 mph, setting both a new State and track record of 1 minute 16 seconds, all while beating his boss to boot. Success in Milwaukee field the fire of ambition in Arthur, Walter, and Mack and they set their sites on the big Fourth of July races in Chicago. One month later, on July 4th the motormen from Milwaukee made their way to Chicago’s Garfield Park where a series of high stakes championship races were to be held on the 1/3 mile cement oval. Glenn Curtiss started the event off with an exhibition of his monstrous ‘Hercules” v-twin, covering 5 miles in 5 minutes and 5 seconds, nearly 60 mph on a track in 1905. Walter Davidson then went on to claim victory in the 10-mile open and came in second behind Perry Mack, who averaged a speed of 47 mph in the 15-mile race. However, when Mack was leading the 10-mile championship race a small fox terrier darted out onto the track directly in front of a speeding Perry Mack. The collision was unavoidable, the dog was done in an instant, and Perry Mack was only barely able to stumble his way into the infield before collapsing with a 6-inch gash cut across his forehead.
Mack would eventually recover, and the Davidson boys would continue to test the waters of competition, but for Perry E. Mack his run at Garfield Park would be his last in the sport. He continued his role as an essential asset to the Harley-Davidson Motor Co. until leaving in 1906 to explore his own ideas in motors, motorcycles, and cyclecars, blazing his own trail as a pioneer in OHV engine design associated with brands like Waverley, P.E.M., and Jefferson. Poor quality though it is, this is Perry E. Mack behind the U.S Post Office on Wisconsin Ave in Milwaukee, June 3rd, 1905. This is the company’s first known competition photograph, with what is possibly the second or third Harley-Davidson ever made.
A special thanks to Dick Werner and Herb Wagner for sharing with me their in-depth research on this momentous moment in our history.