It was way back in 1903 that 21-year-old William Harley and 20-year-old Arthur Davidson constructed a motorcycle in a 10-foot-by-15-foot wooden shed in Milwaukee. That was the first Harley-Davidson motorcycle made available to the public, and, despite those humble beginnings, the world has never been the same.
Harley-Davidson has become an American symbol with worldwide appeal, and has made an indelible mark on pop culture, influencing music, movies and fashion.
As Harley-Davidson closes in on its centennial birthday, the motorcycle company has created the Harley-Davidson 100th Anniversary Open Road Tour, a yearlong series of festivals. The tour makes it way to Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course tomorrow and stays through Sunday.
The huge event (more than 50 acres) features everything from multimedia exhibits to motorcycle drill teams to a tap-dance troupe. There also will be more than a dozen big-name musical acts performing, including Bob Dylan, Hootie & the Blowfish, Billy Idol, Ted Nugent, the Neville Brothers, Allison Krauss and Southside Johnny.
"We said, 'How do we take the passion that Harley-Davidson has for motorcycling and let people around the world share in the celebration with us?' " said Steve Piehl, the company's director of communications. "And the Open Road Tour is what we came up with. This is what we call taking the party to the people."
The 100th-anniversary festivals also are a testament to the company's perseverance and resiliency. Harley-Davidson had fallen on hard times in the early 1980s and was on the brink of bankruptcy in 1985 before rebounding to become the successful entity it is today.
"Harley-Davidson is one of the top recognized brands in the world. It's right up there with Coca-Cola and McDonald's," Piehl said. "When you think of a motorcycle, the image that comes to people's minds is that of a Harley-Davidson." (He's forgetting about Honda and Yamaha owners, of course, but his job is to promote Harleys.)
Baltimore is the second stop on the 10-city world tour, and is just one of four U.S. venues to play host to the event in 2002. Harley-Davidson selected Charm City because of its close proximity to Washington and Philadelphia, and because the East Coast is a hotbed of Harley-Davidson owners.
The tour opened last month in Atlanta, and will travel to Dallas and Los Angeles, domestically, and to Canada, Mexico, Australia, Japan, Spain and Germany, internationally.
Once the tour rolls to a stop in the summer of 2003, the anniversary festivities will culminate in a three-day event in Milwaukee, the home base of Harley-Davidson.
Although Harley-Davidson has become a symbol of rebelliousness, these rebels are not without a cause. A portion of the proceeds from the tour will go to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, for which Harley-Davidson has raised more than $40 million over the past 23 years.
Naturally, the Open Road Tour is expected to attract thousands of Harley-Davidson owners, but those who weren't born to be wild also are invited. Children of all ages are welcome, too, and kids 13 and under, accompanied by an adult, are admitted free of charge.
"We know for anybody that is a Harley rider, this is a once-in- a-lifetime opportunity," Piehl said. "But we want it to be an all-inclusive celebration for anybody who's either interested in Harleys or just wants to see some great entertainment. That's why we chose a broad variety of musical acts. Some of the entertainers are known Harley enthusiasts, but that wasn't a prerequisite."
And for those nonriders who may have reservations about mingling with throngs of bikers, fear not. The typical Harley-Davidson owner does not fit the Hell's Angels stereotype. He or she is, in fact, part of the upper middle class, on average.
The core of the festival will be three 20,000-square-foot exhibits - all in air-conditioned tents - entitled The Journey, The Machine and The Culture.
The Journey allows visitors to experience the history of Harley- Davidson through a series of multimedia and historic displays, including original artifacts and reproductions of vintage products and material from past marketing campaigns.
There's even a re-creation of the original shed where the company was born. Visitors will be encouraged to share stories about their personal experiences with Harley-Davidson in story booths.
The Machine exhibit features a display of select motorcycles from the Harley-Davidson archive, many of which have never been seen by the general public, including a 1907 model. Also included in this exhibit are motorcycles owned by rock stars such as Elvis Presley and Jon Bon Jovi.
Alongside the motorcycles, The Machine exhibit will focus on the engines that have powered the bikes, and the Harley- Davidson styling department's 100 favorite tank graphics.
The Culture exhibit examines the impact of Harley-Davidson on pop culture. There will be a film presentation about Harley- Davidson's role in movies, as well as a section showcasing the company's role in music.
"We worked with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and developed a special exhibit about Harleys in rock and roll," Piehl said. "The different entertainers that have owned Harleys, or worn Harley clothes, or been identified with Harleys really reinforces just how much Harleys have been a part of our culture."
And because some Harley-Davidson owners are known to have the company's logo tattooed on their bodies, there's even a tattoo parlor where visitors can get a Harley-Davidson temporary tattoo.
Aside from the exhibits, there will be a variety of entertainment, including motorcycle drill teams and stunt riders such as Bubba Blackwell. And in addition to the big-name musical acts, there will be two stages featuring dance-oriented shows.
Chrome and Thunder are two such shows on the bill. Chrome is a high-energy tap-dance spectacular, while Thunder's emphasis is on fashion, specifically Harley-Davidson MotorClothes.
For those who want to take a hands-on approach at the festival, anyone who is at least 18 years old and possesses a motorcycle license can test-drive a complete lineup of Harley-Davidson and Buell motorcycles, including the 100th-anniversary models. (Buell is a division of Harley-Davidson.)
Are you a nonrider who wants to learn how to ride a motorcycle? While you're at the festival, inquire about Rider's Edge, an instructional program operated through Harley-Davidson dealers.
When you feel it's time to take a break from all the activities, make your way to the Miller Roadside Cafe. There, you can visit the concession area, watch television monitors relaying the action from other parts of the grounds and listen to your favorite road songs on a free jukebox.
There are even activities for the youngest Harley-Davidson enthusiasts. At the children's pavilion, kids can take demo rides on Fisher-Price Harley- Davidson motorcycle toys.
"There are special areas in each exhibit tent for younger people, too," Piehl said. "We've done a lot to make the event welcoming to lots of different people, including families.
"We also allow people to leave the grounds and come back. So parents can bring their kids during the day, take them home, and then come back for the entertainment that evening."
The familiar "Bar and Shield" logo was placed on Harley-Davidson motorcycles in 1910.
A leather jacket made its first appearance as a Harley-Davidson clothing item in 1928.
Harley-Davidson's privately held family ownership ended in 1965 with the company's first public stock offering.
The Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) was established in 1983 and has more than 650,000 members.
The Harley-Davidson name has been licensed to a wide array of manufacturers, who produce everything from Christmas ornaments, ceramics and stuffed animals to baby clothes, pet attire and even Barbie dolls.
Harley-Davidson has released several CDs filled with "road songs," which include tunes such as "Bad Motor Scooter" by Montrose, "Midnight Rider" by Greg Allman, "Heading Out to the Highway" by Judas Priest and, of course, "Born to Be Wild" by Steppenwolf.
Harley-Davidson builds 260,000 motorcycles a year.
Harley-Davidson dropped its six-year attempt to trademark the unique sound of its V-Twin engines last year. In its application, Harley-Davidson described the sound as a "syncopated rumbling exhaust" that sounded like "potato" repeated quickly.
The number of female Harley-Davidson riders has soared in the past 15 years. Women now make up 10 percent of all Harley-Davidson owners.
Harley-Davidson owners earn $78,000 a year on average.
Southside Johnny, 2:15 p.m.
The Neville Brothers, 4:30 p.m.
The Marshall Tucker Band, 6:45 p.m.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, 9 p.m.
The Wailers, 1:30 p.m.
The Robert Cray Band, 3 p.m.
Default, 4:45 p.m.
Allison Krauss and Union Station, 6:30 p.m.
Hootie & the Blowfish, 9 p.m.
Creedence Clearwater Revisited, 1:30 p.m.
Bob Dylan, 3:30 p.m.
Billy Idol, 6:15 p.m.
Ted Nugent, 8:30 p.m.
What: The Harley-Davidson 100th Anniversary Open Road Tour
When: 1 p.m.-11 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday, 1 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
Where: Pimlico Race Course, 5201 Park Heights Ave.
Admission: $55 per day; kids 13 and under free when accompanied by an adult.
Web site: www.harley davidson.com