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Harley-Davidson has emerged from a field of over 300 motorcycle manufacturers in the early 20th century as the greatest of them all. See more motorcycle pictures.

Few could argue that Harley-Davidson is a name recognized -- and revered -- the world over. The company doesn't just produce American motorcycles; it produces an American legend.

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Not many businesses survive long enough to celebrate their 100th birthdays, and fewer still manage to do so on the strength of their original product. In 2003, Harley-Davidson celebrated 100 years of building just what it started out to make: distinctly American motorcycles.

This article traces the development of the machines themselves, but also the legacy contributing to that indefinable element known as the "Harley mystique." While the reasoning behind this phenomenon might be hard to pin down, the response is not: Harley enthusiasts are among the most devoted followers in the world.

Scholars have estimated that about 300 motorcycle manufacturers set out their shingles across the U.S. in the early part of the century. Fifty years later, the exact figure was much easier to pin down: There was just one. Why Harley-Davidson survived when others failed is a story that is interesting as it is fortunate.

Keep reading to learn about Harley-Davidson's early years.

To learn more about Harley-Davidson and other classic motorcycles, see: