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The founder of Harley-Davidson in Launceston

Arthur Davidson, the co-founder and sales manager of America’s Harley-Davidson Motor Company, was on a world tour when he visited Launceston in April 1924. It was his second time in the city.

His first visit in 1917 was to inspect Harley-Davidson dealers in Australia, one of which was Sim King’s Garage in Brisbane Street.

Thomas Simeon (Sim) King had been selling Harley-Davidson motorcycles since 1914 and had developed a friendship with Mr Davidson.

The Examiner said Sim King’s Garage, which had been established in 1904 (the same year as the Harley-Davidson Motor Company), could justly be termed the pioneers of the motor industry in

Tasmania.

It said that Sim King’s exhibit at the 1924 Launceston Show “was ample proof of their claim to being the largest distributors of motorcycles in Tasmania.”

Remarkably, Mr King said Australia was the largest customer in the world for Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Sim King had left on a world tour of his own when Arthur Davidson arrived in Launceston but the two men had arranged to meet in Melbourne before Mr King sailed for England.

The Daily Telegraph thought the meeting would result in “much greater prosperity” for Mr King’s business.

Arthur Davidson came to Launceston on the Bass Strait steamer Nairana and said his current world trip was “purely for pleasure” but “naturally he was keeping in touch with his firm’s business interests.”

He was full of praise for Tamar Valley.

He told the Daily Telegraph that the scenery coming up the Tamar was magnificent. “You have something indeed to be proud of in this beautiful river,” he enthused.

He said he had seen the Cataract Gorge on his first visit and it was a fine sight.

The Harley-Davidson Motor Company had been established 20 years previously by Mr Davidson and his brother Walter and William Harley, “with practically no capital” in the US city of Milwaukee.

By 1924 they had a workforce of 1,500 and were the largest motorcycle manufacturers in the world with Harley-Davidsons being sold in 67 countries.

The Examiner said Harley-Davidson sidecar motorcycles, introduced into Tasmania by Sim King’s Garage, now had many hundreds of supporters.

“They had tried and tested the machine under the most severe and exacting conditions, but all were of the same opinion, that for extra heavy sidecar work and reliability the Harley-Davidson was in a class on its own.”

Mr Davidson said his company wasn’t planning to establish a factory in Australia despite its strong sales here as the cost of importing materials and building a plant would be too high.

When Sim King returned to Launceston at the end of September 1924 after his seven-month tour abroad, he told the Examiner that he had spent a week at the home of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company in Milwaukee.

His meeting with Arthur Davidson in Melbourne had obviously paid off as he had been appointed a “direct factory” representative in Tasmania.

Images -- TOP: Mr Sim King’s Garage in Brisbane Street. Picture: Weekly Courier, 13 March 1921. MIDDLE: Mr Arthur Davidson, public domain image. A newspaper advert for Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Picture: The Examiner, Saturday 15 March 1924.


Written for the Launceston Historical Society and published in The Sunday Examiner, 27 May 2024.


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