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Is Kegel Harley-Davidson the oldest dealer in America?

Written By | Aug 9, 2021
Kegel, Harley Davidson, Motorcycles

MILWAUKEE, WI: One of the funny things about Harley-Davidson motorcycle ownership that comes up in time is the debate as to who was the first dealer of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Unfortunately, records of Harley-Davidson dealerships of 100 years ago were not well kept. Harley-Davidson Corporate in Milwaukee has not been able to decide the ongoing debate for their dealerships and customer base.

Kegel Harley-Davidson® Circa 1910

A Rockford, Illinois, dealership Kegel Harley-Davidson® established in 1910 bills itself as the “World’s Oldest Family Owned Harley-Davidson Dealership.” There are several points in history that back up their claim. They were selling bicycles before they became a motorcycle dealership and they had a brick and mortar bike shop ready to receive those all new fandangled motorcycles. A family photo dated in handwriting from 1909 (above) clearly shows brothers Joesph and Julius standing together outside their storefront which says, “Bicycles and Motorcycles”.

Kegel Harley Davidson

Kegel Harley Davidson

In time the two Kegel brothers would split off their two interests with Joseph taking the motorcycle portion of the business and Julius taking the bicycle part of the business. To this day both the bike shop and motorcycle dealership still are in business in Rockford, Illinois, under the Kegel family name! Grandpa Joseph Kegel started the Harley-Davidson dealership, his son Robert continued it until Robert’s sons, Karl and Mark took it over from Dad run it to this day.

“Discover Kegel Harley-Davidson for their cool rides and cooler company” – WTVO Eyewitnesss News




A.D. Farrow Circa 1912

A.D. Farrow of Columbus, Ohio, also bills itself as “America’s oldest Harley dealership” but it was founded in 1912, two years after Kegels. It was founded by Alfred D. Farrow and his wife Lilly Farrow. Farrow’s shop is said to have originated in Nelsonville but moved to Columbus in 1924. The dealership was just recently sold. The automotive dealership, Ricart Automotive Group, is acquired the three-store A.D. Farrow Harley-Davidson dealership for an undisclosed sum. Bob Althoff has owned A.D. Farrow for 18 years now. He will maintain a minority ownership share in the business and will stay on as a partner. “The A.D. Farrow name has a 107-year history in Central Ohio,” Ricart said. “For us to eliminate that would be ridiculous.”

“A.D. FARROW Harley-Davidson® | Hot Rods & Handlebars”- Farrow Harley-Davidson

 

Dudley Perkins Co. Harley-Davidson Circa 1914

For years the Dudley Perkins family of San Francisco also claimed they were the oldest Harley-Davidson dealership but that dealership was not founded until 1914, two years after Farrow and four years after Kegels. Dudley Perkins Co. Harley-Davidson claims to be “the world’s longest-running family-owned Harley-Davidson dealership”.

The dealership was established in 1914 by Mr. Dudley Perkins, Sr. in San Francisco and has remained in the family ever since. Perkins began working part-time for an Indian motorcycle dealer while still a student. Perkins was a championship motorcycle racer who’s first competed on May 10, 1911, winning a one-mile race. He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998 and both a museum and award of that organization now bear his name. The business also operates an alternate retail outlet on the famous Fisherman’s Wharf where apparel is sold.

“Walk Through Dudley Perkins Harley Davidson San Francisco” – Steve Medlin

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Like A.D. Farrow, Dudley-Perkins Co. Harley-Davidson was recently sold.

Rich Gargano and Cliff Chester purchased the Dudley-Perkins dealership for an undisclosed amount. Rich and Cliff already owned West Coast Harley-Davidson in Salinas, California, its alternate retail outlet on Cannery Row in Monterey, as well as House of Thunder Harley-Davidson in Morgan Hill.

Rockford’s Kegel family did not really think much about which Harley-Davidson dealership was the oldest as they always just knew it was them.

Then, in 1998 they won the Dealernews Top 100 contest for the best motorcycle store in the country. At that time they decided to see who was “the oldest Harley Davison dealer in the nation” as others were making the same claim.

It was always understood by the Kegel family that they took on Harley-Davidson motorcycles in 1910.

The only proof they have though is circumstantial. A July 1947 copy of the “Enthusiast” (pictured above, the original magazine of Harley-Davidson) of the family states,



“We regret to inform everyone that Joe Kegel died in April, 1947 and that he had started selling Harley-Davidson® motorcycles in 1910. And in 1923 Joe sold his business to his brother Julius and moved to Rockford.”

Logically Rockford is the closest (95 miles) to Milwaukee where Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Corporation was born in a backyard shed in 1903. Another aspect that makes it logical for the Kegel family to connect with the Harley- Davidson family motorcycles is Rockford had always been known as the “screw capital of the world” making more threaded fasteners in one place than any other.

Harley and Davidson would have no doubt visited Rockford in search of screws for their new motorcycles.

Harley-Davidson was founded in 1903 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1904, a second prototype was completed and it became the Harley-Davidson® motorcycle to participate in a motorcycle race. Back then these events were for entertainment purposes but also were marketing events to prove product durability as breakdowns were commonplace. While the first Harley-Davidson in public didn’t win it did make motorcycle history.

Harley-Davidson was officially incorporated in 1907.

Walter Davidson was the first acting president. His brother, Arthur Davidson became the first general sales manager and the secretary while another brother, William Davidson, was the first works manager. William Harley acted as the chief engineer and treasurer.

About now you might be asking the question; Why wasn’t the company called Davidson, Davidson, Davidson, and Harley?

William Harley was the designer and engineer of the original 1903 Harley-Davidson motorcycle so the brothers thought it was only right to have his name first. The first Harley-Davidson factory was a wooden shed in Davidson’s backyard. The current headquarters stands in that same location at 3700 W Juneau Ave, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in a much larger building, naturally.

The original shed was recently rebuilt at the site of the Harley-Davidson Museum at 400 West Canal Street in Milwaukee for visitors to marvel a rags-to-riches story of real life.

Harley-Davidson is always going through changes to improve both product and dealership networks.

The past several years Harley-Davidson Corporate has closed down a large number of their franchised dealerships as they were not meeting sales quotas. Previously they wanted to see all new dealerships move to 4 lane divided Interstate highways.

That is why you find Kegels in Rockford just off Harrison Avenue and Illinois Route 20 in a building built in 1996 and A.D. Farrow at the intersection of Interstate 71 and Ohio Route 36 in a building built in 2007.

So who is the oldest Harley-Davidson dealership is in the country?

Well, it would appear Kegel’s in Rockford, Illinois, since the other two dealerships have now sold it may be a moot point. On top of that, more Kegel family members are coming up through the ranks, as they say, to keep this family-owned business going.

The big thrill in this debate is going to visit these dealerships for their similarities and differences.

For example the A.D. Farrow building is a multistory brick building in Sunbury, Ohio, made to represent the original factory in Milwaukee, complete with a water tower.

The Kegel family built a modern designed building that was known for something cutting edge, a restaurant in the building as part of the dealership.

Harley-Davidson Corporate demands no alcohol be served on any dealership premises. Nonetheless, some outstanding breakfasts and lunches have been had there in a family environment. The most thrilling part of visiting the Dudley Perkins Harley dealership in San Francisco is seeing the history of the man including his racing bikes and trophy collection.

Some may disagree with my determination that the Kegel Harley-Davidson is the oldest Harley-Davidson dealership is in the world, but you at least now know of the three oldest. Three great “Harley Destinations” as the expression goes.

The common denominator of all Harley-Davidson dealerships seems to be friendly people who care about their customers and hold tremendous pride for a legendary product they believe in, Harley-Davidson Motor Cycles.

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Read more from Mark Schwendau

About the author:

Mark Schwendau is a Christian conservative patriot and retired technology professor (CAD-CAM and web development). He prides himself on his critical thinking ability. Schwendau has had a long sideline of newspaper editorial writing where he used the byline, “- bringing little known facts to people who simply want to know the truth.” Mark is on alternative free speech social media platforms after lifetime bans from Facebook and Twitter and shadow bans from Instagram and Fox News commenting.

His website is www.IDrawIWrite.Tech

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Mark Schwendau

Mark Schwendau is a Christian conservative patriot and retired technology professor (CAD-CAM and web development) who prides himself on his critical thinking ability. Schwendau has had a long sideline of newspaper editorial writing where he used the byline, “- bringing little known facts to people who simply want to know the truth.” Mark is on alternative free speech social media platforms after lifetime bans from Facebook and Twitter and shadow bans from Instagram and Fox News commenting. His website is www.IDrawIWrite.Tech