110th Anniversary Look Back

110th Anniversary Look Back - Day 76

110th Anniversary Look Back - Day 76

"It was an interesting concept: take the work of a riding a bike by adding a motor to it. Hey, call it a "motor-cycle", so people know that they're getting. And sell it in bike shops, right next to the other bicycles.

It was so simple, it was beautiful.

And that's exactly what two Freeport men thought when they first saw the contraption, made by the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company in Milwaukee, over 90 years ago. They decided to thought the idea was so ingenious, they were among the first to jump on the bandwagon.

In fact, when it came to selling the motorized bicycles, they were the first in the world.

Although Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company was first established in 1903, it would be a few more years before Freeport would enter the company's history books.

It all started in 1909, when two young brothers, Julius and Joseph Kegel, decided to open a bicycle shop in downtown Freeport.

Within two years, the Kegel brothers were peddling a revolutionary mode of transportation to its pedaling customers - a motorcycle. While there is plenty of documentation to prove Kegels were selling Harley-Davidsons in 1911, there is some evidence to indicated they may actually started in 1910.

Either way, Kegel's became the world's first Harley-Davidson dealership. For over a decade, the brothers would continue to sell both motorized and non-motorized bikes out of their Freeport store. They sold Excelsior, Pierce Arrow, Racycle, and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

And they raced. Motorcycle racing was one of the hottest things happening back then, and the Kegel brothers were regulars on the racing circuit, riding with the best of them. Joseph preferred the Harley-Davidson, but Julius rode an Excelsior.

But in 1917, a world war took Julius overseas, where motorcycles were being used in by the army to expedite communication and transportation. After Julius enlisted in the army, he was sent to England, where his knowledge of motorcycles was put to use in the Motorcycle Corps. He was assigned to ride the countryside in an English Rover with a side-car, delivering messages between units. Joseph stayed behind to tend to the family business.

After the war, Julius returned to Freeport and the bicycle shop.

But in 1923, the two brothers decided it was time to diversify a little bit. Joseph took the Harley-Davidson sales operations and moved to Rockford, starting Rockford Motorcycle Sales Company. The companies were separate, but remained under family control.

As the decades wore on, the name Kegel was synonymous with cycling in both Freeport and Rockford.

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