ERNEST Cerini Harley-Davidson

Ernest Cerini Harley-Davidson storefront at 1507 Meldon Avenue in Donora. The riders on the front row are holding trophies. We assume this photo is from the 1930s.
THE FOUNDING OF HARLEY-DAVIDSON MOTORCYCLES In the early period of motorcycle history, many producers of bicycles adapted their designs to accommodate the new internal-combustion engine in the 1880s. As the engines became more powerful and designs outgrew the bicycle origins, the number of motorcycle producers increased. At the turn of the 20th century the first major mass-production firms emerged. Two that stood the test of time, including the Great Depression, were the Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company and Harley-Davidson, Inc.
In 1901, the Hendee Manufacturing Company or Indian Motocycle (not motoRcycle) Manufacturing Company, which had been founded by two former bicycle-racers: George M. Hendee and Oscar Hedstrom in Middletown, Connecticut, designed the diamond-framed Indian Single. Indian Motocycles would last until 1953 and then resurface again in 2010. Later in 1901, 20-year-old William S. Harley drew up plans for a small engine designed for use in a regular pedal-bicycle frame in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Over the next two years, he and his childhood friend Arthur Davidson worked on their motor-bicycle using the northside Milwaukee machine shop at the home of their friend Henry Melk. The engine was finished in 1903 with the help of Arthur's brother Walter Davidson and Harley-Davidson, Inc. was founded. Brother William Davidson also joined in the effort.
In January 1905, the company placed small advertisements in the Automobile and Cycle Trade Journal offering bare Harley-Davidson engines to the do-it-yourself trade. By April, they were producing complete motorcycles on a very limited basis.

In the photo to the right - L-R: William Davidson, Walter Davidson Sr., Arthur Davidson, William S. Harley
In 1906, Harley and the Davidson brothers built their first factory on Juneau Avenue in Milwaukee, at the current location of Harley-Davidson's corporate headquarters and produced about 50 motorcycles.
In 1907, William S. Harley graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison with a degree in mechanical engineering, Harley-Davidson expanded the factory increasing production to 150 motorcycles and the company was officially incorporated. In 1911, the company introduced an improved V-Twin model engine that gave their motorcycles better performance. Around 1913, experimentation and innovation were driven by the popular new sport of motorcycle racing, with its powerful incentive to produce tough, fast, reliable machines. Despite the competition from the Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company, Harley-Davidson was already pulling ahead and dominated motorcycle racing after 1914. In 1917, the United States entered World War I and the military demanded motorcycles for the war effort and purchased over 20,000 motorcycles from Harley-Davidson. Indian motorcycles were purchased as well. By 1920, Harley-Davidson was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world producing over 28,000 machines with dealers in 67 countries, and an Italian immigrant named Ernesto Cerini took notice as one of those dealerships would emerge in Donora…
ERNEST AND OLIVA CERINI Ernesto Cerini was born on July 13, 1893, in Arezzo, a small village in the province of Tuscany in Italy on his grandfather’s farm to a wine merchant father and a mother who died when he was young. An only child, he had no formal education. His father would one day remarry. As a youth, Ernesto became interested in mechanics and repairing bicycles, a popular mode of transportation in the Italian countryside and throughout Europe during that time.
In 1909 at the age of 16, Ernesto and his friends Gioviani Bennati (born in 1890 – 19 years old), Albert Lucchesi (born 1890? – 19 years old?) and Jasper Bonafed (born 1882 – 27 years old) immigrated to the United States and settled in Monessen, Pennsylvania. Bonafed quickly opened up his own bicycle shop in Monessen and Ernesto put the bicycle repair skills that he learned back in Arezzo to work for Bonafed at no pay. Bonafed would also start the Monessen Vulcanizing and Retreading Company in 1918.
To make money, Ernesto worked in the nearby Monessen Tin Plate Works (Tin Mill) that was started by William H. Donner who helped found Donora. While working in the Tin Mill, he brought tin to be sorted to a fellow Italian immigrant named Oliva Sylvesti (Sylvester) who worked as a tin sorter, a common job for a woman in that mill. A courtship developed and Ernesto and Oliva would marry.
Ernesto or Ernest as he would be known, would open his own bicycle shop in nearby Donora because there weren’t any like there were in Monessen and Charleroi. The shop was located in an old schoolhouse (possibly the Gilmore schoolhouse) on Meldon Avenue (possibly at 1380) in the north end of Donora.
When Ernest’s interest in motorcycles increased beyond his bicycle business, he took the next step in 1919 when Harley-Davidson opened a mechanics school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and he attended the second class of that year. In 1920, Ernest would acquire a Harley-Davidson dealership and try his hand at selling and repairing motorcycles, and Ernest Cerini Harley-Davidson was born. At the time, this would be the second family-owned Harley-Davidson Dealership in the United States, the first being the Dudley Perkins Company in San Francisco, California founded in 1914. Ernest moved his business to 1405 Meldon Avenue in 1921 and then moved again in 1925 when he built the present-day building at 1507 Meldon Avenue where the storefront still exists. The shop was just a couple blocks away from the Donora Zinc Works, a demanding environment to live and work.
In the photo below is the Ernest Cerini Harley-Davidson showroom and parts counter with Oliva Cerini c1935.
Oliva and Ernest would expand their family starting in 1920 when they would welcome their first child Jimmy. Two more children would follow with Madeline and then August in 1927. August was named after Oliva’s father Augsuto and was nicknamed “Babe” because he was the youngest. As Ernest’s appreciation for his new country continued to grow and him wanting to better master the language, he insisted that English was always spoken at home.
As the Cerini Family grew, so did their business. Ernest built his business by accumulating an inventory of spare parts and accessories that would save repair time by not having to wait for factory parts. He also sponsored and participated in group rides with other Harley-Davidson enthusiasts from around the area. His sponsored “hill climbs” came next in nearby Monongahela where specially designed motorcycles with extended frames and studded tires were ridden by local daredevils to test the Law of Gravity by attempting to ascend steep hillsides before their V-Twin engines stalled.
Ernest firmly believed that since his living was made in America, he would always buy American made products. He also went as far to never allow a foreign made motorcycle to be parked at his shop. It had to be parked across the street. No exceptions…
In the photo to the right is the Ernest Cerini Harley Davidson storefront on Meldon Avenue in Donora. Notice the visible gas pumps. We assume this photo is from the 1920s.
And since he made his living selling and servicing motorcycles, during his lifetime, he never owned an automobile. The whole family traveled by motorcycle in all kinds of weather with a sidecar, meaning that their open-air mode of transportation was normal for them and a sense of intrigue for the surrounding community. Ernest never had a motorcycle accident even though his ventures took him as far as Frederick, Maryland, Cumberland, Maryland, Columbus, Ohio, and West Virginia for half-mile races.
Since riding in the sidecar at an early age, August’s or Babe’s interest in Harleys was obvious and he started to “wrench” on bikes right beside his dad learning the business from the kickstand on up.

In the photo to the left, Oliva is on the motorcycle and Ernest is in the sidecar with one of the children c1920s.
In 1973, at the age of 80, Ernest Cerini died. He was as good an example of an immigrant coming to Donora and taking a chance on his God-given talents to make a living for him and his family. In 1976, Babe Cerini bought the business from his mother Oliva. Babe and his wife Marie were dedicated to upholding the legacy that Ernest and Oliva created by pleasing their customers. By 1960, Babe and Marie had four sons: Ernie, Roger, Eric and Mark. Babe and Marie incorporated the dealership under the name Ernest Cerini, Inc. in 1993. From his years of growing-up in the family business, Babe became recognized as an expert and historian by knowledgeable riders. At Harley-Davidson Inc., Babe was renowned for his superior technical knowledge and ability to foresee potential technical problems with their new technologies. “Working on a motorcycle can be as delicate as working on a well-made watch,” according to Babe. His sales pitch usually included that, “the difference between the operating expenses for a motorcycle and a car would give you a savings in one year to almost pay for your cycle.”
His loyalty to the Harley-Davidson brand and ability for repairing their motorcycles are legend in the Harley-Davidson community. Oh, and did Babe change his father's policy on foreign made motorcycles being parked at the shop? Um, no… Oliva died in 1989.
In the 1990s, the third generation of Cerini's were poised to assume the mantle of Ernest Cerini Harley-Davidson when Ernie, Eric and Mark helped run the shop in Donora. They built a new and modern store in nearby Rostraver Township when Harley-Davidson motorcycle ownership gained in popularity and Harley-Davidson headquarters put restrictions on the shop in Donora. August “Babe” Cerini died in 2000. In 2002, Ernie and Eric acquired a dealership in Uniontown and called it Cerini's National Road. After 89 years in business, the once oldest family-owned Harley-Davidson dealership east of the Mississippi River closed in 2009. The Ernest Cerini Harley-Davidson building built in 1925 at 1507 Meldon Avenue still exists and is still in the Cerini family and owned by another grandson of Ernest and Oliva. The outside of the building still has the familiar Harley-Davidson signage with a bench in front that reads, "84 Years of Friendly Service." The inside of the shop has numerous historical photos, original fixtures, cabinets, glass display cases, shelving, emblems, and parts bins. The showroom floor is original wood, oil soaked and worn from years of foot traffic and motorcycles. Unfortunately, the shop is no longer open for visitors. See the photo to the right.
Cerini's doesn't have these motorcycles, but the Bank Brothers (Tom and George) do and brought them to Donora from North Versailles, Pennsylvania in July 2021 for a vintage photo shoot to promote their 2021 Cannonball Endurance Run in September 2021 that went from Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan to South Padre Island, Texas.
The motorcycles in the photo below date to 1912 and 1914. The middle motorcycle is from 1912 and is all original except for the tires and belts.
To access the Bank Brothers Motorcycles' website to learn about past photo shoots in Donora, click:
Cerini's Harley-Davidson Photo Shoot - The Ernest Cerini Harley-Davidson storefront was used in 2018 for a photo shoot by Banks Brothers Motorcycles to promote their 2018 Cannonball Endurance Run that went from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon.
Click below to see the video of the making of the Banks Brothers Motorcycles 2018 photo shoot at the Ernest Cerini Harley-Davidson storefront.
Motorcycle Cannonball - This is the official site of the Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Runs. The Motorcycle Cannonball will return in September of 2023 and will be traveling Coast-to-Coast, from the Atlantic Ocean to Pacific Ocean; starting on the beach in Virginia Beach, Virginia, approximately one hundred riders will make their way over sixteen days to the Grand Finale destination of Huntington Beach, California.
Cerini's Harley-Davidson - Travel with a Beveridge - Remembering the first couple of Harley-Davidson - Travel with a Beveridge by Webster resident and writer Scott Beveridge.
Cerini's Harley-Davidson - A Piece of Hog History - Donora Harley-Davidson Dealership: A Piece of Hog History Life and Times 2.
A Eulogy... Ernest Cerini - Harley-Davidson Forums - Ernest Cerini - A legend born to bike.
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