Historical Markers
Holley Motor Company Historical Marker
Mouse over for marker text

Holley Motor Company

Allegheny National Forest Region


Marker Location:
57 Holley Ave., Bradford

Dedication Date:
September 13, 2008

Behind the Marker

During the summer of 1901, at the Pan American Exhibition in Buffalo, N.Y., twenty-three-year-old George Holley (1878-1963) could be found "tearing about the track" in an attempt to break the world speed records for five miles on his newly-invented single-stroke motorcycle. According to the August 22, 1901, McKean County Miner, Holley during one attempt "lost control of his whirling engine close at the finish and went bounding off the board platter. The only damage was a stir up of the officials. Holley never lost presence of mind nor attempted to dismount, but shut off the power and continued the trip over sod." Holley went on to break "all existing marks for five miles" that day, which had been set less than a month earlier on July 31, 1901, at the Charles River Park in Cambridge, Mass.

George M. Holley riding on his Motor Bicycle
George M. Holley and His Motor Bicycle, 1901.
Holley had come to the Exhibition from Bradford, Pa., an oil boomtown just south of the New York border in McKean County that had been incorporated in 1879. There his father, Frank P. Holley, ran the impressive Holley House hotel; a four-story fireproof brick building with seventy rooms. In the late 1800s, northwestern Pennsylvania was the world's greatest producer of oil and petroleum-based products. In Bradford, oil spurred a host of related industries, and the "boomtown" culture spawned a host of refiners, dealers, brokers, and others all seeking to "strike it rich" in the blossoming, new oil industry. In that fertile environment for entrepreneurial innovation, the seeds of the automobile industry soon took very deep root.

George and his brother Earl were natural-born mechanics and tinkerers. In 1896, George attached a motor to his bicycle and his one-stroke "motor cycle." What made it unique was that George made the motor an integral part of the bike frame, thus avoiding the problems other inventors had confronted when they simply bolted a motor to an ordinary bike frame. The Holley innovation solved a host of problems and created a more balanced, vibration-free, and durable machine, with far greater power than other competing contraptions.

Holley Carburetor, part of the Bovaird and Seyfang Building, 24-34 Davis St....
By 1897, George, now nineteen, and his sixteen-year-old brother Earl had designed and built a three-wheeled, single-cylinder automobile they named "the Runabout," which could reach speeds of thirty miles per hour. Two years later, the brothers formed the Holley Motor Company, with Earl in charge of administration and George in charge of engineering. At first the brothers produced motorcycle engines at a Davis Street location in Bradford, but soon were building complete motorcycles, in response to customer demand.

George was soon racing the motorcycles to promote the Holley Motor Company. At the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y., George broke all previous world speed records for motorcycles at the International Bicycle races. In July 1902, he won the first Motorcycle Endurance Contest from Boston to New York, a race that promoted the motorcycle to the general public.

In 1903, the Holley brothers secured American rights to a French-designed carburetor and re-entered the American automobile industry with production of the Holley Motorette, their first four-wheeled vehicle, 600 of which they produced in Bradford over the next three years. It was then that Henry Ford of Dearborn, Mich., asked them to produce a carburetor for his new Model T automobile. An instant success, the Holley carburetor soon became standard on all Ford automobiles. By the end of 1907, the Holley Brothers Company was focusing on the manufacture of carburetors and ignition systems for Ford, Buick, Winton, and Pierce-Arrow. That same year, the Holley brothers relocated their headquarters to Detroit, Mich., and there opened their first Holley plant in late 1907.

George Holley on his Motor Carriage, 1901
George Holley on his Motor Carriage, 1901.
In 1917, the Holley Brothers Company sold Ford its prosperous car-carburetor business and reformed around the tractor division. Soon they were selling their products to International Harvester and Chevrolet under the name of the Holley Carburetor Company. In 1927, Holley expanded into the aviation industry, and soon its carburetors could be found in the aircraft fleets of Pan American, American, Curtiss-Wright, and the United States armed forces. During the 1930s, Holley added fuel pumps and ignition devices to their manufactured line. During World War II, almost half the vehicles in the U.S. armed forces had a Holley carburetor and fuel-metering device.

In 1948, Holley entered the automotive aftermarket, supplying service stations and garages with Holley carburetor repair kits and parts, and adding new plants in Tennessee and Kentucky to keep up with demand. After moving its headquarters to Warren, Mich., in 1951, Holley built a new 250,000 square foot plant in Bowling Green, Ky. Product development continued through the next decades, and 1968 would see the merger of Holley with Colt Industries. The Holley aftermarket and original equipment business continued to grow, and in 1979, Holley created a replacement Parts division to meet an ever-expanding market.

In 1994, Holley original equipment division was sold to Borg-Warner, and Holley Replacement Parts relocated to the Bowling Green, Ky. In the 1990s, Holley expanded to include Hooker Headers, Flowtech Exhaust, Earl's Performance Plumbing, and NOS. However, even a strong, longtime NASCAR relationship was unable to protect Holley Performance Products from an overextended financial position. After filing for bankruptcy in February 2008, Holley downsized, but promised that employees would not be affected by the bankruptcy restructuring, and business would continue as normal.

Today, Holley carburetors are used by every NASCAR Sprint Cup team and every National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Pro-Stock champion. Holley Performance Products continue to make a variety of automotive components, including performance fuel pumps, intake manifolds, cylinder heads, fuel injection, and engine dress-up products for street performance, marine, and race applications.
Back to Top