Not long after the turn of
the 20th Century, William S. Harley, barely beyond
his teenage years, began working to design and build
an engine that would turn a bicycle into a motorized
cycle. In 1903, Harley recruited a friend from his
high school days to help him with the project.
The friend, Arthur Davidson, was working as a patternmaker
at a boat engine company started by Ole Evenrudstuen,
at least that was his family's name back in his native
Norway. In the United States, the family and Ole's
business would become known by a shortened version
of the name - Evinrude.
The Davidson family lived in a Milwaukee home at
38th Street and what is now Highland Boulevard. Behind
the home was a 10x15-foot wooden shed. "Harley-Davidson
Motor Company" said the sign William Hartley
and Arthur Davidson put on the shed where they first
put Harley's engine on a bicycle frame.
And the rest, as they say, is history, a wonderfully
American story of friends and family -- Davidson's
brothers Walter and William soon joined the effort;
both had been working for railroads, one as a machinist,
the other as a shop foreman. Together, Harley and
the Davidsons would build a business that would experience
all of the classic American business ups and downs,
struggles and successes.
The story of Harley-Davidson, which would become
globally known for its truly American-style motorcycles,
and for an international motorcycle culture those
motorcycles would ignite, is wonderfully displayed
in the Harley-Davidson Museum complex that opened
in the summer of 2008 on the banks of the Menomonee
River and Canal just southwest of downtown Milwaukee.
The museum incorporates three buildings designed
in homage to the area's factory and foundry heritage
as part of the old industrial hub of Milwaukee. The
site formerly was occupied by the Lakeshore Salt
and Sand company and later by the Milwaukee Department
of Public Works.
The three-building architecture was designed to
create a main street/crossroads setting with wide
boulevards to park and display motorcycles, just
like the annual bike weeks at Daytona Beach, Fla.,
and Sturgis, South Dakota.
The museum is located in the central of three new
buildings. To the west are the Harley-Davidson Archives.
As far back as 1915, the company began preserving
at least one bike from each model year. Now that
collection includes more than 450 Harley-Davidson
motorcycles, most of which have been disassembled,
thoroughly cleaned and then reassembled, as well
as millions of documents and other artifacts.
To the south of the museum is a building that houses
a gift shop, a restaurant and a café. But
the centerpiece of the project is the museum.
The museum incorporates 130,000 square feet of display
space. You enter on the first floor, but you start
your tour on the second floor, where the central
hallway displays Harley-Davidson motorcycles through
the 1940s. On one side of that hallway are rooms
that showcase the company's history, from the first
motorcycle through World War II.
"Serial Number One." Below left: Arthur
Davidson rode a 1097 Model 3 from Milwaukee to New
England to recruit dealers. Below right and bottom:
Harley-Davidson produced bicycles as well as motorcycles,
and in 1920 designed its first motorcycle for the
woman rider -- the Sport Model Opposed Twin.
On the other side of the hallway are two rooms:
one, a huge cube, displays Harley-Davidson engines
and technology (including several hands-on displays);
the other, an egg or oval racetrack-shaped room,
provides an in-depth look at bike racing and at Harley-Davidson
Between the Engine Room and the "Clubs and
Competition" displays, and from the (fuel) "Tank
Wall" display beyond the racing room, the central
and end hallways overlook the museum's first floor,
where motorcycles from the 1940s through current
models are on display along one wall.
Beneath the upstairs hallway and racing room are
more Harley historical displays, including special
tributes to customized bikes and to motorcycle culture.
There's also a ramp from which a replica of Evil
Knievel's Wembley jump bike appears to be sailing
through the air.
left: Harley-Davidson produced the Package Delivery
from 1915-1957. Above right: Launched in 1932, the
Servi-Car utility vehicle became a mainstay for police
departments. Below left: A 1918 Model J with Rogers
sidecar. Below right: Like so many companies, Harley
tooled up special vehicles for the U.S. military
for World War II.
Beneath the engine room is The Design Lab, displays
about Harley-Davidson engineering and design, complete
with original design drawings and clay models and
Just before the exit is The Experience Gallery,
a room that resembles a drive-in theater, except
that instead of parked cars there are motorcycles
to try as you watch the scenery pass on the screen.
Admission is $16 for adults, $12 for seniors (65-and-older),
and $10 for children (ages 5-17).
If you can't get to Milwaukee for a while, you still
can get a good look at many of the motorcycles by
buying a copy of The
Harley-Davidson Motor Co. Archive Collection,
a wonderful coffee table book by Randy Leffingwell
and Darwin Holmstrom.
Even if you've never ridden a Harley or any other
motorcycle, even if you're among those who cringe
the low but loud rumble of a Harley engine, the new
Harley-Davidson Museum is well worth the admission
left: The heyday of board-track racing remembered.
Above right: The EL Factory Streamliner set a land
speed record for two-wheelers in 1937. Below left:
The Eight-Valve Racer exceeded 100 mph in 1923. Below
right: Display shows "protective" gear
worn by pioneering Harley racers.
Elvis' own 1956 KH Side-Valve V-Twin, purchased by
the 21-year-old singer on the $50-a-month plan.