Respecting an Iconic American Brand
As an unapologetic Harley-Davidson owner and brand “Fan Boy” I was, dare I say, exuberant when the opportunity to tour the Harley-Davidson Museum recently presented itself. When I decided it was time to get back on a street bike there was no question it would be a model from the Milwaukee based icon. Since purchasing my first Harley in 2017 I’ve found myself enamored with the lore of the brand and its roots in American manufacturing and motorcycle history. Yes, the company has expanded globally in both manufacturing and distribution, but the impact that the Harley-Davidson Motor Company had in the U.S. during their early years is undeniable. I was excited to take this two-wheeled trip through time and the museum did not disappoint.
For a 118 year old company (as of this writing), the Harley-Davidson Museum exterior is surprisingly modern, with a four-sided logo suspended from an industrial superstructure 4 stories above the complex. Upon closer inspection you are quickly reminded of the roots and age of the brand via the boldly emblazoned date “1903”, the rusty old water tower behind the Demo Ride center, and the replica 10 x 15 ft. shed where William and Arthur built their first machine at the intersection of the main entrance. The complex is a warm yet vibrant mix of history with an eye towards the future, yet still displaying all things classic Harley-Davidson.
Upon arrival and check-in at the ticket desk, Harley owners that are H.O.G. members are greeted with free entrance to the museum and a commemorative HOG Museum Pin as a reward for making the trip. Nice touch Harley! As you would expect, the museum offers an audio guided tour of the exhibits, which I declined – I like to “Museum” at my own pace and wanted to grab as many photos as possible. They do encourage taking as many images as you want which is why this article is actually more of a photo essay to walk you through the timeline and exhibits.
Suffice it to say the curators have done an incredible job of gathering excellent examples of the motorcycles, trikes and assorted products built by Harley during the various “seasons” of the company. There are pristine examples of some of the first bikes ever built all the way through the World War era machines provided to our troops in the 30’s and 40’s. They tastefully offer the impact Harley-Davidson had on Hollywood, and display an exhibit from the AMF ownership era which included a foray into golf carts, boats and other recreational vehicles.
I found the “tank wall” both interesting and beautiful with its brightly painted bike tanks from several models geometrically displayed across one long wall at the rear of one of the levels. Harley’s racing heritage was also well represented with an amazing display of early racers on wooden tracks and an amazing hill climbing bike exhibit. Of course no Harley exhibit would be complete without the requisite Evel Knievel display and they didn’t disappoint in this area either.
I could go on and on about the exhibits but instead choose to let you peruse the images accompanying this commentary. In all honesty, I would strongly suggest any motorcycle enthusiast, regardless of the brand you ride, should visit the Harley-Davidson Museum, just to take in the sheer volume of work and contributions to motorcycle design and manufacturing this company has delivered during its rich history. Make sure to arrive early and make time for the additional traveling exhibits, lunch at the Moto-Bar and a little time shopping in the museum gift shop for all things Harley-Davidson. Like me, I believe you will leave the facility with a new respect for what Harley-Davidson has done for the American (and global) motorcycle enthusiast.
For more info on the museum, click here: Harley-Davidson Museum