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Harley-Davidson Museum

Coordinates: 43°01′52″N 87°54′58″W / 43.031°N 87.916°W / 43.031; -87.916
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Harley-Davidson Museum
EstablishedJuly 12, 2008; 16 years ago (2008-07-12)
LocationMilwaukee, Wisconsin
Coordinates43°01′52″N 87°54′58″W / 43.031°N 87.916°W / 43.031; -87.916
TypeTransport museum
Collection sizeHarley-Davidson motorcycle and artifacts
Public transit accessBus transport MCTS
WebsiteOfficial website Edit this at Wikidata

The Harley-Davidson Museum is an American museum located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin celebrating the more than 100-year history of Harley-Davidson motorcycles.[1] The 12,000-square-meter (130,000 sq ft) three-building complex on 81,000 square meters (20 acres) along the Menomonee River bank contains more than 450 Harley-Davidson motorcycles and hundreds of thousands of artifacts from the Harley-Davidson Motor Company's 120-year history.[1]


Harley Davidson Museum west facing photo. Foreground 2019 Mako Shark Road Glide CVO and 2019 Charred Steel & Lightning Silver Street Glide CVO

The museum opened to the public on July 12, 2008, on a 8.1-hectare (20-acre) site in the Menomonee Valley.[1] The museum was built in a historically industrial area of Milwaukee. Prior to Harley-Davidson's purchase of the land from the city, the site was formerly used by the Milwaukee Department of Public Works, Lakeshore Sand Company, and Morton Salt.[2] A 1.2-meter (4 ft) layer of imported soil was added to combat the contaminated soil. New vegetation was planted to restore the landscape to its riparian state.[3]

In late February 2006, designs for the museum were unveiled.[4] The designs were created by James Biber, a partner at Pentagram, his team, and Michael Zweck-Bonner, an associate at Pentagram.[5] Abbott Miller, a partner at Pentagram, designed the museum's permanent exhibitions. The firm designed the museum over a period of eight years.[6]

On June 1, 2006, Harley-Davidson began the construction of the US$75 million (equivalent to US$113,000,000 in 2023) complex with a groundbreaking ceremony that included legendary Harley-Davidson dirt track motorcycle racer, Scott Parker, breaking ground by doing a burnout with a Harley-Davidson XL883R Sportster, instead of with the traditional golden shovel.[7] The site includes parking spaces for 1,000 motorcycles and 500 cars. The museum's façade also features a 5.2-meter (17 ft)-tall, steel Harley-Davidson sign.[8]


Motorcycle procession display
Wooden board track section
Captain America replica bike from Easy Rider
Gas tank gallery

The museum's galleries permanent exhibitions, spread throughout two floors, in addition to temporary exhibits and the motor company's archives. The complex also includes a restaurant, café, retail shop, and special event spaces.[4]

Also on display are historic Harley-Davidson items that tell the company's story and history, such as photographs, posters, advertisements, clothes, trophies, video footage of vintage and contemporary motorcycling, and interactive exhibits, including 10 motorcycles that visitors can sit on.[9]

The Motorcycle Gallery[edit]

On the museum's upper level, a procession of motorcycles is displayed down the center of the main hall, running the length of the building, with galleries on either side.[4]

The Harley-Davidson Journey[edit]

Along the east side of the upstairs galleries, a series of interconnected galleries exhibit the Harley-Davidson's chronological history.[1] The galleries relate the company's history from its origins in a 3.0-by-4.6-meter (10 ft × 15 ft) wooden shack to its current status as the top U.S. motorcycle manufacturer, producing more than 330,000 bikes each year.[6] The centerpiece of the gallery is "Serial Number One", the oldest known Harley-Davidson in existence, which is encased in glass. The glass enclosure sits within a floor-embedded, illuminated outline of the backyard shed the motor company was founded in.[4]

The Engine Room[edit]

The museum's second floor galleries begin with the Engine Room. A Knucklehead engine is displayed disassembled into several pieces. The Engine Room also features several interactive touch screen elements that show how Harley motors, including Panhead and Shovelhead motors work.[10]

Clubs and Competition[edit]

The Clubs and Competition gallery includes displays and information about Harley-Davidson's racing history. The gallery includes a section of a replica wooden board track, suspended in the air at a 45-degree incline. The wooden track features vintage video footage of actual board track races, and attached 1920s-era Harley-Davidson racing motorcycles; the bikes that raced on board tracks at 160 kilometers per hour (100 mph). Fatalities were common, which led to the banning of wooden board tracks for motorcycle racing.[6]

Tank Gallery[edit]

The museum's upper floor exhibits also include the Gas Tank Gallery, formerly part of the Harley-Davidson 100th Anniversary Open Road Tour. The exhibit displays 100 of Harley-Davidson's most memorable tank graphics, spanning 70 years, selected by the company's styling department and reproduced on "Fat Bob" tanks.[4]

Custom Culture[edit]

The Custom Culture gallery covers Harley-Davidson's impact on American and global culture. The centerpiece of the Custom Culture Gallery is "King Kong", a 4.0-meter (13 ft)-long, two-engine Harley-Davidson motorcycle customized by Felix Predko. The exhibit also features exact replicas of the customized Harley-Davidson bikes ridden by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in the 1969 American movie, "Easy Rider", including Fonda's "Captain America" chopper and Hopper's "Billy Bike". Two of each of the two choppers were created, and one "Captain America" was destroyed in the film's production.[11]

Corporate Archives & Collections[edit]

Motorcycle archives at Harley-Davidson museum

The Harley-Davidson Motor Company's corporate archives are also housed on the museum's grounds. The archives supplied more than 85% of the items on display in the museum.[10] Since 1915, the company's founders decided to pull one bike from the production line to be preserved in an archive.[6] One motorcycle on display was recovered on a beach in British Columbia after being swept out to sea more than 6,400 kilometers (4,000 mi) away in a tsunami that hit Japan in 2011.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Experience Our History". Harley-Davidson. Archived from the original on 2022-05-24. Retrieved 2022-05-24.
  2. ^ Kaczkowski, Manya. "High on the hog". Midwest Airlines. Archived from the original on 2008-08-19. Retrieved 2022-05-24.
  3. ^ Mola, Francesc Zamora (2012). The Sourcebook of Contemporary Urban design (1st ed.). New York City: Harper Design. pp. 459–464. ISBN 978-0-06-211358-0. OCLC 875769330. OL 26111077M.
  4. ^ a b c d e "The Harley-Davidson Museum". Pentagram. Archived from the original on 2022-05-24. Retrieved 2022-05-24.
  5. ^ Patton, Phil (2008-07-31). "Disciples of Harley-Davidson Get Their Church". The New York Times. ISSN 1553-8095. Archived from the original on 2013-01-30. Retrieved 2022-05-24.
  6. ^ a b c d Landi, Ann (2008-09-10). "Head Out on the Highway To the Harley Museum". The Wall Street Journal. Milwaukee. ISSN 1042-9840. Archived from the original on 2021-05-15. Retrieved 2022-05-24.
  7. ^ "A Museum Goes HOG Wild". Growing Bolder. 2008-07-11. Archived from the original on 2009-06-29. Retrieved 2022-05-24.
  8. ^ Springen, Karen (2008-07-10). "Harley-Davidson Museum Opens to Motorcycle Fans". Newsweek. ISSN 0028-9604. Archived from the original on 2022-05-24. Retrieved 2022-05-24.
  9. ^ "Celebrity bikes to go on display at new Harley-Davidson Museum". USA Today. Milwaukee. Associated Press. 2008-06-18. ISSN 0734-7456. Archived from the original on 2008-11-04. Retrieved 2022-05-24.
  10. ^ a b Carpenter, Susan (2008-07-06). "The new Harley-Davidson Museum is hog heaven". Los Angeles Times. Milwaukee. ISSN 2165-1736. Archived from the original on 2022-05-24. Retrieved 2022-05-24.
  11. ^ Wasef, Basem; Leno, Jay (2007-10-15). Legendary Motorcycles. MotorBooks International. pp. 47–52. ISBN 978-0-7603-3070-8. LCCN 2007009290. OL 10900778M. Retrieved 2011-08-29.
  12. ^ Billock, Jennifer (2016-09-12). "The Motorcycle That Rode the Tsunami". Smithsonian. ISSN 0037-7333. Archived from the original on 2022-04-03. Retrieved 2022-05-24.

External links[edit]

Harley-Davidson Museum panorama, view from parking lot