This museum offers exhibits that share the history of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company and the growth and evolution of motorcycle culture in America and around the world. While the museum opened in 2008, the company dates back to 1903 when William Harley and Arthur Davidson began building and selling motorcycles out of a shed and small machine shop in Milwaukee. One of only two American motorcycle companies to survive the Great Depression, the company grew in the second half of the 20th century and became one of the most iconic American businesses by popularizing motorcycles and motorcycle culture around the globe. The museum includes hundreds of historic motorcycles and thousands of artifacts related to the history of the company and the culture of motorcycle life that is deeply connected to Harley-Davidson. The museum is divided into several thematic exhibits that include engines, gas tanks, and items related to motorcycles and popular culture.
Backstory and Context
Childhood friends William Harley and Arthur Davidson founded the company in Milwaukee in 1903. They began building engines out of available parts within a small wooden shack. Within a few years, they were able to open a small factory and quickly grew their company and developed the company's iconic V-shaped engine. The company soon sold their products to the American military, which bought tens of thousands of bikes during World War I. While the nation was home to dozens of motorcycle companies in the early 20th century, Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle were the only two American motorcycle manufacturers to survive the Great Depression. As a result, the U.S. military again placed large orders with Harley-Davidson during World War II.
Harley-Davidson experienced changes in ownership in the 1960s, and the company went public in 1965. A decline in finances saw AMF sell its stake back to the current owners, which included members of the founding families. The Davidson family’s involvement in the day-to-day running of the company continues, with Willie G. Davidson serving as President of Styling.
"Harley-Davidson Motorcycle History." MotoUSA. February 24, 2008. http://www.motorcycle-usa.com/684/2625/Motorcycle-Article/Harley-Davidson-Motorcycle-History.aspx.