I’ll be honest. Motorcycles aren’t exactly my thing.
There’s no doubt that they have appeal: The idea of speeding down an open stretch of road, wind in your face, powerful machine at your control is pretty sexy. But that’s also what has kept me away – the ever-present risks and potential consequences of riding.
I’ve never had a desire to ride. But I understand and appreciate why people do, and how the motorcycle’s influence has become ingrained in American culture and identity.
Tell me: When you think of motorcycles, what comes to mind?
For me, it’s hogs. The all-American Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Harley-Davidson is indisputably the best known brand of motorcycles in the United States. Harleys are known globally for their quality, their attitude, and their passionate customer base. As far as brands go, they have a lock on loyalty and brand ambassadorship.
A comparable manufacturer with such a knowledgeable and die-hard fan base doesn’t exist in the automotive world – only specific models like the Chevy Corvette and Ford Mustang (in the U.S. at least) can claim such status.
In my professional circles, Harley-Davidson is revered for its commitment to preserving its corporate history. When you think of companies that effectively leverage their history to build their reputation, sell products, and preserve a loyal brand following, names like Coca-Cola, John Deere, Mercedes-Benz, and Harley-Davidson consistently rise to the top. So for me, going to the Harley-Davidson Museum was a bit of a professional pilgrimage.
The Harley-Davidson Museum
The Harley-Davidson Museum is one of America’s best brand vaults. The museum’s substance goes far beyond the vintage motorcycle displays to teach visitors about how the company and its products have been witness to and influenced American history and culture.
I found the museum’s layout to be easy to follow, with easily-digestible content and stories organized into themed galleries. Harley-Davidson knows the appeal of its artifacts, so visitors will find motorcycles and other eye candy placed front and center. The interactive elements, including an engine demonstration and Experience Gallery with bikes you can actually sit on, provide a nice break from reading.
And the museum isn’t all about the bikes. I was particularly interested to learn about Harley-Davidson’s involvement in the first and second World Wars and how its toughness made it appealing to police forces. The wall of advertising and signage on the lower level shows the company’s vibrant aesthetic during the mid-1900s (with bikes to match), which contrasts with the deeper-hued bikes and graphics that are in style today.
I wasn’t surprised that I enjoyed the museum as much as I did, even though I have very little interest in motorcycles. It didn’t take too long to get through, I learned a lot, and I left with a new appreciation for the history of Harley-Davidson as a manufacturing pioneer and cultural icon.
The eye candy alone makes it worth a visit. Check out the gallery below to see what I mean.
If You Go
- Location: 400 W Canal Street, Milwaukee, WI 53201
- May-September – Daily: 9am-6pm (Thursday, 9am-8pm)
- October-April – Daily: 10am-6pm (Thursday, 10am-8pm)
- You’ll want to set aside at least two hours to go through the museum at a leisurely pace. It isn’t huge, so you shouldn’t leave feeling exhausted like at other museums.
- Adults: $20
- Children: $10
- Children under 5 are free
- Additional discounts for H.O.G. members, military, students, and seniors.
- The museum offers many different guided and themed tours. Visit the website for additional information.
- The Motor Bar and Restaurant on site offers American fare to visitors. Official merchandise inspired by the brand’s history is available at the museum shop.