As Harley-Davidson approaches its 100th anniversary, the H-D Museum will also celebrate a milestone. After decades of planning the best way to engage enthusiasts in their love for Harley history, all necessary components came together to create the Harley-Davidson Museum now standing on Canal Street in Milwaukee. Over the years, smaller museum iterations were developed, including one at the York facility and a traveling museum in the back of semi-truck. Concepts were developed for other sites before the Menomonee Valley location was finally selected. Surrounded on three sides by water and set upon 20 acres of Milwaukee riverfront, the Museum is a collection of stories told by motorcycles and artifacts whose scope matches the history of the brand and the passion of its riders. Many institutions celebrate their opening with a ribbon-cutting – but the H-D Museum torched a chain!
In 1915, showing remarkable foresight and discipline, the company founders began saving one motorcycle from each model year. At the same time, would-be historical artifacts were also preserved, including photography, signage and trophies won in races. But until the Museum came together, these items lived in storage, hidden from view. For decades, the Harley-Davidson Archives were a mysterious, seldom-seen collection of motorcycles and artifacts that weren’t accessible to the public. Over the company’s storied history, the Archives grew to hundreds of thousands of artifacts, and it became increasingly imperative to find a find a way to share these treasures with the motorcycling world. In the summer of 2008, 2 ½ years after breaking ground, this dream became a reality.
The Museum itself tells stories through a variety of media – from excerpts of personal stories to photos, authentic Harley-Davidson marketing pieces, apparel and of course, motorcycles. Additionally, the Archives has taken up residence on the second and third floors of the annex building, complete with space to store the artifacts and motorcycles not on display. In each area, temperature, humidity and light levels can be controlled with great precision ensuring longevity for all of the Company’s rare and valuable objects. Included on the campus are The Shop, Café Racer and Motor restaurant, as well as large rooms which are frequently used for meetings, local events, and celebrations. Open for the last anniversary celebration, the Museum was host to three weddings and several proposals. It proved central to the four-day party as both a hangout and a historical marker of what 105 years of H-D motorcycles really mean, and is gearing up to be a hot destination during this fall’s 110th anniversary. With history no longer hidden away, the Harley-Davidson Museum is where passion comes alive.