Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin: A Unique Look at a Legendary Company

Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin: A Unique Look at a Legendary Company

We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. This helps support what we do and in no way costs you a thing.

The Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is a unique look at a legendary company. Harley Davidson has always been more than just a motorcycle manufacturer – they have built a culture around their brand that is both fascinating and unique.

Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin: A Unique Look at a Legendary Company

From the beginning, they have had the foresight to plan for future generations, and their museum is a testament to that. It showcases everything from their early history all the way up to the present day. If you’re interested in learning more about Harley Davidson, or if you’re a fan of motorcycles, then this museum is definitely worth checking out!

We were treated to a private tour when the museum wasn’t even open yet by them as we were working on our new Wisconsin travel book: 100 Things to do in Wisconsin Before You Die (publishing in the spring of 2023) and were simply blown away by the font of knowledge that Bill Rodencal shared with us and Tim McCormick’s excitement as we went through room after room.

It is a Family Business

We learned that to this day, the family is very involved. They are there almost every day and the family, as a whole, are hard-core enthusiasts. Harley Davidson is much more than just a business to them, it is a lifestyle.

Harley is a family business

The Harley Culture

One of the coolest things about Harley Davidson is its culture. It’s something that you can feel as soon as you walk into one of their dealerships or museum. They have created an experience for their customers that is unmatched anywhere else in the motorcycle industry.

The Milwaukee Factor

Harley Davidson chose to build their factory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin because of the high German population and the many craftsmen that were available there. It also happened to be a lake port with a good rail system, which made it easy to ship its products around the country. Chicago was also close by, so they had a large market to sell to.

They weren’t alone.

Keep in mind that when Harley was establishing itself in 1906 that 11 other companies were building motorcycles in town also. Harley Davidson was not the only game in town, but they wanted to make sure that they were the best.

Field of Flowers North Farm
Click on the picture to check it out

How did they sell their bikes?

Harley Davidson has always been a brand that is focused on the customer experience. They have never been content to just sell motorcycles – they want to create a lifestyle for their customers that is unmatched anywhere else. This culture starts with their dealerships, and that was their plan to make sure they could do what they did best: build bikes.

The Dealer Network would sell the bikes and be their company face for the brand. That is why Harley-Davidson made sure to support those dealers with more than just the product to sell.

How did they support their dealers?

To create consistent messaging across all retail outlets, Harley-Davidson made sure to supply them with pretty much anything they could need – from stationary with branded logos to display signs, they were covered.

Just look at their collection of bikes through the years
They saved a motorcycle off the assembly line over the years for their collection

They made the dealerships the go-to place for service, besides just sales. It was one-stop community support for that brand.

World War 1 gave them the idea to make sure their messages were in more than one language as they soon became a European favorite. All that dealer literature was translated into twelve different languages – at a time when other brands had no vision of a global presence. That is why in 1920 they were in over 60 different countries.

I think it was a brilliant move at a time when most people hadn’t seen the future of a global economy.

They Survived the Great Depression

We all know how a global pandemic forced a ton of businesses to pivot or go under. We saw it everywhere from restaurants to the entertainment and hospitality industries.

Harley Davidson was one of those companies that not only survived the Great Depression but thrived. They still worked on their motorcycles and upgrades/improvements but also built things like lawnmower engines, paint sprayers, etc.

They would be one of only two American motorcycle companies to survive and move forward, Indian being the other.

Bring on World War 2

If you are a Chris Evans fan like I am, you would recognize his Captain America motorcycle mount as a Harley. The company manufactures a lot of bikes for our troops, in fact, over 90,000 of their military-specific version were cranked out.

Harley Davidson WWII Captain America Bike
Yes, this bike touched Chris Evans’ hiney!

How did they create and build their customer experience?

One of the things that makes Harley Davidson so unique is its focus on customer experience. They have always been willing to go the extra mile to make sure their customers are happy, and it’s paid off in a big way.

They did so many different things here – you really need to see the museum yourself to get the full scope of their brilliance on this.

Just a few highlights:

  • They created the Harley-Davidson Magazine and had it translated into 16 different languages, which became the longest-running motorcycle magazine of all time.
  • They offer parts for their line of bikes going back to 1909 – Harley Davidson has always been a company that is focused on customer service and longevity. Even Tupperware can’t beat that kind of parts availability.
  • They offered customers the ability to customize their motorcycles.
  • They crossed all demographic lines from the beginning. They didn’t target just the white male but women, people of color, and more.
  • People were encouraged to create motorcycle clubs out of their local dealership and those too had universal offerings from jackets to custom patches. Harley Davidson has always been a company that wants to create a community and family for its customers.
  • There is so-so-so much more!!
How did Harley Davidson port their dealers?
Custom jackets, patches, and more to help your club stand out

The Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin itself

100 years after they started their manufacturing, the incredible collection of items that they had stored was to have a home: The Harley Davidson Museum was started.

It is more than just a museum – it’s an experience that you need to go through to understand why this brand is so iconic. They not only have some of the oldest motorcycles on display, but they also showcase how the company has evolved over the years.

You can see everything from their first advertising campaigns to how they developed Harley-Davidson dealerships around the world. It was interesting for me to see all of the different things that they have done over the years to create that customer experience and community.

The motorcycle they got from the Japanese disater
We loved how this was respectfully displayed and how the Japanese Tsunami was documented

It’s not just a museum for Harley Davidson fans – it’s a museum for anyone who is interested in the history of American business.

It was funny to hear that about 80% of the visitors are NOT motorcycle owners.

The Harley Davidson Museum is the perfect place to see all of these things and more. It showcases its history, its brand values, and how it managed to become one of the most iconic motorcycle companies in the world.

If you are ever in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I highly recommend that you go and check out the Harley Davidson Museum. I was there less than 2 hours and know that I need to go back – heck, Jason Mamoa has been there at least 4 times already – maybe I will get lucky and see him the next time I go!

Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin: A Unique Look at a Legendary Company
Such an incredible collection of history, ephemera, and whimsy

Pro Tip: The Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin isn’t just handicapped accessible, it is handicapped experienceable. The aisles are wide enough for any wheelchair to easily navigate without being crowded, the display cases are low enough for the contents to easily be visible as they are a little lower than wheelchair height, touch screens for video and audio have Braille, and there are elevators.

Pro Tip: If you like collecting those pressed pennies – make sure you have your $0.51 handy – there is a machine right by the bathrooms in the main entryway.

Pressed pennies are a great souvenir – they take up very little space!

Plan Your Visit to th Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin:

Check out their website for special events and work it into your visit as they are open daily from 10 AM – 5 PM at 400 West Canal Street, Milwaukee, WI 53203. 1-877-436-8738. Plan to make a day of it with a meal from their MOTOR BAR & RESTAURANT!


Places To Stay Nearby

Other things to do when you are in Milwaukee