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100 Years of Harleys


Harley-Davidson Museu, courtesy Visit Milwaukee

Milwaukee’s William Harley and his childhood friend, Arthur Davidson, spent two years working on their first motor-powered bicycle before they completed it in 1903. Although their first motorcycle didn’t work as planned — it couldn’t make it up hills without the rider’s pedaling — it was the beginning of one of the world’s most iconic brands.

Harley-Davidson will mark its 110th anniversary this year with celebrations around the world, including one in the company’s hometown during Labor Day weekend.

That weekend could be a “challenging” time for groups to visit the Harley-Davidson Museum because it will be so busy, said Brook Smith, project manager of museum communications, but the museum customizes tours, packages and experiences for any group.

The museum, which opened in 2008, has the most extensive collection of original, straight-from-the-factory-floor Harley-Davidson motorcycles on display. The museum also has the oldest known Harley in existence, dubbed “Serial Number One.”

In the Clubs and Competition gallery, guests find a re-creation of a banked wooden board track that was a popular — and dangerous — form of motorcycle racing in the early 1920s. The Design Lab showcases the history of the company’s innovation, including a handwritten design notebook from the 1940s, and the Experience Gallery allows visitors to sit on Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

“You don’t have to own a motorcycle to enjoy what you see and hear,” Smith said. “I commonly hear visitors — both groups and individuals — after they go through the museum say, ‘Wow, that wasn’t what I expected.’ They expect it to just be a bunch of motorcycles, but really, it’s a walk through history.”