When it comes to motorcycles, my experience is admittedly limited. I’ve only ridden as a passenger a handful of times, and when I did, I clung to the seat for dear life. So when I discovered we’d have the opportunity to tour the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I didn’t quite know what to expect.
I think it’s safe to say that I was blown away. I’ve been to a lot of museums, but Harley-Davidson’s is a truly beautiful collection of the company’s history and expansive memorabilia. With an impressive collection of vintage motorcycles and documentation of the company’s legacy, this museum has something for everyone.
Starting with the company’s inception and moving through its current dedicated following of riders, the museum’s collection impressive. One of my favorite parts was the beautiful wall highlighting the company’s most iconic motorcycle tanks designed since 1903. The museum is also surprisingly interactive. Visitors are invited to design their own custom bike, or pose for a photo on one of 10 stationary bikes.
The History of the Harley-Davidson “Hog”
Upon entering the museum visitors will learn about the founders of Harley-Davidson and see the pristine prototype of the first bike they built together. Visitors can even get an idea of where the motorcycle moguls came from by visiting a replica of the family shed that served as their first Milwaukee “office” on the museum’s campus. By 1906, the group had built its first factory, which has since become the site of the Harley-Davidson corporate headquarters. That first year they produced 50 motorcycles.
Suffice it to say, Harley-Davidson’s long history is impressive. But of all the museum’s treasures, the thing that surprised me most was the scope of uses for their motorcycles. From delivery vehicles to military transportation in World War I, these motorcycles have a storied history that extends far beyond racing and recreation.
Before visiting the museum I’d often heard Harley-Davidson motorcycles called “hogs,” but I never knew why. In the 1920s, fans called the group of farm boys who raced for Harley-Davidson the “hog boys.” The team even had a pig who rode on the back of their bikes during their victory lap. Through the years the name stuck.
As of 1983, “H.O.G” also stands for the Harley Owner’s Group. The group now has more than 1,400 chapters worldwide, making it the world’s largest motorcycle club. However, because it has become such a common nickname for large motorcycles, courts ruled that Harley-Davidson couldn’t trademark the term.
If you visit the Harley-Davidson Museum
Even if you’re not a motorcycle enthusiast, the Harley-Davidson Museum is a unique and engaging experience. Both the museum’s permanent and temporary exhibitions combine beautiful visuals with interesting information about Harley’s more-than-100-year history. The museum also offers a variety of tours including audio, highlights, and behind-the-scenes tours.
Admission: $20 Adults / $14 Seniors and Students / $10 Children (ages 5 – 17)
Harley-Davidson Museum, 400 W. Canal Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin