Harley-Davidson Museum

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Harley-Davidson Museum


Harley-Davidson Museum

The Harley-Davidson Museum opened to the public on July 12, 2008. Located east of the intersection of Sixth and Canal Streets near downtown, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. the 130,000-square-foot (12,000 m2), three building project contains a large collection of motorcycles and other Harley-Davidson memorabilia.


Besides motorcycles, the museum includes the company's corporate archives, a restaurant, café, retail shop, and meeting space. Harley-Davidson Inc. paid an estimated $75 million for the museum's construction.


William S. Harley

Harley-Davidson Motor Company (NYSE: HOG, formerly HDI) (often abbreviated H-D or Harley) is an American motorcycle manufacturer. Founded in Milwaukee, Wisconsin during the first decade of the 20th century, it was one of two major American manufacturers to survive the Great Depression. Harley-Davidson also survived a media-accelerated negative image of motorcyclists, a period of poor quality control, and competition with Japanese manufacturers.


Arthur Davidson

The company sells heavyweight (over 750 cc) motorcycles designed for cruising on the highway. Harley-Davidson motorcycles (popularly known as "Harleys") have a distinctive design and exhaust note. They are especially noted for the tradition of heavy customization that gave rise to the chopper-style of motorcycle. Except for the modern VRSC model family, current Harley-Davidson motorcycles reflect the styles of classic Harley designs. Harley-Davidson's attempts to establish itself in the light motorcycle market have met with limited success and have largely been abandoned since the 1978 sale of its Italian Aermacchi subsidiary.


Harley-Davidson sustains a loyal brand community which keeps active through clubs, events, and a museum. Licensing of the Harley-Davidson logo accounts for almost 5% of the company's net revenue.


In addition to manufacturing motorcycles under its own name and its licensing and accessories line, Harley-Davidson's operations include Custom Vehicle Operations, which makes special editions of Harley models with larger engines, the Buell Motorcycle Company, a manufacturer of Harley-engined sportbikes and a middleweight "beginner" bike, and Italian motorcycle manufacturer MV Agusta, including their Cagiva subsidiary.


In 1901, William S. Harley, age 21, drew up plans for a small engine with a displacement of 7.07 cubic inches (116 cc) and four-inch (102 mm) flywheels. The engine was designed for use in a regular pedal-bicycle frame.


Over the next two years Harley and his childhood friend Arthur Davidson labored on their motor-bicycle using the northside Milwaukee machine shop at the home of their friend, Henry Melk. It was finished in 1903 with the help of Arthur's brother, Walter Davidson. Upon completion the boys found their power-cycle unable to conquer Milwaukee's modest hills without pedal assistance. Will Harley and the Davidsons quickly wrote off their first motor-bicycle as a valuable learning experiment.



Work immediately began on a new and improved second-generation machine. This first "real" Harley-Davidson motorcycle had a bigger engine of 24.74 cubic inches (405 cc) with 9.75 inches (25 cm) flywheels weighing 28 lb (13 kg). The machine's advanced loop-frame pattern was similar to the 1903 Milwaukee Merkel motorcycle (designed by Joseph Merkel, later of Flying Merkel fame.) The bigger engine and loop-frame design took it out of the motorized-bicycle category and would help define what a modern motorcycle should contain in the years to come. The boys also received help with their bigger engine from outboard motor pioneer Ole Evinrude, who was then building gas engines of his own design for automotive use on Milwaukee's Lake Street.


The prototype of the new loop-frame Harley-Davidson was assembled in a 10- by 15-foot (3 by 5 meter) shed in the Davidson family backyard. Most of the major parts, however, were made elsewhere, including some probably fabricated at the West Milwaukee rail shops where oldest brother William A. Davidson was then tool room foreman. This prototype machine was functional by 8 September 1904 when it competed in a Milwaukee motorcycle race held at State Fair Park. It was ridden by Edward Hildebrand and placed fourth. This is the first documented appearance of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle in the historical record.


In January 1905, small advertisements were placed in the "Automobile and Cycle Trade Journal" that offered bare Harley-Davidson engines to the do-it-yourself trade. By April, complete motorcycles were in production on a very limited basis. That year the first Harley-Davidson dealer, Carl H. Lang of Chicago, sold three bikes from the dozen or so built in the Davidson backyard shed. (Some years later the original shed was taken to the Juneau Avenue factory where it would stand for many decades as a tribute to the Motor Company's humble origins. Unfortunately, the first shed was accidentally destroyed by contractors in the early 1970s during a clean-up of the factory yard.)



In 1906, Harley and the Davidsons built their first factory on Chestnut Street (later Juneau Avenue). This location remains the Motor Company's corporate headquarters today. The first Juneau Avenue plant was a 40 by 60-foot (18 m) single-story wooden structure. That year around 50 motorcycles were produced.


In 1907, William S. Harley graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in mechanical engineering. That year additional factory expansion came with a second floor and later with facings and additions of Milwaukee pale yellow ("cream") brick. With the new facilities production increased to 150 motorcycles in 1907. The company was officially incorporated that September. They also began selling their motorcycles to police departments around this time, a market that has been important to them ever since.


Production in 1905 and 1906 were all single-cylinder models with 26.84 cubic inch (440 cc) engines. In February 1907 a prototype model with a 45-degree V-Twin engine was displayed at the Chicago Automobile Show. Although shown and advertised, very few V-Twin models were built between 1907 and 1910. These first V-Twins displaced 53.68 cubic inches (880 cc) and produced about 7 horsepower (5 kW). This gave about double the power of the first singles. Top speed was about 60 mph (97 km/h). Production jumped from 450 motorcycles in 1908 to 1,149 machines in 1909.


By 1911 some 150 makes of motorcycles had already been built in the United States – although just a handful would survive the 1910s.


In 1911, an improved V-Twin model was introduced. The new engine had mechanically operated intake valves, as opposed to the "automatic" intake valves used on earlier V-Twins that opened by engine vacuum. With a displacement of 49.48 cubic inches (810 cc), the 1911 V-Twin was smaller than earlier twins, but gave better performance. After 1913 the majority of bikes produced by Harley-Davidson would be V-Twin models.


By 1913, the yellow brick factory had been demolished and on the site a new 5-story structure of reinforced concrete and red brick had been built. Begun in 1910, the red brick factory with its many additions would take up two blocks along Juneau Avenue and around the corner on 38th Street. Despite the competition, Harley-Davidson was already pulling ahead of Indian and would dominate motorcycle racing after 1914. Production that year swelled to 16,284 machines.

In 1917, the United States entered World War I and the military demanded motorcycles for the war effort. Harleys had already been used by the military in the Pancho Villa Expedition but World War I was the first time the motorcycle had been adopted for combat service. Harley-Davidson provided about 15,000 machines to the military forces during World War I.


By 1920, Harley-Davidson was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. Their motorcycles were sold by dealers in 67 countries. Production was 28,189 machines.


In 1921, a Harley-Davidson, ridden by Otto Walker, was the first motorcycle ever to win a race at an average speed of over 100 mph (160 km/h).


During the 1920s, several improvements were put in place, such as a new 74 cubic inch (1200cc) V-Twin, introduced in 1922, and the "Teardrop" gas tank in 1925. A front brake was added in 1928.


In the late summer of 1929, Harley-Davidson introduced its 45 cubic inch flathead V-Twin to compete with the Indian 101 Scout and the Excelsior Super X. This was the "D" model, produced from 1929 to 1931. Riders of Indian motorcycles derisively referred to this model as the "three cylinder Harley" because the generator was upright and parallel to the front cylinder. The 2.745 in (69.7 mm) bore and 3.8125 in (96.8 mm) stroke would continue in most versions of the 750 engine; exceptions include the XA and the XR750.


The Great Depression began a few months after the introduction of their 45 cubic inch model. Harley-Davidson's sales plummeted from 21,000 in 1929 to less than 4,000 in 1933. In order to survive, the company manufactured industrial power plants based on their motorcycle engines. They also designed and built a three-wheeled delivery vehicle called the Servi-Car, which remained in production until 1973.


join a Gypsy Tour

In the mid-'30s, Alfred Rich Child opened a production line in Japan with the 74ci VL. The Japanese license-holder severed its business relations with Harley-Davidson in 1936 and continued manufacturing the VL under the Rikuo name.






An 80 cubic inch flathead engine was added to the line in 1935, by which time the single-cylinder motorcycles had been discontinued.




In 1936, the 61E and 61EL models with the "Knucklehead" OHV engines was introduced. Valve train problems in early Knucklehead engines required a redesign halfway through its first year of production and retrofitting of the new valve train on earlier engines.


By 1937, all Harley-Davidson's flathead engines were equipped with dry-sump oil recirculation systems similar to the one introduced in the "Knucklehead" OHV engine. The revised 74 cubic inch V and VL models were renamed U and UL, the 80 cubic inch VH and VLH to be renamed UH and ULH, and the 45 cubic inch R to be renamed W.
In 1941, the 74 cubic inch "Knucklehead" was introduced as the F and the FL. The 80 cubic inch flathead UH and ULH models were discontinued after 1941, while the 74" U & UL flathead models were produced up to 1948.


One of only two American cycle manufacturers to survive the Great Depression, Harley-Davidson again produced large numbers of motorcycles for the US Army in World War II and resumed civilian production afterwards, producing a range of large V-twin motorcycles that were successful both on racetracks and for private buyers.


Harley-Davidson, on the eve of World War II, was already supplying the Army with a military-specific version of its 45" WL line, called the WLA. (The A in this case stood for "Army".) Upon the outbreak of war, the company, along with most other manufacturing enterprises, shifted to war work. Over 90,000 military motorcycles, mostly WLAs and WLCs (the Canadian version) would be produced, many to be provided to allies. Harley-Davidson received two Army-Navy ‘E’ Awards, one in 1943 and the other in 1945, which were awarded for Excellence in Production.


American Hero


Shipments to the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease program numbered at least 30,000. The WLAs produced during all four years of war production generally have 1942 serial numbers. Production of the WLA stopped at the end of World War II, but was resumed from 1950 to 1952 for use in the Korean War.


The U.S. Army also asked Harley-Davidson to produce a new motorcycle with many of the features of BMW's side-valve and shaft-driven R71. Harley largely copied the BMW engine and drive train and produced the shaft-driven 750 cc 1942 Harley-Davidson XA. This shared no dimensions, no parts and no design concepts (except side valves) with any prior Harley-Davidson engine. Due to the superior cooling of an opposed twin, Harley's XA cylinder heads ran 100 °F (55 °C) cooler than its V-twins. The XA never entered full production: the motorcycle by that time had been eclipsed by the Jeep as the Army's general purpose vehicle, and the WLA—already in production—was sufficient for its limited police, escort, and courier roles. Only 1,000 were made and the XA never went into full production. It remains the only shaft-driven Harley-Davidson ever made.





oil in glass jars
due to the wartime shortage of metal


As part of war reparations, Harley-Davidson acquired the design of a small German motorcycle, the DKW RT125 which they adapted, manufactured, and sold from 1947 to 1966. Various models were made, including the Hummer from 1955 to 1959, but they are all colloquially referred to as "Hummers" at present. BSA in the United Kingdom took the same design as the foundation of their BSA Bantam.



In 1960, Harley-Davidson consolidated the Model 165 and Hummer lines into the Super-10, introduced the Topper scooter, and bought fifty percent of Aeronautica Macchi's motorcycle division. Importation of Aermacchi's 250 cc horizontal single began the following year. The bike bore Harley-Davidson badges and was marketed as the Harley-Davidson Sprint. The engine of the Sprint was increased to 350 cc in 1969 and would remain that size until 1974, when the four-stroke Sprint was discontinued.


After the Pacer and Scat models were discontinued at the end of 1965, the Bobcat became the last of Harley-Davidson's American-made two-stroke motorcycles. The Bobcat was manufactured only in the 1966 model year.


Harley-Davidson replaced their American-made lightweight two-stroke motorcycles with the Aermacchi-built two-stroke powered M-65, M-65S, and Rapido. The M-65 had a semi-step-through frame and tank. The M-65S was a M-65 with a larger tank that eliminated the step-through feature. The Rapido was a larger bike with a 125 cc engine.  The Aermacchi-built Harley-Davidsons became entirley two-stroke powered when the 250 cc two-stroke SS-250 replaced the four-stroke 350 cc Sprint in 1974.


Harley-Davidson purchased full control of Aermacchi's motorcycle production in 1974 and continued making two-stroke motorcycles there until 1978, when they sold the facility to Cagiva.


In 1952, following their application to the US Tariff Commission for a 40% tax on imported motorcycles, Harley-Davidson was charged with restrictive practices. Hollywood also damaged Harley's image with many outlaw biker gang films produced from the 1950s through the 1970s, following the 1947 Hollister, CA biker riot on July 4. "Harley-Davidson" for a long time was synonymous with the Hells Angels and other outlaw motorcyclists.


In 1969, American Machinery and Foundry (AMF) bought the company, streamlined production, and slashed the workforce. This tactic resulted in a labor strike and a lower quality of bikes. The bikes were expensive and inferior in performance, handling, and quality to Japanese motorcycles. Sales declined, quality plummeted, and the company almost went bankrupt. The "Harley-Davidson" name was mocked as "Hardly Ableson", "Hardly Driveable," and "Hogly Ferguson", and the nickname "Hog" became pejorative.


In 1981, AMF sold the company to a group of thirteen investors led by Vaughn Beals and Willie G. Davidson for $80 million. Inventory was strictly controlled using the Just In Time system.


In the early eighties, Harley-Davidson claimed that Japanese manufacturers were importing motorcycles into the US in such volume as to harm or threaten to harm domestic producers. After an investigation by the US International Trade Commission, President Reagan imposed in 1983 a 45% tariff on imported bikes and bikes over 700 cc engine capacity. Harley Davidson subsequently rejected offers of assistance from Japanese motorcycle makers.


engine wall

Rather than trying to match the Japanese, the new management deliberately exploited the "retro" appeal of the machines, building motorcycles that deliberately adopted the look and feel of their earlier machines and the subsequent customizations of owners of that era. Many components such as brakes, forks, shocks, carburetors, electrics and wheels were outsourced from foreign manufacturers and quality increased, technical improvements were made, and buyers slowly returned. To remain profitable Harley continues to increase the amount of overseas-made parts it uses, while being careful not to harm its valuable "American Made" image.


The "Sturgis" model, boasting a dual belt-drive, was introduced. By 1990, with the introduction of the "Fat Boy", Harley once again became the sales leader in the heavyweight (over 750 cc) market. At the time of the Fat Boy model introduction a story rapidly spread that its silver paint job and other features were inspired by the World War II American B-29 bomber; and that the Fat Boy name was a combination of the names of the atom bombs (Fat Man and Little Boy) that were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima respectively. However, the Urban Legend Reference Pages lists this story as an urban legend.


speedy delivery



year round in all weather

1994 saw the replacement of the FXR frame with the Dyna, though it was revived briefly in 1999 and 2000 for special limited editions.



special for mounted officers

In 1999, Ford Motor Company added a Harley-Davidson edition to the Ford F-Series F-150 line, complete with the Harley-Davidson logo. This truck was an Super Cab for model year 1999. In 2000, Ford changed the truck to a crew cab and in 2002 added a super-charged engine (5.4 L) which continued until 2003. In 2004, the Ford/Harley was changed to a Super-Duty, which continues through 2006. Ford again produced a Harley-Davidson Edition F-150 for their 2006 model-year, as well.


Harley Chapters


one of about 1400

Building started on $75 million 130,000 square-foot (12,000 m2) Harley-Davidson Museum in the Menomonee River Valley on June 1, 2006. It opened in 2008 and houses the company's vast collection of historic motorcycles and corporate archives, along with a restaurant, café and meeting space.


museum parking

Harley-Davidson's association with sportbike manufacturer Buell Motorcycle Company began in 1987 when they supplied Buell with fifty surplus XR1000 engines. Buell continued to buy engines from Harley-Davidson until 1993, when Harley-Davidson bought forty-nine percent of the Buell Motorcycle Company. Harley-Davidson increased its share in Buell to ninety-eight percent in 1998 and to complete ownership in 2003.


the museum

In an attempt to attract newcomers to motorcycling in general and to Harley-Davidson in particular, Buell developed a low-cost, low-maintenance motorcycle. The resulting motorcycle, the single-cylinder Buell Blast, was introduced in 2000.


museum entrance

During its period of peak demand, during the late 1990s and early 2000s, Harley-Davidson embarked on a program of expanding the number of dealerships throughout the country. At the same time, its current dealers typically had waiting lists that extended up to a year for some of the most popular models. Harley-Davidson, like the auto manufacturers, records a sale not when a consumer buys their product, but rather when it is delivered to a dealer. Therefore, it is possible for the manufacturer to inflate sales numbers by requiring dealers to accept more inventory than desired in a practice called channel stuffing. When demand softened following the unique 2003 model year, this news lead to a dramatic decline in the stock price. In April 2004 alone, the price of HOG shares dropped from over $60 to under $40. Immediately prior to this decline, retiring CEO Jeffrey Bleustein profited $42 million on the exercise of employee stock options. Harley-Davidson was named as a defendant in numerous class action suits filed by investors who claimed they were intentionally defrauded by Harley-Davidson's management and directors. By January 2007, the price of Harley-Davidson shares reached $70.


On February 2, 2007, upon the expiration of their union contract, about 2,700 employees at Harley-Davidson Inc.'s largest manufacturing plant in York, PA went on strike after failing to agree on wages and health benefits. During the pendency of the strike, the company refused to pay for any portion of the striking employees' health care.


The day before the strike, after the union voted against the proposed contract and to authorize the strike, the company shut down all production at the plant. The York facility employs more than 3,200 workers, both union and non-union.


Harley-Davidson announced on February 16, 2007, that it had reached a labor agreement with union workers at its largest manufacturing plant, a breakthrough in the two-week-old strike. The strike disrupted Harley-Davidson’s national production and had ripple effects as far away as Wisconsin, where 440 employees were laid off, and many Harley suppliers also laid off workers because of the strike.

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