Milwaukee’s Finest: The Harley-Davidson Museum

Jun 28, 2013 View Comments by

Milwaukee's Finest: The Harley-Davidson MuseumBy now you’ve probably heard about Harley-Davidson’s 110th Anniversary celebrations. In the midst of all the build up to what’s sure to be one heck of a party, it’s easy to forget that you can get your fill of Harley-Davidson history year round at the HD Museum in Milwaukee. Recently, RoadRUNNER got to ask Brook Galbraith Smith, Project Manager of Communications for the museum, a few questions.

RR: Can you give us a brief overview of the history of the museum?
Brook: The Harley-Davidson Museum is a unique destination that provides a glimpse into American history and culture, and offers something for all our visitors—whether they are riders or not. The Museum opened in 2008.

RR: Give us some highlights of your current displays.
Brook: The museum is literally a walkthrough of the past 110 years of our history, including:
–    Serial number one, the oldest known Harley-Davidson motorcycle in existence.
–    A re-creation of a board track curve in the Clubs and Completions gallery complete with actual board track racers from the time period.
–    The Custom Culture gallery that highlights our customer’s and the company’s focus on customization

RR: How often do exhibits change?
Brook: There is not a set time schedule of when changes are made, it really depends on what story we want to showcase or if we acquire a new artifact that we want to share. Generally, we have a special summer exhibit. We won’t have one this year as we’re celebrating Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary and planning for the epic bash that is taking place here in Milwaukee over Labor Day weekend.

RR: How was the museum designed and laid out?
Brook: The Harley-Davidson Museum campus is located on 20-acres in the Menomonee Valley area of downtown Milwaukee. Historically an industrial area, the building incorporates urban design elements, such as exposed glass and steel, to reflect this history. The campus has three main building structures that house the Museum, Motor Bar & Restaurant, and The Shop, while a fourth building has a special event space as well as housing for the Archives.

Guests begin their visit on the second floor where we have motorcycles exhibited in chronological order from 1903 to the 1930s. The second floor also includes the Interactive Engine Room, Military, and Clubs and Competitions galleries. On the first floor, the motorcycle display continues from the 1930s to present, and includes galleries highlighting custom culture, MotorClothes, parts and accessories, styling and design, and the Experience Gallery where visitors can sit on new and vintage Harley-Davidson models and get their pictures taken.

RR: Who is/are the curator(s)?
Brook: Jim Fricke is the Curatorial Director and Kristen Jones is the Senior Curator.

RR: What are some of the items that can only be found here?
Brook: The Harley-Davidson Museum has several items that can only be found here including motorcycles, original advertisements and prints, and the stories that have been shared and preserved by the company over the years. The Museum also has the largest collection of unrestored Harley-Davidson motorcycles in the world. Finally, The Shop, our retail space, offers items that are sold nowhere else, including Museum collection apparel and Harley-Davidson archival images.

RR: How does the museum acquire these artifacts?
Brook: The founders (of Harley-Davidson) had a lot of foresight to save motorcycles and other items very early on, so the company has preserved the majority of our collection over the years. We have also acquired some items from outside collectors and enthusiasts.

RR: What are some of the tour options available to visitors?
Brook: There is an Audio Tour, a Back Roads Tour that is offered at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays and takes guests behind-the-scenes, the Steel Toe Tour on Wednesdays and Fridays that shuttles guests to our Pilgrim Road Powertrain Operations facility and back to the Museum, and several Group Tour options.

RR: When are the best times to visit?
Brook: Any time. We host events throughout the year from special exhibits like Designing a Celebration to our Thursday Bike Night (May through September) and other annual events like Wild Ones Weekend (July), Custom Bike Show Weekend (Labor Day weekend), Veteran’s Day Celebration (November), and more.

For up-to-date information on events and activities visit

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