Hog wild in Milwaukee
Harley Davidson started in 1903 with a desire to build a better motorized bicycle.
It's hard to imagine what founders William S. Harley and brothers Arthur, Walter and William A. Davidson would think of what the company and its motorcycles have become 111 years later, and the culture they helped inspire.
Visitors to the Harley Davidson museum in Milwaukee, Wis., can explore the company's history for themselves, through every era from the early beginnings to modern times.
Bill Davidson, vice president of the Harley Davidson Museum and great grandson of William Davidson, says he doesn't know why his ancestors settled in Milwaukee, but the city's foundries and machine shops made it possible for them to start making the iconic motorcycles the company is famous for around the world.
Davidson says all sorts of people come to the museum. And while it is a popular destination for riders, many of the hundreds and thousands who visit each year have never ridden a motorcycle.
"They where to buy pandora jewelry online know it's a much bigger story," Davidson says, adding that people are drawn to the rich history of an American success story.
That success was not without challenges. Harley Davidson survived both the Great Depression and the Second World War, which saw other motorcycle manufacturers close their doors, and a sale to AMF in 1969, which led to dark days for the company.
But an eventual rebirth and restructuring took place in 1981 when a group of investors including Bill Davidson's father Willie G. Davidson bought the company and brought it back to life.
The museum displays include motorcycles from all eras, including one bearing Serial Number One believed to be the oldest known Harley still in existence. It's easy to see the evolution from bicycle to motorcycle in that early bike.
"That was the beginning. I spend a lot of time in that part of the museum," Davidson says when asked if a particular motorcycle commands his attention more than any other.
An interesting fact Davidson points out is that early on, the founders started saving motorcycles from each year. He says it's as if they knew it was important to preserve their history, something many companies don't do. So today, the museum is filled with unique motorcycles from every era, including the shaft driven XA, which was built for use in North Africa during the Second World War, and prototypes such as the Nova, which was designed with an OHC V 4 motor, finished pandora bracelets but never made it into production.
There are also bikes that owners customized to their own tastes, a pastime still popular with riders today.
Besides these, there are bikes that were built for work, such as police models, the three wheeled Servi Car developed for automotive repair shops (it was towed behind a car being returned to its owner, after which the employee would ride it back to the garage) and ones designed for mailmen.
Also on display is the Fat Boy ridden by Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1991's Terminator 2, as well as a costume he wore in the movie.
There are bikes modified for competitive hill climbing, and wooden board track racers.
Many bikes have their own stories to tell, such as the 1936 EL Factory Streamline that H D racing team member Joe Petrali rode in pandora shop locations 1937 when he broke the land speed record at 136.183 mph pandora bracelet gold (219.165 km/h).
The Experience Gallery showcases bikes both modern and antique. Visitors can explore these up close and even sit on them.
And then there's the tsunami bike.
Peter Mark was riding an ATV on Graham Island when he came across the shipping container and reported it. By the time someone came to investigate, the container had made its way back out to sea, but not before leaving its contents on land.
Still bearing its Japanese licence plate, Harley Davidson was able to track down its owner, Ikuo Yokoyama, who survived the tsunami. The company offered to either repair the bike or replace it for free.
Davidson says Yokoyama told him he couldn't accept either offer when so many of his friends and family had lost so much, but would like the motorcycle to be displayed in the museum.
Understanding the destruction the tsunami bike represents, it's hard to look at it and not be affected. Three of Yokoyama's family members died in the tragedy.
"It gives me the chills," Davidson says of the bike.
Besides the hundreds of motorcycles on display, there are other items such as uniforms from early riding clubs, racing sweaters and helmets, and the diary of Vivian Bales one of the first women riders. Bales taught dance to save up money for her own motorcycle after her father refused to buy her one. In 1926, she rode her bike from Georgia to Milwaukee and back.
STEEL TOE TOUR
The Steel Toe Tour of H D's Pilgrim Rd. engine and transmission manufacturing facility, in nearby Menomonee Falls, is not just for gearheads.
About 500 motors are assembled every day at the 7.7 hectare plant. Visitors walk the factory floor for an insider's look into the manufacturing process, from how hundreds of individual parts are made and machined to how they are assembled into a complete motor, and how those motors are tested before being shipped to another facility and placed in a motorcycle.
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