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NOLA Travel: A visit to the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee

Harley-Davidson serial number one from 1903

I’ve taken it upon myself to start a new category here on, and I’m calling it “NOLA Travel.” If you’re expecting a New Orleans-centric story — i.e. something more in accordance with my customary oeuvre — move along, show’s over, there’s nothing to see here.

Sure, I think we all agree that New Orleans is quite possibly the most interesting and fun city on the face of the Earth, but nonetheless, sometimes you just want to get away for awhile. Sometimes you want a break from 80-degree springtime weather to experience overnight lows in the 30s and cold rain, right?

No, me either.

In any case, I traveled to Milwaukee this past week for a business meeting and wanted to make the best of it; so on a free morning, I visited the Harley-Davidson Museum.

Harley-Davidson Museum

Harley-Davidson, of course, is an iconic American motorcycle brand, begun in a Milwaukee backyard toolshed in 1903 by one William S. Harley and one Arthur Davidson. Whether or not you’re a motorcycle enthusiast, you’ve got to appreciate the company’s longevity and the brand loyalty its name engenders — after all, can you think of another company whose logo is often tattooed on the bodies of its customers?

I haven’t gone quite that far, but I am an enthusiast, and I’ve been riding the company’s motorcycles since 1994.

Harley Davidson’s “Engine Room” display

Harley-Davidson’s 130,000-square foot museum complex opened in 2008 and features over 450 motorcycles, including the legendary “serial number one” bike from 1903. On display you’ll see examples of Harley’s military, civilian, business, and racing machines (including board track, hill climb, and dirt track racers), as well as samples from Harley’s dalliances in the snowmobile, boat, golf cart, and minibike fields. In addition, there are mountains of fascinating motorcycle mementos and historical documents. A special exhibit features watercolor paintings by Willie G. Davidson (known throughout the motorcycle world as “Willie G.”), a talented artist and Harley’s longtime Chief Styling Officer who recently announced his retirement after 48 years with the Motor Company.

An upcoming exhibit will feature the black leather jacket’s place in motorcycle and pop-culture history: Worn to Be Wild runs from June 16 through September 3.

The bottom line: even if you’re not quite the Harley fan that I am, the Harley-Davidson Museum offers a compelling look into the history of one of America’s most famous brands and its place in our culture.

Harley-Davidson Museum

The deets:

Harley-Davidson Museum website:

400 West Canal St.

Milwaukee, WI 53201



Open 7 days 10 am to 6 pm (open until 8 pm on Thursdays)


Adults: $16

Children: $10

Seniors, Military, & Students: $12

Museum members: free (see website for membership details)

Check out this photo gallery (Glen Abbott photos):

Glen Abbott is a New Orleans-based freelance travel writer/photographer. Visit his blog at





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