Milwaukee’s Harley Davidson Museum


The Harley-Davidson Museum, Milwaukee WI, is a tribute to open road Americana. Located on a 20-acre lot at the junction of Sixth and Canal St, the 130,000 square-foot glass, brick, and steel structure incorporates striking urban design elements while engaging the surrounding water and green spaces. Bordered by a beautiful riverfront on three sides, the museum provides a unique home for a worldwide symbol of personal freedom – the Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

The first Harley-Davidson factory was a 10-foot by 15-foot wooden shed in the backyard of the Davidson home. Since the company’s inception in 1903, more than 150 different American motorcycle companies have come and gone, while Harley has continued to thrive. The firm has been supplying law enforcement groups with motorcycles since 1908. By 1920, Harley-Davidson had become the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. During World War II, it produced more than 88,000 motorcycles for the U.S. and its allies, and has overall produced millions of motorcycles from 1903 to the present.

Since the early 1900s, Harley-Davidson has been saving and collecting motorcycles and memorabilia, including important internal documents, marketing materials, and photographs. In 1915, the firm leaders began retaining at least one motorcycle a year from the assembly line. It later went into the field to repurchase sold vehicles from dealers to fill in bikes missing from the 12-year span between 1903 and 1915. The company archives finally became a formal department in 1993.

“We dreamt about building the museum for a long time:’ says Stacey Schiesl, its director. “Company leaders had been saving motorcycles and artifacts since 1915, but we wanted to showcase the collection in a way that would do justice to the rich stories and experiences that have defined the company throughout its history. The 20-acre site on Canal Street afforded us the opportunity to create the kind of experience we really wanted to provide.”

Throughout the museum are the stories of those who have lived the Harley-Davidson life. Stories are told through a variety of media, including excerpts of personal stories, photos, authentic marketing pieces, apparel, and of course, motorcycles. Private collectors generously donated several of the bikes on exhibit, and, the company still occasionally purchases rare and unique Harley motorcycles from private collectors and enthusiasts. With 105 years of history, the collection is vast, and only a small portion of it can be displayed at the museum at one time. In addition to more than 450 vehicles, the museum team pulled from tens of thousands of artifacts and photographs to display in the exhibits.

The very first motorcycle built by William S. Harley and the Davidson Brothers, known only as “Serial No.1” and sporting white rubber tires, is in a special display case. A legend in Harley culture, Serial No.1 is the oldest known Harley motorcycle in existence and was one of the first produced in the original shed. It received its nickname because some of the major engine parts are stamped with a “1,” indicating the parts were cast from the first molds. Subsequent Harley models line the halls of the museum, creating a three-dimensional timeline of motorcycle design.

The museum also showcases the ways riders customize their motorcycles and make them their own. One featured bike, created by Felix Predko, is known as “King Kong.” The 13-feet long motorcycle is powered by two in-line engines and includes four “fishtail” straight exhaust pipes and many decorative details, such as a miniature model of King Kong in chains above the headlight. A video that features Predko’s family at his shop tells his story and passion for customization.

In the 1920s, board-track racing was the extreme sport of its time. Riders raced around wood tracks, built between 45 and 60 degrees, at speeds of up to 120 mph on motorcycles with no brakes or transmissions, and total oil-loss systems, meaning the oil exited directly onto the track, which made for very slippery riding. Board-track racing established Harley’s racing heritage, proven by the winning reputation of the Wrecking Crew, its well-known racing team. The exhibit features a recreation of a board-track curve, complete with original factory race bikes banking the corner, and rare footage of actual board-trackers in action.

While Harley motorcycles are built with everyone in mind, the motorcycles and the Harley-Davidson lifestyle have attracted the likes of many famous individuals as well as the film industry. Just days before Elvis Presley released his hit single “Heartbreak Hotel,” he purchased a 1956 Model KH motorcycle. The museum features this bike along with the original paperwork.

The 1969 movie “Easy Rider”, starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, features one of the most recognizable motorcycles in history, the “Captain America” chopper. Created from Harley-Davidson police bikes, both original choppers were destroyed in the filming. In celebration of the film’s 30th anniversary, and with the help of Fonda and those who created the original bikes, an exact replica was created for the museum.

The tour of the Harley museum begins on the second floor, staring down a line of bikes three wide and 180 feet long. They begin to tell the story of the company’s first 50 years. Each bike was specifically chosen for its noteworthy heritage, as well as its unique expression of signature Harley-Davidson elements — beauty, performance, functionality and style. Continued on the lower level, the exhibit features bikes from the late 1940s to the present.

The Engine Room gallery is one of the more unique exhibits at the museum. As you enter, it’s impossible to miss the Exploded Bike display. Separated into a multitude of pieces, the 1940s Knucklehead model is a mechanical drawing brought to life. The display highlights design and styling elements that define a Harley bike. Across the north wall is Harley’s version of a family tree. Set against an orange background, the engines on display illustrate the evolution of the Harley engine from its earliest to its latest incarnation. Spread throughout the rest of the gallery are interactive exhibits showcasing engine mechanics.

The Experience Gallery gives visitors the opportunity to sit on one of many Harley motorcycles. A video of great American riding roads allows visitors to get a feel for the open highway. Chosen for their diverse scale, the bikes in the gallery are meant to be touched and sat upon, and transmit some of their history.

The Design Lab exhibit showcases the evolution of motorcycle design history. From a hand-written notebook dating back to the 1940s to the original clay prototype of the 2002 V-Rod motorcycle, visitors trace Harley’s design influence. The exhibit covers the early engineering departments as well as the first styling department formed in 1963, all the way to today’s Willie G. Davidson Product Development Center.

As you might expect, competition is the theme in the Clubs and Competition gallery. This exhibit accurately portrays the 45-degree board-track curve that allowed racers to achieve top speeds of over 100 mph. From board-track to hill climbs to club rides to endurance events, the gallery pays tribute to the grassroots movements of the early 20th century and the thrill-seeking competitive spirit that drove the motorcycle culture of the day.

Whether you’re a rider or just dream of being one, the Harley-Davidson museum experience is one that’s tough to forget. “Harley-Davidson is more than a motorcycle; it’s an experience,” says Schiesl. “The museum adds a whole new dimension to that experience by strengthening bonds with riders and giving newcomers a feel for the freedom, camaraderie, and pride that Harley enthusiasts feel each time they fire up their bikes. Visitors leave the Museum feeling inspired.”


DMBA Summer 2009
Photo Credit:

Cancun – Fun in the Sun



Ahhhhh, Cancun!

Coming in for a landing, you can see the sage green vegetation, the dwellings here and there, and the heat — rising in waves from the land. The azure waters of the Caribbean play counterpoint to the sandy soil, subtropical brush and occasional low forest trees. It’s easy to see that much of the area surrounding the resort city of Cancun is a wild and untamed place.

As your plane lands, the wilderness disappears and you are absorbed into a fast-moving world of taxi drivers and baggage handlers, some official and some not. Drivers line both sides of the walkway, holding signs and calling out names and destinations in English and Spanish. Once you’re attuned to the bustle of the terminal, the next thing you notice is the people. Cancun seems to be filled with beautiful people: people with bronze glowing skin, gleaming hair and bright beautiful smiles. (It must be all that sun and moisture!)

But it’s the ride from the airport that truly takes your breath away. The hotel district is 14 miles or so of palm trees and gracefully styled buildings. The style of each hotel is its own, with the overall ambience drawing from the classical architectural styles of Europe, the modern styles of Asia, and the ancient structures of Central and South America, with a marked influence from north of the border.

As your eyes meet the shore, you see the coastline is dotted with soft, fine, characteristically white sand beaches. The calm waters of Bahia de Mujeres wash some beaches, while others are on the open sea facing the Caribbean. Cancun’s humid tropical climate, with an average temperature of 86°F (30°C), means that its pleasures can be enjoyed year-round.

Once a long strip of forest flanked by beaches, early Mayan inhabitants called this place Can Cun, meaning “serpents’ nest.” With a modern history dating back only 34 years, Cancun has undergone a tremendous metamorphosis to become the leading tourist resort in all of Latin America, enjoying a worldwide reputation. Set in the northern part of Quintana Roo, a state in southeastern Mexico with 537 miles of Caribbean coastline, Cancun is visited annually by more than 3 million tourists from North and South America, Europe and Asia, accounting for one-third of Mexico’s tourism revenue.

And despite the devastation caused by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, Cancun has more than met the challenges of rebuilding, with a massive beach recovery and government-supported reconstruction efforts. At the present rate of repairs, the area will be back in full swing before the end of 2006.

And it’s a good thing, too. Cancun is easily one of the most varied destinations in the Western hemisphere. Just about everyone can find something to love about the place. If you are a sports lover, Cancun offers wonderful golf courses, and water Sports abound. You can go scuba diving or swim with the dolphins on the Isles de Mujeres, try sport fishing or snorkeling in the coral reefs of Punta Cancun and Punta Nizuc, or take an exciting “jungle tour” on Jet Ski-type watercraft among the mangrove swamps. Sailing, kite boarding, windsailing and windsurfing are also available.

And if history is your thing, you can visit remains of the Mayan civilization without leaving town at archaeological sites such as El Rey, the largest in the city, with a structure consisting of 16 monuments built on a single causeway and still bearing traces of brightly colored mural paintings. The gardens of the Sheraton Resorts Hotel overlook an elegant structure, the Yamil Lu’um, and even the Cancun golf course houses a small temple. For the truly adventurous, the magnificent ruins of Chitzen ltza are just a couple of hours’ drive away.

Cancun also offers a virtually endless range of restaurants. Whether your tastes run to French Mediterranean, Italian pasta, Caribbean or Brazilian, you can find your favorites in Cancun. For those in need of a taste of home, American food has made its presence felt with familiar chains such as Planet Hollywood, Senor Frog’s, T.G.I. Friday’s and the Hard Rock Cafe. And with international tourism such a local powerhouse, you can also indulge your taste for Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, German, Swiss and Argentinean food anytime.

But Cancun’s Mexican food is in a class by itself – one that ranges from traditional to nuevo cuisine. The typical Mexican restaurant here offers everything from Northern-style baked kid, mole from Puebla and tacos from Mexico City to the cochinita pibil and stuffed cheese of Yucatan, not to mention fish, seafood and lobster – all accompanied by live mariachi music. The sauces alone deserve your full attention. Although you might not initially be able to distinguish between a chile guajillo from a chile chipotle sauce, or a chile habanero from salsa verde, you can always ask your waiter to explain the ingredients they contain and the corresponding degree of heat.

Cancun is also famous for its nightlife. The nightclub district hosts a variety of clubs and discotheques. All through the night, hundreds of young people stroll safely through the streets to the city’s spectacular discotheques. You can have a great time here in the evening, with the incredible sound and light effects and the best international DJs, who never miss a good party. At some nightclubs, such as the famous Coco Bongo, you can not only admire the show in which fantastic characters and acrobats balance on their heads, but also accept your own personal disguise, issued by the house, and actually take part in the entertainment.

Jazz is played in casual or elegant places alike, with all the swing of Southern music. You might choose a lounge with house music to have a drink, or step into rustic open bars with live rock, pop, reggae or hip-hop music, always ready for those who have an irresistible urge to dance on the counter. Many nightclubs are dance spots where you can practice your latest dance moves to the sound of son, merengue or cumbia, played by international orchestras familiar with the latest Latin beats.

No matter how you spend your days, the nights in Cancun are balmy and warm. In the wee hours of the morning, the sound of the waves caressing the beach gently lulls you to sleep. And you dream of all the possibilities the next day will bring. Buenos noches.

Black MBA Magazine Summer 2006
Photo credit: Patrice A. Kelly