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Wisconsin National Register of Historic Places

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Interior view

General view of factory complex

Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company
3700 West Juneau Avenue and 1147 North 38th Street, Milwaukee, Milwaukee County
Architects: H. William Washburn and A.C. Eschweiler
Dates of construction: 1910-1913, 1913-1926, 1919, 1920

The historic core of the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company production facility consists of two large buildings built and expanded over a span of nearly 50 years. The original five story, dark russet brick building was begun in 1910 as part of the Harley-Davidson Company's first major expansion of its production facilities reflecting its emergence as a world leader in motorcycle manufacturing. As the company continued to grow, other buildings were added and expanded.

In 1903 William Harley, Art Davidson and Walt Davidson began to tinker in the shed behind the Davidson family home in Milwaukee, producing a three horsepower, glossy black machine. Arthur Davidson and Bill Harley had met at the Barth Manufacturing Company where they were both employed. Arthur was a pattern maker and Bill was an engineer. Walter Davidson was a machinist. Unlike many others who were working on motorcycle designs during this period, these three men were able to develop the right internal dimensions for a reliable engine, leading to a successful product. Ole Evinrude, who lived nearby, added his expertise on carburetors. Production was initially slow, in 1904 only three machines were sold. In 1907 the company incorporated and by 1908 mass-produced 450 cycles a year.

The Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company is important for William Harley's innovations in small engine vehicles. These include the invention and use of the commercially successful motorcycle clutch in 1912; the step starter, an internal expanding rear brake, carburetor choke, and a two-speed transmission in 1914; and the three-speed transmission in 1915.

Until 1947 the buildings at this location housed all Harley-Davidson operations. In that year, assembly production moved from the Milwaukee site to a new plant in suburban Wauwatosa. The nominated property became the company's corporate headquarters, management offices, and its research and development center.


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