3700 W JUNEAU AVE | Property Record | Wisconsin Historical Society

Property Record


Architecture and History Inventory
3700 W JUNEAU AVE | Property Record | Wisconsin Historical Society
Historic Name:Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Factory Building
Other Name:Harley-Davidson Company
Contributing: Yes
Reference Number:27894
Location (Address):3700 W JUNEAU AVE
Unincorporated Community:
Quarter Section:
Quarter/Quarter Section:
Year Built:1910
Additions: 1910 1912 1913 1966
Survey Date:1984
Historic Use:industrial building
Architectural Style:Commercial Vernacular
Structural System:Steel Frame
Wall Material:Brick
Architect:H. William Washburn and A.C. Eschweiler
Other Buildings On Site:
Demolished Date:
National/State Register Listing Name: Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Factory Building
National Register Listing Date:11/9/1994
State Register Listing Date:1/1/1989
National Register Multiple Property Name:Multiple Resources of West Side Area
Additional Information:A 'site file' exists for this property. It contains additional information such as correspondence, newspaper clippings, or historical information. It is a public record and may be viewed in person at the Wisconsin Historical Society, State Historic Preservation Office. DESCRIPTION: The Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company complex consists of two primary production/office buildings. Located at the intersection of North 38th Street and West Juneau Avenue, these buildings are examples of early twentieth century industrial architecture. Between North 37th and North 38th Streets along Juneau Avenue is a wedge shaped production/office building whose form was a result of the triangular shape of the site. Built in various stages between 1910 and 1913 (a 1966 addition is excluded as non-contributing), this building represents the company's first major expansion of its production facilities when it was becoming a world leader in the manufacture of motorcycles. The building was constructed with a steel frame skeleton and encased with dark russet tapestry brick trimmed with stone. It is five stories high on a raised basement. The steel structural system is expressed in the brick piers and spandrels. Inset between the structural members are large, multi-light, double-hung windows. The exterior is almost void of any refernce to an architectural style except for the corbelling, low parapet wall, and inset stone panels. To the west of this structure is a small, trasformer building constructed in 1919. It is a one-story, wedge-shaped structure encased with the same russet tapestry brick. It is trimmed with a limestone water table and cornice above which rises a plain brick parapet. The wall surfaces are pierced with high, vented windows, recessed in panels that are separated by brick piers. The second major building in this complex is across the street at the southwest corner of Juneau Avenue and 38th Street. Also built in stages between 1913 and 1926 (a 1957 addition is excluded as non-contributing), it reflects the same type of construction methods, materials and design as the previous one. The central core of this building (parts erected in 1919, 1923 and 1926) is six stories high and is L-plan in form. Adjoined to the east of this is a one-story addition erected in 1913. The facades are articulated by a series of large multi-light windows, framed by piers and corbelling. A stone cornice separates the plain brick parapet trimmed with stone coping from the main body of the building. Adjoined to the west of the core building is a one-story addition erected in 1921. It is a front gabled, long rectangle. This structure was built as infill to adjoin the main block to a two-story building erected in 1918. Repeating the same industrial aesthetic of the large whole, its roof line is characterized by a series of raised skylights that form a zig-zag like configuration. To the west of this structure are three additional buildings - one an Oil house constructed in 1920 and two non-contributing ones built in 1947. (The two non-contributing structures are considered outside of the nomination boundaries. See map). The Oil house is a two-story, rectangular shaped building encased in the same tapestry brick and trimmed with a stone cornice, above which rises a plain brick parapet. Windows are recessed behind the brick piers and separated by spandrels between the floors. (See NR nomination and intensive survey for attached map of plant layout). Originally these structures represented Harley-Davidson's total office, research, production, warehousing and shipping facility. In 1947, assembly production was moved to the Capitol Drive plant in suburban Wauwatosa. This site is now the location of the company's corporate headquarters, management offices, research and development, and parts and accessories. In comparing the current appearance of the Harley-Davidson plant with historic photos there have been only minimal alterations to the large majority of this complex. The most noticeable change has been the removal of some original window sash to install air conditioning units and the installation of combination storm and screen windows on the building along Juneau Avenue and North 37th Street. On the other building, the one-story 1913 addition was modified in 1957 with a contemporary office addition that was not architecturally compatible to the historic fabric. The facility is located at the far west edge of the survey area along the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway spur in the upper Menomonee Valley. Originally sited away from major development, it is now surrounded by a residential neighborhood to the southeast, the Miller Brewing Company headquarters to the south, the Milwaukee County Transit System Cold Spring Car Barns to the northwest and a neighborhood shopping center to the northeast. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: The company began inauspicioulsy enough in 1903 when Bill Harley, Art Davidson and Walt Davidson began to tinker in the 10' x 15' shed behind the Davidson family home at 38th Street and Highland Boulevard. That year the three men produced their first motorcycle, a glossy black machine with a three horsepower DeDion-type single cylinder engine. Arthur Davidson, pattern maker, and Bill Harley, engineer, had become acquainted with each other from working together at the Barth Manufacturing Company. Brother Walter Davidson added his expertise as a machinist. The three men were among many across the country who were experimenting with motorcycles at the time. Unlike many of their would-be competitors, however, they hit upon the right internal dimensions for a reliable engine. Ole Evinrude, who lived in the area, also added his invaluable expertise on carburetors. The company grew slowly in the early years. In 1904, the three men sold two of their machines while in 1905, eight were produced. In 1906 the production figure jumped to 50 and the firm's first employee was hired. On September 17, 1907 the group added another Davidson brother, William, and incorporated. By 1908 the business launched into the mass production of 450 cycles. (B). By this time there were 18 employees working for the firm and a 2,380 square foot brick building was built for production. None of these first production buildings are extant. It was during the decade from 1910 to 1919 that the company experienced its greatest expansion as it grew from a major domestic producer to the international leader of the motorcycle industry. In response to the anticipated popularity of the motorcycle, the two massive office, research and production buildings at 38th and Juneau were erected, in 1910 and 1926. These structures housed all Harley-Davidson operations until 1947 when final assembly was moved to a new plant on Capitol Drive in suburban Wauwatosa. The number of employees reached 1,574 and manufacturing occupied 297,110 square feet by 1921. Advertising competitive racing, salesmanship and quality improvements all contributed to spreading the fame of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle. In 1908, for example, Walt Davidson had entered and won the New York endurance run, an event that finally gave the motorcycle a national reputation. This was followed by a company sponsored racing team called the Wrecking Crew, whose victories through the teens helped to change the Harley-Davidson image from reliable and slow to reliable and invincible. The accounts of such races as well as travel information and personal stories found their way into a company publication, "The Enthusiast," beginning in 1916. Salesmanship and distribution also played a significant part in the popularity of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Company secretary and general sales manager Arthur Davidson had a remarkable facility for organizing dealerships and soon had a network of dealers across the country. Sales were extended as far as New Zealand and Australia. By 1921 there were dealers in 67 countries, a figure that has not been equaled since by a U.S. producer. Quality improvements also captured the interest of the buying public. A desirable twin cylinder engine was introduced as well as a three-speed transmission. Since the well-built Harley outlasted many of their competitors, they were popular with those who wanted a vehicle that would last for more than 5,000 miles. Harley-Davidson also began to diversify during the 1920s and offered bicycles, accessories and side cars. The latter were among the most unusual of Harley-Davidson productions, and were the company's answer to pickup and delivery problems. The side car bodies were created in the shape of cameras, shoes, platforms and other forms. Some were produced by the Harley-Davidson factory and some by the Seaman Body Company of Milwaukee (Later part of Nash Motors). Large government contracts during World War I made Harley-Davidson the world's largest manufacturer of motorcycles in 1918. As much as one-third of their production was exported during this time. The glory days were soon over for the firm, however. The post-war depression devastated the motorcycle market. Production in 1921 fell to a mere 10,202 units compared with 28,189 cycles produced in 1920. Although a world wide economic recovery began in 1922, it did not revive the slumping cycling industry. The romance of the motorcycle had begun to wane as rich and poor alike turned to the automobile for their transportation needs. Mass produced Ford Model T's cost a mere $245.00 each, which made them highly competitive with the Harley-Davidson's motorcycles. The company responded to the drop in sales by retrenching. Company supported racing was dropped. Fewer cosmetic changes were made each model year. Engineering refinements continued, however, and cycles were kept up-to-date with such features as balloon tires, front brakes and stardized parts. The Kilbourn Finance Corporation (1923) was set up as a subsidiary to help individuals finance the purchasing of their cycles. Harley-Davidson also began to advertise in national magazines (1927) to keep its product in the buyer's eye. Improved sales in the late 1920's rekindled company optimism, but it was quickly extinguished by the Great Depression. In 1930 only 10,500 cycles were made, but by 1933 that number had dropped to 3,703. The only other U.S. manufacturer of motorcycles, Indian, switched to the production of coaster wagons. Harley-Davidson considered and rejected this alternative. Instead, the company expanded its line of bikers' clothing and accessories, since they had a higher profit margin than did the bikes themselves. Harley-Davidson tried new sales techniques and expanded its marketing efforts to police departments. One act which was to have grave consequences for the future of the company was the selling of engineering blueprints and machinery to the Japanese in 1932. Hit hard by the Depression, the company was in dire straits and desperately needed the $32,320 it made on the deal. While the sum seems meager today, it kept the ailing company afloat through the dark days of the early 1930's. Unfortunately the sale provided the Japanese with the engineering basis for establishing its now highly successful motorcycle industry. Harley-Davidson limped through the Depression and as the 1930's drew to a close, sales climbed to 674 vehicles in 1937. Workers saw their chance to bargain for better wages and benefits, and successfully unionized under the UAW. In the interim, Harley-Davidson had farsightedly developed prototypes that would be useful in the event of war. Upon the outbreak of World War II the company won lucrative government contracts to manufacture motorcycles and engines between 1943 and 1945. By 1947, production had climbed to 20,392 bikes and a 269,000 square foot plant was purchased for $1.5 million form A. O. Smith in 1947 on Capitol Drive in Wauwatosa in anticipation of a post-war sales boom that never materialized. Harley's 1932 sale to the Japanese has come back to haunt the company. Since World War II, Harley-Davidson's biggest challenge has been the rise of the foreign import, principally Japanese bikes. As early as 1960, foreign cycle sales amounted to nearly 40% of all new registrations. Harley-Davidson asked the Federal government for a 50% hike on the tariffs for imported motor bikes, but the request was denied. By 1955 production at Harley-Davidson slumped to 9,550 vehicles. As the company entered the 1960's, it considered diversifying into snow blowers, scooters and lawn mowers but instead Harley-Davidson decided to meet the Japanese competition head on and enter the medium-weight motorcycle market. The Japanese models ranging midway between the easy handling English bikes and the sturdy Harleys were attractive to many segments of the American market. Harley-Davidson's strategy was to purchase half of the profitable Italian Aermacci cycle division and produce their own lighter cycle. The venture was a disappointment, however, and sales never reached expectations. In 1965 the company made its first public offering of stock in order to raise capital for expansion and modernization. A number of corporate buyers were attracted to the company because of its stability and 12 to 16% market share. To fend off an unwanted take over by Bangor Punta Corporation, stockholders agreed to merge in 1969 with American Machine and Foundry (AMF) of White Plains, New York, a successful manufacturer of sporting goods and leisure items. Descendants of the founders had always managed Harley-Davidson up to this point. After the merger with AMF, William H. Davidson son of William A., became chairman of the company for a short time, after which many non-family members chaired the firm. AMF invested millions in the company for development and for advertising and promotion. Harleys were used in the movie "Electra Glide in Blue" and Evel Knievel performed on a Harley-Davidson bike. By 1973 AMF had moved Harley's assembly operations to a plant in York, Pennsylvania leaving the Milwaukee plants chiefly as components manufacturing facilities. In its annual report for 1975, AMF indicated that its future was in the production of industrial products and services rather than in the leisure field of sporting goods and motorcycles. At this point, only 1% of AMF's profit was derived from the sale of cycles. Another attempt was made to get the Federal government to impose protectionist import tariffs for the cycle industry in 1978, but the outcome did not materially enhance Harley-Davidson's market position. While the U.S. Treasury Department found evidence that three out of four Japanese manufacturers sold their motorcycles cheaper here than at home, the International Trade Commission ruled that Japanese sales had not hurt Harley's sales since Harley's products appealed to an entirely different segment of the market. The Commission felt that Harley-Davidson needed to revamp its product and marketing technique to be competitive. Finally, in 1981, after a number of years of negotiations, various Harley-Davidson and AMF executives purchased the company from AMF and set it on an independent course once more. John A. Davidson, third generation family member and former Harley-Davidson president, was seen as a key figure to head the buy-back management team, but, in the end, declined to participate. The future of Harley-Davidson is uncertain. Although it has met production projections, rising interest rates have reduced dealer traffic. Employees have been laid off, benefits cut and the warehouse at York, Pennsylvania was eliminated. Honda is now encroaching on Harley's traditional stronghold, the heavyweight cycle market and its market share has failed from a hard-won 21% to 14%. Recently, however, the U.S. government imposed sizable tariffs on the larger Japanese cycles making them competitive in cost with Harley's. This move should improve Harley's market position. (B, C). HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE: The Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company, whose name is synonomous with motorcycle production in the United States is nationally significant for its contribution to the development of small engine vehicles. During the period of significance (1910-1934) represented by the nominated buildings, the company revolutionized motorcycle production by the invention and use of the first 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. All of these innovations were developed by one of the company's three founders, William Harley. The company was begun in 1903 by Harley, Arthur, William, and Walt Davidson and grew to be the world's largest producer of motorcycles by 1918. In 1912 the company had dealerships in sixty-seven countries, a figure that has not been equaled by other domestic producers. Harley-Davidson alone weathered competition from the automobile, the Great Depression and competition from foreign imports to survive as the only remaining domestic manufacturer of motorcycles. (B). This company is the oldest manufacturer of motorcycles in the United States and the only company in the world to build a full line ranging from 50cc to 1,200cc.
Bibliographic References:A. Milwaukee City Building Permits. B. Wright, David. "The Harley-Davidson Motor Company, An Official Eight-Year History." Osceola, Wisconsin: Motorbooks International, 1983. C. "The Harley-Davidson Story." Milwaukee: Harley-Davidson Motor Co., 1982. D. THE MILWAUKEE BUSINESS JOURNAL 7/3/1993. E. MILWAUKEE HISTORIC BUILDINGS TOUR: WEST END, CITY OF MILWAUKEE DEPARTMENT OF CITY DEVELOPMENT, 1994. Milwaukee Sentinel 7/14/1964. Milwaukee Sentinel 11/14/1966.
Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory, State Historic Preservation Office, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin

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