Harley-Davidson: The “First Factory” and Evolution of the Juneau Ave Site 

After William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson started development of single cylinder engines and bicycle frames, they began to use the shed originally constructed by Arthur’s father, William C. Davidson. William was a cabinetmaker for the Milwaukee Road Railway shops and commonly used the 10×15-foot woodshed as his personal shop. However, by 1903, Arthur and William took the shed over as their new and first motorcycle factory. At some point, this takeover must have been agreed upon because someone informally painted on the door “Harley-Davidson Motor Co.” The factory stood on the Davidson lot that is now the site of the Miller Brewing Co. headquarters on the corner of 38th Street and Highland Avenue in Milwaukee, Wis.

harley-davidson factory
The Juneau Avenue facility, circa 1908.

Over the years that followed, the original shed was added upon to accommodate more equipment and workers. The new, little motorcycle company was going places. In 1906, operations were moved to a second wood-construction building on what is now the current Juneau Avenue site. But it was quickly apparent that a much more substantial facility was needed. The main wedge-shaped building at Juneau Avenue was constructed in stages between 1910 and 1913. The impact it had on production was noticeable, with production of 3,168 motorcycles in 1910 rising sharply to 12,904 units during 1913. A much later addition was built in 1966 on the side facing the railroad tracks to the north. The main Juneau Avenue building was used at least partially for motorcycle and parts production as recently as 1973 when motorcycle assembly operations moved to York.

Construction on the companion building — known as the “old P&A building,” “the warehouse” and other names — began in 1913 with the two story structure that today houses the Harleywood studios. Additions to the building were developed from 1918 to 1926 and housed various machining operations and later, lightweight and vintage motorcycle storage. The section that now houses H-D University offices and the Harleywood edit suite was built much later in 1957. The building was even leased to a discount department store chain called Millway from 1966 to about 1969. After that time, the entire structure was used for parts and accessories distribution until the construction of the Franklin Distribution Center in 1997. Today, the “warehouse” is home to the Juneau Conference Center, Harley-Davidson University classes and shops, the Archives, the Red Brick Café, Employee Store and new fitness center.

Whether or not the founders of Harley- Davidson envisioned the incredible transformation of the intersection of 38th and Juneau Avenue when they built their first motorcycles, what finally resulted was a site that now has a very special meaning for employees and customers alike.

Story and photo courtesy of the Harley-Davidson archives.

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