If you’re a fan of classic cars or just transportation in general, the Wisconsin Automotive Museum is a must-see. The largest museum of its kind in the state of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Automotive Museum is located in downtown Hartford in Washington County, offering a wide array of classic car makes and models, a 100+ year-old Soo Line locomotive, an impressive Lionel layout, and even the Southeastern Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Fame, which is filled with memorabilia, photos, and even some of the race cars that have added to the state’s storied auto and racing history.
The Art Deco interior theme of the museum helps bring you back in history. Once inside, a huge Lionel train set that will fascinate kids and model railroad buffs alike greets you. Beyond is a sea of 115+ vehicles on exhibit, including Pontiacs, Studebakers, Chevrolets, Kaisers, Fords, and other cars from around the world. The collection is rounded out by displays of automotive artifacts such as gas pumps, signs, license plates, oil cans, and an assortment of outboard engines that were built in Hartford from the 1930s to the 1990s.
Of special note are the exhibits showcasing Wisconsin-made models and the state’s extensive automobile manufacturing history. Including among the brands are Nash, which was based in Kenosha. It evolved into American Motors in 1954 after merging with Hudson and continued to be headquartered in Kenosha for decades after. Hartford itself was an automotive manufacturing center, serving as the home for the legendary Kissel models, made here from 1906 to 1930. The Kissels have their own section with multiple models on display, a video providing background on the models, and more.
One cool area for road trip lovers (and a favorite of the State Trunk Tour, of course!) is the Wisconsin Highway History exhibit, which takes you through the history and creation of Wisconsin’s state highway system. Wisconsin was the first governmental entity to implement an organized numbered system for highways. The system debuted in 1917, a year before Michigan did something similar. Today, of course, numbered highway systems are used around the world. Early highway signs used the term “State Trunk Highway” on the top of a triangle, with the number of the highway below and “WIS” spelled vertically below that. They were often painted on trees and poles along the roadside; examples of this are shown at the exhibit.
As Wisconsin’s road signs evolved, a square was added on top of the triangle to add more space and make the number easier to read. The triangle layer in the background stayed, and that’s why on Wisconsin’s state road signs you’ll see the top and the bottom point of an upside-down triangle sticking out behind the square on the sign.
The more you know, right??
Visiting the Wisconsin Automotive Museum
Wednesdays – Saturdays from 10am to 5pm.
$10 for adults
$6 for Children ages 6-16
Children 5 and under are FREE
Seniors (62+) can get in for $9
They accept cash, MasterCard, and Visa
You’ll find the Wisconsin Automotive Museum on Rural Street in downtown Hartford, roughly one block north of Highway 60/Sumter Street and one block west of Highway 83/Main Street.
Wisconsin Automotive Museum Address:
147 N. Rural Street
Hartford, WI 53027