The History of Indian Motorcycle

The History of Indian Motorcycle

Indian Motorcycle was the very first motorcycle manufacturing company in the United States. It is also one of the most well-known motorcycle brands in America.

Like many businesses, the company has had its fair share of ups and downs. But, as we all know, it’s the tough times that make us even stronger. 

Indian Motorcycle was one of the only American motorcycle manufacturing companies to survive the Great Depression. And, during World War I, Indian showed their American patriotism by putting retail production aside and dedicating their efforts towards manufacturing motorcycles for the U.S. military. 

Indian Motorcycle enthusiasts across the country have kept the brand alive for over a century! For many, the brand represents freedom, perseverance and the beauty of American culture. 

Continue reading below to learn even more about the history and legacy of Indian Motorcycle. 

Starting the Engine

In 1897, a bicycle business called Hendee Manufacturing Company was founded by George M. Hendee. The company produced bicycles with model names such as Silver King, Silver Queen and American Indian. 

Eventually, the company would take on the name of the latter model. It was later shortened to “Indian” and became the company’s primary brand name. 

A few years later, in 1901, Hendee hired a man named Oscar Hedstrom to build a gasoline-powered bicycle to pace bicycle races. Hendee would soon become a co-founder of the company.

Revving Up

When Hedstrom was young, he had a love for bicycles and an interest in their inner workings. 

At 16 years old, he had a job at a watchmaker’s shop. It was there that he learned how to use machine tools, make patterns and forge metal. This experience, combined with his love for bicycles, led him to build his own in his home shop. 

Hedstrom became known for building bicycles that were of a higher quality than the typical bicycle produced by manufacturing companies. 

Soon later, Hedstrom began making gasoline-powered engines for pacer bicycles. Pacers were used to block and reduce windblast for bicyclists who were trying to reach record speeds. 

During this time, pacers were poorly constructed and, therefore, unreliable. Hedstrom’s pacers stood out from the others due to their power and durability. This success is what led to a future partnership between Hendee and Hedstrom. 

Full Throttle

Hendee heard the buzz about Hedstrom and hired him to build a prototype of a fuel-powered bicycle. Unsurprisingly, the prototype was a success!

The two soon opened a factory in Springfield, Massachusetts. Their first motorcycle was sold in 1902. And, in 1906, the first V-twin factory race motorcycle was built. 

In the 1910s, Indian Motorcycle made a lot of headway. These years were filled with new innovations and advancements, such as the leaf-spring front fork, automatic oil pump, 2-speed transmission, floorboards, starter hand cranks and rear swingarm suspension. The company also built the first electric start on a motorcycle.

Ten years later, some of the most iconic models were released, including the Scout, Chief and Big Chief. And, in 1923, the company changed its name from Hendee Manufacturing Company to the Indian Motocycle Company. And, that’s no typo! At this time, there was not an “r” in the company’s name. 

Indian became an iconic brand in the 1920s. This was the decade in which the famous 45-ci, 750cc V-twin engine was released. It is still recognized as one of the greatest engines Indian ever constructed. 

Shifting Gears 

In the 1930s, the economy was in shambles due to the Great Depression. Motorcycle sales were down industry-wide. However, despite these circumstances, Indian Motorcycle was able to remain in business.

In 1945, the company was sold to Ralph B. Rogers. Then, in 1950, John Brockhouse replaced Rogers as the company president. Unfortunately, three years later, Indian stopped manufacturing all models. 

In 1955, Brockhouse Engineering purchased the rights to the Indian Motorcycle name and began to sell Royal Enfield motorcycles branded as Indian until 1960.

One decade later, Alan Newman acquired the Indian Motorcycle trademark. Unfortunately, sales declined, and sadly, production stopped again in 1977. 

In 1998, a merger that consisted of nine companies formed the Indian Motorcycle Company of America (IMCA). They began brand-exclusive production of Indian motorcycles. It seemed like a good fresh start for the company. Unfortunately, five years later, Indian went bankrupt.

However, in 2008 Stelican Ltd. purchased Indian. During this time, production resumed once again. A moderate amount of motorcycles were manufactured until Stelican sold the company to Polaris Industries in 2011.

Full Speed Ahead

For the past decade, Indian Motorcycle has been laser-focused on growth and development. The road has not been easy for the company. Given all that Indian Motorcycle has overcome, they truly represent what it means to overcome adversity. 

During the 2010s, Indian Motorcycle made many accomplishments. Shortly after Polaris purchased Indian, they released several new models. One of them was the Chieftain, which is still one of their most popular models today. And, in 2014, their Indian Chief model was named cruiser of the year.

They’ve also had some pretty cool partnerships during the past few years. For instance, they have a multi-year partnership with Veteran’s Charity Ride to Sturgis. 

They also had a collaboration with Jack Daniels and Klock Werks Kustom Cycles. The three brands came together to create the first Limited Edition Jack Daniels Indian Springfield and Chief Vintage.

Today, Indian Motorcycle remains one of the most recognizable American motorcycle brands. This iconic company is going anywhere, anytime soon!

What’s your favorite Indian Motorcycle model? Let us know in the comments below!

And, if you’d like to learn more about the history of motorcycles in America, check out our post on the history of Harley-Davidson

3 comments on “The History of Indian Motorcycle”

  • I’ve never had the chance to ride an Indian. I’ve never even seen one in real life. My dad used to tell of riding dressed out Indians and running out thru the woods when the man got after them. I have ridden hondas up to the 750, Harley 74Superglide, chopper 74and my 45inch chopper I loved. The45 almost was the end of me and I will carry the proof as long as I live. Wasn’t the bikes faul! If I could find a trike I could afford, I would ride again. As it stands I just do manage to pay my bills. I’m glad you’re back again and hope you stay for the rest of my life at the very least. Hopefully a longer than that. Thanks for reading this.

  • I purchased all of Indians hard assets inn2004 and worked with both Stelican and Polaris .. you state that Indian of Gilroy filed Bankruptcy. That never happened. It has been repeated far and wide but never happened . They did an ABC which was nothing like a bankruptcy and didn’t allow for any federal insight or investigation. Many articles , even Stilcan and Polaris use the term Bankruptcy when in fact they know it didn’t happen. It’s part of a coverup .

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