History of the Indian Motorcycle Company

When you are looking to purchase a car, a house, or just about anything, most people want to buy from a company that is reputable, competitively priced, and will stand by their product.  Well, if you are looking to buy a new or vintage motorcycle, Indian is the company that you want to go with.

In 1901, the Indian Motorcycle Company, then called Hendee Manufacturing Company, created the first American motorcycle.  By 1907, their bikes were considered the best selling and most technologically advanced bikes because while other companies were still producing single engines that only produced 5 horsepower or less, the Indian company had released the V-twin engine motorcycle.

This type of success had a lot to do with the “chiefs” of the Indian Motorcycle Company, George Hendee and Carl Oscar Hedstrom.  Mr. Hendee was a racer (won 302 of 309 races) and bike builder, while Mr. Hedstrom was an engineer.  These two built a new factory (affectionately called the “wigwam”) in Massachusetts. From there, the company had a lot of “firsts”.  They built the first big twin motors, the first 2-speed transmission, the first adjustable front suspension, and had the first bikes with electric lights and an electric starter.  The New York Police Department also helped the Indian Motorcycle Company become the first to produce motorcycles for a police department.  All of these “firsts” made it impossible for the competition t keep up.  Demand was far more than the supply because there was a fierce loyalty to the Indian brand.  People commonly brought their old bikes in to purchase new ones, or would buy new bikes for the generations after them.

With the end of World War I and the start of the 20’s, the Indian Motorcycle Company got new leadership.  With the departure of its two founding-fathers, Mr. Hedstrom’s assistant Charles Gustafson and racer, Charles B. Franklin, took the reigns. One of their first accomplishments was releasing the first dedicated board-track factory racer directly to the public.  It has 4 valves per cylinder, an overhead-valve engine, and was light weight because it had no “unnecessary items”, like brakes, a throttle or fenders.  Its $375 price tag, more than ⅓ the amount of a fully-loaded Chief motorcycle, made for low public sales, but it was incredibly popular on the racetrack and won many races.  These men also had great success with models like the Powerplus, the Scout, the Big Chief and the Indian Four (Indian Ace).

While there were great celebrations over the success of these bikes and the success Indian Motorcycle Company was finding on the race track, the people in the front office were slowly bleeding the company dry.  They were investing in non-motorcycle related companies that were later suspected of being companies those same people owned.  This sent Indian into a 10-year financial tailspin that was only made worse by the gaining of momentum by their competitors (Harley-Davidson, Henderson, Excelsior, etc.).  The Indian company needed a miracle if they were going to survive the Depression.

A miracle is just what they got, by the name of Eleuthere Paul duPont.  Mr. duPont convinced his brother to merge their family luxury car business with Indian, which was a big risk at the time because cars were doing so well, thanks to Ford.  The next step was for them to cease all production of non-motorcycle operations.  Finally, they lured Briggs Weaver, a designer who parented the classic Indian look and Loren Hosley, who fixed the money issues and helped Indian hit record-breaking gains in income in less than a decade.  Thanks to these men, Indian Motorcycle Company was restored to the top of the motorcycle world and could move on to produce new technology, dominate the race track and be the strong company that it still is today.

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