Indian is known as the first American motorcycle company, with motorcycle sales dating back to before Harley Davidson began production. In 1897, George M. Hendee, a former bicycle racer, founded the Hendee Manufacturing Company to manufacture bicycles in Springfield, Massachusetts. The bicycles that Hendee initially manufactured were called the “Silver King” and “Silver Queen” brand, but the name “America Indian” was what they were generally known as. The name “American Indian” was eventually shortened to “Indian”, and in 1898, the Hendee Manufacturing Company began officially using the “Indian” name, because it gave their bicycles more recognition. Carl Hedström, another former bicycle racer and manufacturer, worked together with George Hendee to design a motorcycle with a 1.75HP single cylinder engine.
By 1901, one prototype of the first Indian single was designed, along with just two production units. These were the first motorcycles built by Indian, and featured a diamond frame and chain drives. The company began producing more of these single engine motorcycles and began selling them to the public in 1902. By 1904, the Indian Motorcycle Company (as they were now called) introduced the dark red color that would grow to become Indian’s trademark color. The company was now producing over 500 bikes annually.
Some other notable dates:
-1905: The Indian Motorcycle Company built its first V-twin factory racer, which quickly gained popularity
-1907: A street version of the V-twin was introduced
-1914: Erwin “Cannonball” Baker ride an Indian across America, from San Diego, California, to New York, New York, in a record breaking 11 days, 12 hours, and 10 minutes. Baker’s record breaking run has been repeated in recent years, and the 2012 Cannonball Run actually departed from Motorcyclepedia (for photos of this historic event, please check out our photo gallery).
-1916: Indian introduced a single cylinder two stroke Model K, featuring an open cradle frame and a pivoting front fork.
-1917: Indian replaced the Model K with the Model 0 – a four stroke flat twin engine
-During World War I, Indian sold most of their stock of motorcycles to the United States Military, leaving their network of dealerships without any motorcycles to sell. This caused the company to lose their ranking as the number one brand of motorcycles in America during this time period. The company struggled to regain their popularity as they competed with Harley Davidson.
-Indian Chiefs, Scouts, and Junior Scouts were all used during World War II, and Indian built the Model 841 during the war at the request of the United States Military for experimental motorcycles suited to desert fighting, but the military favored Jeep vehicles over the Model 841 or the Harley Davidson XA (which Harley built for the same experimental purpose).
-1945: A group run by Ralph B. Rogers purchased a controlling share of the Indian Motorcycle Company, and the company operations were formally turned over to Rogers. Under Rogers’ management, the Scout was discontinued, and the overall production of motorcycles began to dwindle.
-1953: Manufacture of all motorcycles was halted in 1953
Other attempts at manufacturing motorcycles under the Indian name continued through the 1960s – 1990s, and in 1999, nine companies merged to form the Indian Motorcycle Company of America. The company manufactured Chiefs, Scouts, and Spirit models from 2001-2003, but in 2003, the corporation went into bankruptcy and ceased all productions.
In 2011, Polaris Industries acquired Indian Motorcycle, and moved production facilities to Iowa, and they began production in August, 2011. They are presently still in business and continue to manufacture Indian Motorcycles.
Motorcyclepedia is home to over 100 Indian motorcycles, with a complete Indian Timeline from 1901-1953, plus dozens more from throughout the years.