History - Indian Motocycle

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Springfield Massachusetts saw the birth of a legend in the shape of ‘The Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company’; its most famous models being the ‘Scout’ and the ‘Chief’, the latter being in production for an incredible thirty-one years.

The founders of the company, which was originally known as the ‘Hendee Manufacturing Company’, were George M. Hendee and Carl Oscar Hedstrom, a pair of former bicycle racers who joined forces to produce a 1 ¾ horsepower motorcycle. Sales began slowly, but soon increased giving the company a solid platform to build upon. These early bikes were belt-driven and by 1903 were performing well enough to allow Hedstrom to create a new motorcycle speed record of 56mph.

Aurora of Illinois supplied the engine that would power the ‘Diamond framed Single’, which carried the rich red that would become synonymous with Indian. Introduced in 1902, sales rose to 32,000 in 1913. 1907 saw the introduction of a V-twin which, along with Erwin ‘Canonball’ Baker would set many long distance records culminating with a trip from San Diego to New York in a record time of 11 days, 12 hours and ten minutes. As is the case today, competition inspired technical innovation and Indian went from strength to strength, winning the Isle of Man TT race in 1911. Not only that, but Indians finished second and third too.

The Indian Chief and Scout appeared in the early 1920’s and went on to become the flagships of the company. By this time, both Hendee and Hedstrom had left the company. Both bikes won the admiration of the public, not only for their looks, but also for their durability, hence the saying, ‘You can’t wear out an Indian Scout, or its brother the 26 Indian Chief. They are built like rocks to take hard knocks; it’s the Harleys that cause the grief’.

By 1930 Indian had teamed up with ‘Dupont Motors’ who ended the production of Dupont cars to put every ounce of energy and resource into the development of the Indian. Their links with the paint industry saw a dramatic increase in colour choice, with 24 on offer by 1934. This is the time when the distinctive Indian head-dress logo first saw light of day on the tanks of the machines, and it wasn’t long before the Indian factory became known as the ‘Wigwam’.

By 1940, Indian has almost rivalled its major competitor Harley Davidson in sales. The company also produced engineless bicycles, air conditioning equipment, aircraft engines along with many other lines. This year also saw the introduction of the skirted fenders which were to define Indians for years to come. Another innovation that arrived at this time was the sprung frame which made the machine far superior to the Harley of the day. In its basic form, the Chief could reach 86mph, but with a little tuning over 100mph was possible.

Ralph B. Rogers was the leader of a consortium which bought a controlling interest in Indian in 1945, and on November 1st Dupont officially handed control to Rogers. Unfortunately Rogers discontinued the Scout to concentrate on models such as the 149 Arrow, the Warrior 250 and the Superscout 249. These bikes suffered from poor quality and a lack of development and by 1949 production had almost ground to a halt. In 1953 manufacturer of all Indian’s models was ceased and the import of the ‘Royal Enfield’ from England began. These models were badged and sold as Indians throughout the rest of the decade. Later, the Indian name became the property of a company that imported ‘Matchless’ motorcycles, however the Indian name wasn’t used.

In the 1960’s, one Floyd Clymer began to use the Indian name on imported bikes from Italy, apparently without buying the trademark from the last known owner. When Clymer died in 1970, his widow sold the mark to Los Angeles attorney, Alan Newman who continued to import Italian machines, and later bikes from Taiwan, but by 1975 the company was in trouble and in 1977 was declared bankrupt. A legal battle ensued for the rights of the brand name, and eventually in 1988 the Federal Bankruptcy Court in Denver cleared the way for ‘Gilroy’ to resume the production of Indians. These bikes became known as the ‘Gilroy Indians’.

In 2006, a London based company took control and created a new factory in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. Plans are being drawn up to produce a new chief, something we all look forward to.

Maybe the glory days of Indian will return, but we can’t leave off without mentioning Bert Munro from New Zealand, who in the 1960’s, with the aid of a 1920’s Indian Scout created numerous land speed records as seen in the 2005 movie ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’

Indian Motorcycle Company

Indian Motorcycle History referenced from Motorbike Tours UK