There are many different American-based motorcycle brands. The history of Indian Motorcycle Company dates back to the early 1900s. It was officially founded in 1901 by George M Hendee and Carl Oscar Hedstrom. Originally based out of Springfield, Massachusetts, the company now has operations in Iowa and Minnesota.
The company was started in 1897 under the name Hendee Manufacturing Company. It was the bicycle-manufacturing project of George M Hendee. The products were initially given the badge of Silver Queen or Silver King but was quickly switched to American Indian and later reduced to just Indian. Hendee adopted this branding in 1898 because he felt that it improved recognition in export markets. Carl Hedstrom teamed up with Hendee in 1900.
Both of the men were former bike racers and manufacturers, so it was no surprise that they decided to work together to produce a motorcycle designed with a 1.75 bph, one-cylinder engine. The bike was successfully made and Hendee saw sales significantly increase over the next decade. In 1901, the founding year of this company, one prototype and two production units of the Single bike were designed, manufactured and tested. Just a year later, the first edition of Indian motorcycles were sold to the public. These designs featured a streamlined style and chain drives. Indian is known for its signature deep red color, which was introduced with a batch of bikes in 1904.
Production of these motorcycles exceeded 500 bikes a year at this time and continued to rise to more than 30,000 by 1913. The engines in the Single model were designed by the Aurora Firm of Illinois. Up until this point, the brand was seeing great success with its product and the public was taking notice. In 1905, the motorcycle brand produced its debut V-Twin factory racer. Their products were well-known for being part of racing and record breaking scores.
This manufacturer saw its greatest success during the 1910s. At that time, it was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. In fact, it was this factory team that earned the first three places in the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy in 1911. The most popular models were the Scout, manufactured between 1920 and 1946, as well as the Chief, manufactured from 1922 to 1953.
One of the most famous riders associated with this brand was Erwin Baker, also known as Cannonball. He set many long-distance records in his time and rode this bike across the United States, from California to New York, in just over 11 days. His main bike became the Powerplus model, which debuted in 1916. This was a successful bike, as a racer and roadster. It was available up until 1924, with few changes made to the overall design over the years.
Racing competitions were a major part of the success of this brand. This is, in part, how it became a well-known brand. The public saw many of their favorite racers on these bikes. Not surprisingly, they wanted their own and so sales increased. Despite this success, the two founding members were no longer associated with the business soon after its strong start. Oscar Hedstrom left in 1913, following disagreements with the board of directors related to practices used to inflate company stock value. Hendee chose to resign from his position in 1916.
Still, the brand kept on with its production. Between 1916 and 1919, it introduced several new models. During World War I, 1917-1918, the company sold most of its Powerplus models to the US government. The motorcycles were popular in the military, but post-war demand was taken by other manufacturers. Although the brand was able to gain some from the business boom during the 1920s, it struggled and even lost its number one spot in the American market to Harley-Davidson.
In 1930, Indian and DuPont motors merged. DuPont founder E Paul DuPont stopped production of DuPont automobiles in order to focus resources and attention on Indian. By 1940, the company was selling nearly as many bikes at its biggest rival Harley-Davidson. This was during a time when it represented the only real American-made heavyweight cruiser option aside from Harley-Davidson. The company also began to produce bicycles, air conditioners, boat voters and aircraft engines around this time.
By the 1950s, several changes had taken place with the company and in 1953, it went bankrupt. There were numerous organizations that have taken the name in the years since, none with much success. In 2011, Polaris Industries chose to buy the business. It relocated all of the North Carolina operations to Minnesota and Iowa. Since August of 2013, three motorcycle models that capitalized on the traditional Indian bike styling have been manufactured under the Indian name.