Welcome to the Indian Museum
For collectors, an Indian bicycle is a dream bike, something to aspire to. After much searching, I managed to find an incomplete – therefore affordable – 1920s one, and ship it over to England. Throughout 2010 I located enough parts to complete its build-up. In these pages you can see its various states of undress, and its eventual debut. I hope this might inspire others to live their cycling dreams.
The Hendee badge above is from a pre-1923 Indian, while the one on the right is post-1923.
Those below are from 1948-1958.
George M. Hendee, furthest to the left
George M Hendee took up bicycle racing at age 16. He won the United States National Amateur High Wheel Championship in 1886, setting a new world record over a dirt half-mile track of 2 minutes 27.4 seconds, and held it until 1892. He was America’s first national cycling champion, winning 302 of the 309 races he entered, and dedicating himself to racing and traveling to bicycling events.
In 1892 Hendee retired from bicycle racing. He began making Silver King bicycles at 41-43 Taylor Street in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1895. In 1896 the Hendee & Nelson Manufacturing Company at 478 Main Street in Springfield Massachusetts were building safety bicycles under the names of Silver King for men and Silver Queen for women. The company went bankrupt and Hendee purchased the entire inventory at auction and set up shop on Worthington Street in 1898. The Hendee Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1898 with a capital stock of $5,000. The company’s new line of bicycles was called Indian.
Hendee sponsored a number of bicycle racers and events throughout New England. It was during an event in Madison Square Garden in January 1900 that Hendee became acquainted with Oscar Hedström and witnessed first-hand the excellent performance of the motorized pacing bicycle built by Oscar Hedstrom.
Hendee and Hedstrom signed a partnership agreement in January 1901 and Carl Oscar Hedstrom became the chief engineer and designer. The first Indian prototype was built by Hedstrom at the Worcester Bicycle Manufacturing Company in Middletown, CT and the first public demonstration was held on Cross St. in Springfield on May 10, 1901. Hedstrom traveled to Aurora, IL to refine his engine design and Hendee Mfg. Co contracted and licensed the Aurora Automatic Machine Company to build the engine (the contract was terminated on March 5, 1907). Hedstrom supervised all aspects of manufacturing, including the designing of production molds and machines and expansion of both factories (the main factory on State Street and the forging factory Hendeeville in East Springfield) while Hendee, as president and general manager, traveled extensively to set up dealerships and arrange financing. By 1912, Hendee Manufacturing Co was the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer. In 1913, the company’s production peaked at 32,000 units.
The company’s name was changed to Indian Motocycle Co in November 1923.
Early Indian motorcycles, as you can see in the 1905 review above, were bicycles with engines attached. Later bicycles kept the motorcycle theme.
The 1916 ‘Chief Motor-Bike’ bicycle advertised below was not an Indian, but cashed in on the popular Indian theme.
Quoting the 1917 ad below, ‘Indian Motocycle effect throughout…’
The reason American bicycles were made to look like scaled down motorcycles was that sales suffered greatly after the first bicycle boom ended around the turn of the century. Most manufacturers who remained in the bicycle market were forced to cater for the youth market.
The caption ‘Just Like Big Brother’s Motorcycle’ in the 1920 ad below neatly summarizes the marketing strategy that remained in force for the rest of the century in America.
This imagery also illustrates a gulf being created between America and the rest of the world. Outside America, of course, bicycles were used as daily transport by adults.
But, according to the pictures we see here (though obviously not in reality, as America had plenty of poor people too!), bicycles were only suitable for youngsters who were not yet old enough to own a motorcycle.
INDIAN SCOUT MOTORCYCLE
The Indian Scout was introduced in 1920, and the model ran until 1939.
The 1928 Scout 101 was the most famous version (1928 ad below), considered the ultimate in Indian motorcycle technology.
In 1930 Indian merged with duPont Motors. Scouts saw plenty of action in WW2, but the model was discontinued directly after the war. I’m not quite sure what happened after the company folded. According to http://www.harleymate.com:
‘In 1945, a group headed by Ralph B. Rogers purchased a controlling interest of the company. On November 1, 1945, duPont formally turned the operations of Indian over to Rogers. Under Rogers’ control, Indian discontinued the Scout and began to manufacture lightweight motorcycles such as the 149 Arrow, the Super Scout 249, both introduced in 1949, and the 250 Warrior, introduced in 1950. These bikes suffered from poor quality and a lack of development. Production of traditional Indians was extremely limited in 1949, and no 1949 Chiefs are known to exist.
Manufacture of all products was halted in 1953. Brockhouse Engineering and Royal Enfield bikes were imported from England and badged and sold as Indians through the rest of the 1950s. After this the Indian name passed to the company that imported Matchless motorcycles into the US, however it did not attach the name to any motorcycles, and it went into liquidation in 1962.’
However, other sources suggest that the Indian Matchless motorcycles were imported from an earlier date, around 1952-1954. As you can see, the ad below is from 1952.