There’s just nothing like heading out on the open road on a motorcycle. If you’re riding an Indian Motorcycle, that’s even better. Known as America’s First Motorcycle Company, Indian Motorcycles have been around for a very long time. Before we go getting ahead of ourselves, keep reading to find out 20 things you didn’t know about Indian Motorcycles…and “head out on the highway.”
1. Been around for over a hundred years
That’s right, IMC has been heading out on the highway for over a century. This American brand was first produced in 1901. However, in the beginning, the company was called Hendee Manufacturing instead, until 1928, when the name was changed to the moniker it’s still known by today. Can you imagine seeing a motorcycle driving around in the horse and buggy days? They probably caused quite a stir, which led to their subsequent success.
2. IMC was a huge success…until it wasn’t
At the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy in 1911, the IMC took the three top places, dominating the competition. However, despite these impressive victories and the fact that IMC had become the largest producer of motorcycles in the world at the time, the company still went bankrupt in 1953. Many companies and organizations tried breathing life back into the company in the years that followed but only meet with limited success.
3. Hendee just wanted to go faster
The first gasoline-powered bike, created by George Hendee, a former bicycle racing champion, racing promoter, and bicycle manufacturer was built in 1901 by Oscar Hedstrom who had been hired by Hendee to do just that. Hedstrom proved to be a reliable builder, producing for Hedstrom a powerful machine that brought the company the reputation for outstanding performance. The company’s first factory then opened in Springfield, Massachusetts later that same year, producing the motorcycle that would be the first ever Indian Motorcycle sold to a retail customer the following year. Hendee and Hedstrom had succeeded in producing the first motorized bike and become the first motorcycle company in the US as well.
4. Hendee actually founded American Indian in 1897.
Calling it the Hendee Manufacturing Company, Hendee first founded his bicycle production company in 1897. He gave the bicycles brand names, such as Silver Queen and Silver King, but it was his American Indian brand that became his primary brand name, eventually going on to produce motorcycles.
5. IMC immediately began setting records after production began.
In 1902, one of the motorcycles won the first endurance race, making its public debut racing from Boston to New York. The following year, Oscar Hedstrom, who had become both Hendee’s chief engineer and the company’s co-founder, won an endurance race of his own riding one of the Indian motorcycles from NYC to Springfield and back. He also set a new speed world record at fifty-six miles per hour.
6. IMC kept breaking records.
The next big record made by an Indian motorcycle was in 1906 when Louis J. Mueller and George Holden rode one from San Francisco to NYC in thirty-one and half days. Not only was this a record time, but they accomplished it with no mechanical problems whatsoever. Talk about advertising! At the time, there would have been no better way to advertise than by setting record after record while maintaining excellent running condition. The following year, victory was claimed in a thousand mile reliability trial in England by American TK Hastings.
7. The first motorcycles were basically motorized bicycles.
The first motorcycle had a single cylinder engine with 1.75 brake horsepower (bhp). Brake horsepower measures the horsepower of an engine before power loss from the water pump, alternator, gearbox, and other auxiliary components. However, by 1906, the first racing bike was built with the first ever V-twin, or V2 engine. A V2 engine is an internal combustion engine with the two cylinders arranged in a V-configuration, hence the nickname “V2”.
8. The first Indian V2 was also America’s first.
By 1907, the V-twin engine, which was the first V2 motorcycle engine produced in America, had been introduced in consumer models as well. As such, these Indian motorcycles began setting more records. In 1913, one such record was in sales; at that point thirty-two thousand motorcycles had been sold, setting a new record. Another happened a year later with a record-breaking ride from San Diego to New York which was done in eleven days, twelve hours, and ten minutes by Erwin “Cannonball” Baker riding on his Indian motorcycle. The following year, in 1915, “Cannonball” Baker set another record when he completed a Three-Flag run from Canada to Mexico by way of California in just three and a half days.
9. IMC provided the US military with motorcycles during WWI.
Co-founder Hendee resigned in 1916 as company president. The following year the US entered World War I and IMC was very dedicated to the war effort, providing much of its production to the US military. In fact, IMC provided almost fifty thousand motorcycles between 1917 and 1919. Unfortunately, this resulted in limited inventory for motorcycle dealers, allowing retail sales to drop considerably.
10. The first Indian Scout was released in 1920.
The early 1920s were iconic for IMC due to the introduction of several new motorcycles, such as the Indian Scout. The Scout was the first motorcycle that really enticed people to ride. It was fast, easy to maneuver, and was reliable as well. This decade would see the production of not only the famous Scout, but also the Chief in 1922, the Big Chief the next year, which became a best-seller, and the Prince in 1925.
11. The company changed names in 1923.
From the time the company was first established in 1901 until 1923, the company went by Hendee Manufacturing Company. However, in 1923 the name was changed to The Indian Motocycle Company, originally without the “r” in motorcycle. Eventually, the “r” was added back in. The company also introduced a larger version of the Scout engine which became practically legendary; this version ended up being thought of as one of the best engines the company ever built. The Scout was also the company’s most popular model.
12. The company continued to grow despite the depression.
Paul DuPont sold his existing shares of his namesake automobile company to IMC and in exchange, bought up a controlling share of IMC stock. He then forced out existing management, replacing who was in charge of operations with Loring F. “Joe” Hosley. Under Hosley’s tutelage, IMC resumed introducing new yearly models to the lineup. Despite the depression, IMC continued making sales, albeit somewhat smaller in number.
13. DuPont + IMC = Colorful motorcycles
Because DuPont had connections in the paint industry due to his automobile company association, Indian motorcycles were available in over twenty-four different colors. Additionally, the logo at the time was a war bonnet head-dress on the gas tank, leading to Native American themed advertising for the company. Interesting enough, the factory in Springfield was referred to as the Wigwam. In addition to motorcycles, IMC and Dupont also built air conditioners, boat and aircraft engines, and bicycles.
14. The first Daytona 200 was won on an Indian motorcycle.
The first Daytona 200 was won by a prepared-for-race Indian Sport Scout by Ed Kretz in 1937. The very next year, a Sturgis IMC based club, Jackpine Gypsies held the Black Hills Classic race which later became known as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The IMC really paved the way for all motorcycles and motorcycles races. The motorized bikes are familiar nowadays, but just imagine what it would have been like back then, cars are just becoming popular, and here comes someone on an Indian Scout. It must have been a spectacular sight!
15. IMC serves it country again during WWII.
IMC focused its efforts from 1940 through 1945 on contributing to the Allied troops. The company first began building motorcycles in 1941 for the government in France. In addition, IMC also produced the Model 841 for the US Army. During this time, very few motorcycles were produced for consumers.
16. DuPont sells the company in 1945.
IMC gets sold to Ralph B. Rogers in 1945 by DuPont. Rogers, wanting to utilize former IMC engineer G. Briggs Weaver, also purchases the Torque Manufacturing Company as well. Weaver designed several models specifically that Rogers wanted IMC to produce. Rogers also had the company ramp up the Indian Chief models for consumers for the first post-war lineup.
17. The Wrecking Crew was formed and became legend.
Trademarking the name, the IMC Wrecking Crew was made up of racers Ernie Beckman, Bill Tuman, and Bobby Hill, all legends in their own right. Forming in the late 1940s, the group dominated the racetracks, both on road and dirt courses. Among other victories were their famous wins on the Springfield Mile three times in a row, first won in 1951 and 1952 by Hill and then in 1953 by Tuman. Furthermore, the trio also won major events all over the country, winning season point titles as well.
18. Rogers steps down as president of IMC in 1950.
Rogers steps down and John Brockhouse steps in as president of IMC in 1950. However, IMC discontinued production of all models by 1953, ceasing all operations. Several attempts were made at reviving the company over the next several years, but nothing came close to claiming a success story.
19. Another record for the Indian Scott was achieved in 1967.
Burt Munro, a sixty-eight-year-old New Zealander set a new official land speed record and made motorcycle history in 1967 when he hit a speed of over two hundred and five miles per hour. His Indian Scott was heavily modified, but the record still went in IMC’s name. Munro then went on to secure a number of land speed records, setting three world records with his last, record-setting ride being the one in 1967. Munro was later inducted into the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) Hall of Fame as a tribute to his record-setting pursuit decades earlier.
20. The brand gets resurrected
IMC returns to its former glory with brand-exclusive production of the Indian motorcycles in 1998. IMC was formed by a merger of nine companies becoming known as the Indian Motorcycle Company of America (IMCA). IMCA opened a production factory in California and began producing models such as the Spirit, the Scout, and the Chief. Nonetheless, IMCA also went bankrupt and ended production as well. Then, in 2008, Stellican LTD purchased the company’s assets and once again established the Indian Motorcycle Company. They began production in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, selling a modest number of bikes between 2008 and 2011. In 2011, the company was bought by Polaris Industries, which still owns the company today.
It seems Polaris Industries are smoking their tires, stealing market shares from their rival Harley Davidson, which has reported falling motorcycle sales. Polaris, on the other hand, has reported an eighteen percent year over year growth with sales going at full throttle. Even though Harley Davidson stakes a claim to nearly half the US market, Polaris-owned IMC is gaining quickly. Some speculate it may soon be another record-breaking race won.
If you are looking for a new hobby, motorcycle riding may just be the thing you are looking for. What’s more is you can get in on owning a legendary Indian motorcycle that has a rich history of country patronage. Some of these motorcycle models even went to war not once but twice. In a world that all too often doesn’t take time to stop and smell the roses, taking a motorcycle trip will bring the whole world closer, right within reach. There’s just nothing like riding out on the open road, with nothing but the motorcycle and the world around you.
Polaris has begun production of eight new models of Indian Motorcycles, so there’s definitely a style for everyone. Whether you want to break a few land speed records of your own or merely take your time traveling across the state or country, check out Indian motorcycles for your next adventure. Polaris motorcycle sales are soaring and have grown sixty-seven percent since last year! If they keep selling as they have been, in just three and a half years, Polaris will be selling more bikes than Harley! This may be hard to believe, but it’s true. Find out how awesome riding an Indian motorcycle is for yourself.