The Hells Angels motorcycle club is one of the best-known and oldest motorcycle clubs in the world. It is also one of the largest motorcycle organizations as it has an international presence. The club is incorporated as the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation in the United States and Canada, and there are more than 3,000 members and 467 charters across 59 countries worldwide. While many motorcycle group members are purely interested in motorcycles, and members typically ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles, there is also a darker side to this organization. Some international intelligence agencies consider the Hells Angels an organized crime syndicate, and the club has been linked to many serious crimes. Regardless of the club’s current activities, it has a long and interesting history surrounded by myths and misconceptions. Here is a look at the history of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC).
The Beginnings of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club
According to the Hells Angels official website, the first Hells Angels Motorcycle Club was founded on March 17, 1948. In the San Bernardino and Fontana area of California in the United States. At around the same time, several other motorcycle clubs were established in California, but these were not linked to the Hells Angels. While most of the clubs no longer exist, one that still exists is the Berdoo charter, which is based in San Bernardino. Although several people were involved in founding the club, the person credited with forming the Hells Angels was World War II veteran Otto Friedli. It is claimed that he started the motorcycle club after breaking away from another club following a feud with a rival gang.
Various myths surround the selection of the name Hells Angels for the motorcycle club, and personal accounts from the early days tell different stories. However, it is clear that the name relates to the ‘Hell’s Angels’ squadron of the Flying Tigers in China during World War II. Over the following two years, the club expanded beyond Fontana and San Bernardino to other areas of California. Hells Angels charters began to appear across the state, although the different charters had nothing to do with each other at first. However, after a few years, the charters united, which led to the club setting regular admission criteria.
Myths and Misconceptions About the History of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club
Many myths and misconceptions are surrounding the early days of the Hells Angels. In part, this is due to different personal accounts. It is also partly due to people elaborating on facts or making assumptions about the club. For example, many reports claim that veterans formed the Hells Angels in pursuit of the excitement they had encountered during the war. The reports also state that these men were military misfits and drunkards. The official Hells Angels site claims these reports are unfounded and not backed by factual evidence.
Developing an International Presence
Although Hells Angels only had a presence in California for more than a decade, things changed in the 1960s. In 1961, a group of motorcyclists established the first charter outside California in Auckland, New Zealand. Throughout the 1960s, various Hells Angels charters were founded across the United States, all the way to the East Coast. Until the end of the 1960s, the Auckland club was the only international charter, but that changed when the first European Hells Angels charter was accepted on July 30, 1969. The new charter was based in London, England. Since then, Hells Angels’ charters have continuously grown across England, including the Manchester charter, which was founded in 1998. Hells Angels have expanded across Europe, and there are now 275 charters across the continent. Australian clubs were first admitted at the end of the 1970s, further expanding the international presence of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. The first South American charter accepted by the clubs was Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1984. By the 1990s, Hells Angels also had a presence on the African continent. The first charter accepted from Africa was Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1993. In 2009, Turkey became the first Muslim country to join the club.
The Hells Angels Insignia
The Hells Angels insignia is symbolic of the club and an important part of its history. Before 1953, the club copied the symbol from the insignias of World War II squadrons. The insignia used after 1953 was designed by Frank Sadilek, a past president of the San Francisco Charter. It is called the death’s head insignia, and it features a skull wearing a motorcycle helmet. A wing is coming out of the back of the helmet featuring the words ‘Bad district.’ The image has the words ‘HELLS ANGELS’ above and ‘KARLSRUHE’ below. Next to the image are the letters ‘MC,’ which stands for 'motorcycle club'. All the lettering is in red letters over a white background. The colors are why one of the club’s nicknames is the ‘Red and Whites.’ Hells Angels have a series of patches that are used in the same way as military medals to indicate status within a club. However, the meanings of the individual patches are not publicly known. Some of the patches feature the number 81 in support of Route 81. Club members wear their patches on vests or on their denim or leather jackets.
Membership to the Club
There are several criteria that prospective candidates must meet for acceptance into the club, and all the charters around the world use these criteria. The main criteria involve having a valid driver’s license, owning a motorcycle over 750cc, and having a combination of personality traits that the club deems desirable. Reports also suggest that the club has criteria for excluding certain candidates that they deem unsuitable for the club and its image. They do not allow applications from people who have applied to become prison officers or police officers. Also, those with a record for child molestation or related crimes may not apply.
Written by Benjamin Smith
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