Believe it or not, there was a time when Harley Davidson Co. didn’t monopolize the motorcycle industry. Before the days of Harley Davidson motorcycles, there was a company called Indian Motorcycle Company, building equally popular motorcycles and topping twenty leading competitors in their sales and popularity. With the visions and determination of two entrepreneurs George Hendee and Oscar Headstrom, the first simple, single cylinder Indian motorcycles model made their debut in 1902. Over time, innovations lead to larger engines and more practical models, and by 1912, Indian motorcycles dominated the racing avenues in the United States.
Oscar Headstrom removed himself from the company in 1913, and after struggling to keep the business alive, George Hendee handed the business over to financers which nearly brought Indian motorcycles to an end. Surprisingly with its misfortune and poor management, Indian managed to survive the Great Depression, along with Harley Davidson. Indian Motorcycle Company competed with Harley Davidson, supplying motorcycles to the military during World War II, but with Harley’s ability to negotiate better deals, Indian was barely hanging on. The situation was further made worse when the management made the decision to do away with the working models, and go with the trend of vertical singles and twins. Unfortunately, the new models were poorly produced and quickly engineered for production. In 1950, Indian Motorcycle Company was split up and sold to various British engineering companies.
The most successful model of the Indian motorcycles, the Chief, continued to be produced from 1950-1953, despite the downfall of the company. The Chief model was characterized by large tires, telescopic forks, wide handlebars, and had the word ‘Indian’ inscribed on the gas tank. Numerous attempts have failed to recreate the Indian motorcycles, but many have resulted in lawsuits, fraud charges, and bankruptcies and a clouded image of the formally popular motorcycle company.
Joseph Paige © 2006