So much history was created by so few Indian motorcycles, in a sport that was then such a tiny part of the American scene.
In its greatest years, Indian was a major innovator, pioneering all-chain drive and a two-speed transmission at a time when belt-drive and “Light Pedal Assist” were so common that Isle of Man TT race authorities banned pedaling in 1911. In that year, advanced Indians swept the TT, 1-2-3.
Because motorcycles are the cheapest basic transportation, those early years were a golden age for Indian, peaking in 1913 with 31,900 machines produced.
Putting that in perspective, Indian in round figures produced a total of 400,000 machines from their beginning in 1901 to their end in 1953–a number which Honda in 2014 produced every 8 1/2 days. In 1929, in the prosperity that immediately preceded the Great Depression, there was one motorcycle registration in the U.S. for every 800 Americans.
Four years later, in the depths of the depression, when Indian produced only 1,657 machines, there was one registration for every 1,300 Americans. Japanese motorcycles barely existed and none was imported here. There was no Ducati, no KTM. There had been 200 American motorcycle producers, but manufacturing economics or the depression killed almost every one of them.
In 2014, there was one motorcycle registration for every 37 Americans.