A brief synopsis from the vintage September 1966 issue of Motorcyclist magazine.
A detailed history of the first twenty five years of American motorcycle brand Indian reprinted from Motorcyclist, May, 1951 and first of a three part collaboration detailing the first 50 years.
The Story of Indian – 1901 thru 1925
Originally published in May of 1951 (50th Anniversary) by J. J. O’Connor who worked at Indian in Advertising and Promotions which covers the years of 1901 through 1915
This is the first of three articles from the September 1951 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine covering the first fifteen years of Indian Motorcycles and was written by a member of first Advertising and Promotions team – J. J. O’Connor. Mister O’connor chronicled each model year and the innovations of one of America’s earliest and most celebrated motorcycle marquees with some detail after explaining the genesis of the Indian brand.
The two founders of Indian motorcycles were George Hendee and Oscar Hedstrom. Hendee was building bicycles after a career as a bicycle racer and was interested in building a simple, practical, every-day motorcycle for the average man.
While visiting Madison Square Garden Hendee happened upon a pacing machine built by Connecticut native, Hedstrom. Hendee and Hedstrom met and discussed the possibility of combining their efforts to build this practical motorcycle. Oscar assured George that this was possible and a partnership was formed on the back of an envelope that became (according to the author) the Magna Carta of Indian Motorcycles of Springfield, Ma.
Oscar Hedstrom retired to his Middleton, CT workshop where he went about developing the first motor which was shown off in an Indian bicycle frame on Cross Street Hill in Springfield (with a daunting 19% grade) to a field of amazed onlookers. The first motor was a high compression single with a concentric float on the automatic carburetor, wide speed range and “instant response to spark and throttle”. The entire machine weighed 98 pounds! Another thing we would find funny today is that it was considered a high horsepower machine at 1 ¾ ponies.
The demonstration took place in the Spring of 1901 and in 1902 the Indian motorcycle company had produced 143 machines. A figure that continued to grow as the years rolled on. Some of the early challenges included financing. There were no VCs to get the production underway and the team worked hard to increase efficiency and streamline production & resources.
Production in the early years:
1902 – 143 units
1903 – 377
1904 – 546
In those early years production was never hampered by sales it was infact, hard to fulfil all of the orders and the Massachusetts-based Marquee became a coveted motorcycle to own – if you could buy one.
A Racing Heritage
Oscar Hendee was a professional bicycle racer in the 1880’s and saw the value of being “First on Race Day”. As early as 1902 Indian lead by Hendee was involved in racing; and winning, all over the United States and by 19XX overseas. Wherever an Indian was entered it took the top honors and was common to take all three podium positions. This helped increase orders and encourage innovation within Indian.
By 1910 Indian Motorcycles an excellent reputation in Europe (most notably in Great Britain) but it’s American victories were of little consequence to the European public. Hedstrom decided to change that by building a team and a bike to race the Isle of Mann TT and cherry picking TT veterans to pilot these new machines. Rules required that the bike raced had to be a production model so the Indian TT was born. In 1911 at the TT, Indian came in First, Second, and Third while also setting a new course record in the Senior division!
In 1912 the race-inspired T.T. was produced in two models. A 7hp twin and a 4 hp single. The “7” as it was known came with two speed gears, disc clutch with foot control, and new in 1911 – the famous cradle-spring fork. Also new to the T.T. models were floorboards and a ratchet type kickstarter.