Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company
Type LLC
Fate Liquidated
Founded 1901
Founder(s) George M. Hendee
Carl Oscar Hedström
Headquarters Springfield, Massachusetts, USA
Key people George M. Hendee
Carl Oscar Hedström (designer)
Charles B. Franklin (designer, racer)
Products Motorcycles

Indian is an American brand of motorcycles[1][2] originally manufactured from 1901 to 1953 by a company in Springfield, Massachusetts, US, initially known as the Hendee Manufacturing Company but which was renamed the Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company [sic][1][2] in 1928.

The Indian factory team took the first three places in the 1911 Isle of Man Tourist Trophy. During the 1910s Indian became the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world. Indian's most popular models were the Scout, made from 1920 to 1946, and the Chief, made from 1922 to 1953.

The Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company went bankrupt in 1953. A number of successor organizations have perpetuated the name in subsequent years, with limited success. In 2011 Polaris Industries purchased Indian Motorcycles and relocated operations from North Carolina, merging them into existing facilities in Minnesota and Iowa. Since August 2013, three motorcycle models that capitalize on Indian's traditional styling have been built under the Indian name.


Early years – Hendee and Hedström


Carl Oscar Hedström with the first prototype of Indian

Indian Power Plus 1000 cc 1920

1920 Indian Powerplus

The "Indian Motocycle Co." was originally founded as the Hendee Manufacturing Company by George M. Hendee in 1897 to manufacture bicycles. These were initially badged as "Silver King" and "Silver Queen" brands but the name "American Indian" (very quickly reduced to simply "Indian") was adopted by Hendee from 1898 onwards because it gave better product recognition in export markets. Carl Oscar Hedström joined in 1900. Both Hendee and Hedström were former bicycle racers and manufacturers, and they teamed up to produce a motorcycle with a 1.75 bhp, single-cylinder engine in Hendee's home town of Springfield. The bike was successful and sales increased dramatically during the next decade.[3]

In 1901, a prototype and two production units of the diamond framed Indian Single were successfully designed, built and tested. The first Indian motorcycles, having chain drives and streamlined styling, were sold to the public in 1902. In 1903, Indian's co-founder and chief engineer Oscar Hedström set the world motorcycle speed record (56 mph).[citation needed] In 1904 the company introduced the deep red color that would become Indian's trademark. Production of Indian motorcycles then exceeded 500 bikes annually, rising to a peak of 32,000 in 1913. The engines of the Indian Single were built by the Aurora Firm in Illinois under license from the Hendee Mfg. Co. until 1906.

Competitive successes

Indian 1911

Indian 1911

In 1905, Indian built its first V-twin factory racer, and in following years made a strong showing in racing and record-breaking. In 1907 the company introduced the first street version V-twin and a roadster styled after the factory racer. The roadster can be distinguished from the racers by the presence of twist grip linkages.[4][verification needed] One of the firm's most famous riders was Erwin "Cannonball" Baker, who set many long-distance records. In 1914, he rode an Indian across America, from San Diego to New York, in a record 11 days, 12 hours and ten minutes. Baker's mount in subsequent years was the Powerplus, a side-valve V-twin, which was introduced in 1916. Its 61ci (1000 cc), 42 degree V-twin engine was more powerful and quieter than previous designs, giving a top speed of 60 mph (96 km/h). The Powerplus was highly successful, both as a roadster and as the basis for racing bikes. It remained in production with few changes until 1924.

Indian Motorcycle advertisement, 1915

"Wouldn't You Like to Be With Them?" A 1915 advertisement for the Indian Motocycle.

Competition success played a big part in Indian's rapid growth and spurred technical innovation, as well. One of the American firm's best early results came in the Isle of Man TT in 1911, when Indian riders Oliver Cyril Godfrey, Franklin and Moorehouse finished first, second and third. Indian star Jake DeRosier set several speed records both in America and at Brooklands in England, and won an estimated 900 races on dirt and board track racing.[5] He left Indian for Excelsior and died in 1913, aged 33, of injuries sustained in a board track race crash with Charles "Fearless" Balke, who later became Indian's top rider.[5] Work at the Indian factory was stopped while DeRosier's funeral procession passed.[5]

Oscar Hedstrom left Indian in 1913 after disagreements with the Board of Directors regarding dubious practices to inflate the company's stock values.[6] George Hendee resigned in 1916.[7]

Indian lightweights 1916-1919

Indian introduced the 221 cc single cylinder two-stroke Model K "Featherweight" in 1916.[8][9] The Model K had an open cradle frame with the engine as a stressed member[10] and a pivoting front fork that had been used earlier on single-cylinder motorcycles but had mostly been replaced on other Indian motorcycles by a leaf-sprung trailing link fork.[8]

The Model K was manufactured for one year and was replaced in 1917 by the Model O. The Model O had a four-stroke flat-twin engine and a new frame, but retained the pivoting fork at the front. The Model O was manufactured until 1919.[8]

World War I

As the US entered World War I, Indian sold most of its Powerplus line in 1917 and 1918 to the United States government, starving its network of dealers. This blow to domestic availability of the motorcycles led to a loss of dealers from which Indian never quite recovered.[11] While the motorcycles were popular in the military, post-war demand was then taken up by other manufacturers to whom many of the previously loyal Indian dealers turned. While Indian shared in the business boom of the 1920s, it had lost its Number One position in the US market to Harley-Davidson.

Inter-war era – Scouts, Chiefs, and Fours

Indian Scouts

Indian Scouts in police service, 1920s

The Scout and Chief V-twins, introduced in the early 1920s, became the Springfield firm's most successful models. Designed by Charles B. Franklin, the middleweight Scout and larger Chief shared a 42-degree V-twin engine layout. Both models gained a reputation for strength and reliability.

Indian Dispatch Tow 1939

1939 Indian Dispatch Tow, 3-wheeler

In 1930, Indian merged with Du Pont Motors.[12] DuPont Motors founder E. Paul DuPont ceased production of duPont automobiles and concentrated the company's resources on Indian.[12] DuPont's paint industry connections resulted in no fewer than 24 color options being offered in 1934. Models of that era had Indian's famous head-dress logo on the gas tank. Indian's huge Springfield factory was known as the Wigwam, and native American imagery was much used in advertising.

In 1940, Indian sold nearly as many motorcycles as its major rival, Harley-Davidson. At the time, Indian represented the only true American-made heavyweight cruiser alternative to Harley-Davidson. During this time, the company also manufactured other products such as aircraft engines, bicycles, boat motors and air conditioners.

Indian Chief

Indian Big Chief 1200cc 1928 - 2

1928 Indian Big Chief with sidecar

Main article: Indian Chief

The first 1922 model Chief had a 1,000 cc (61 cubic inches) engine based on that of the Powerplus; a year later the engine was enlarged to 1,200 cc (73 cubic inches). Numerous improvements were made over the years, including adoption of a front brake in 1928.

In 1940, all models were fitted with the large skirted fenders that became an Indian trademark, and the Chief gained a new sprung frame that was superior to rival Harley's unsprung rear end.[13] The 1940s Chiefs were handsome and comfortable machines, capable of 85 mph (137 km/h) in standard form and over 100 mph (160 km/h) when tuned, although their increased weight hampered acceleration.

The 1948 Chief had a 74 cubic inch engine, hand shift and foot clutch. While one handlebar grip controlled the throttle the other was a manual spark advance.

In 1950, the V-twin engine was enlarged to 1,300 cc (79 cubic inches) and telescopic forks were adopted. But Indian's financial problems meant that few bikes were built. Production of the Chief ended in 1953.

Indian Scout

Indian Scout 600 cc 1920

1920 Indian Scout

Main article: Indian Scout (motorcycle)

The Indian Scout was built from 1920 to 1949. It rivaled the Chief as Indian's most important model.

The Scout was introduced for 1920. Designed by Charles B. Franklin, the Scout had its gearbox bolted to the engine and driven by gears instead of by belt or chain.[14] The engine originally displaced 37 cu in (610 cc); the Scout 45, with a displacement of 45 cu in (740 cc), became available in 1927 to compete with the Excelsior Super X.[7][15] A front brake became standard on the original Scout early in 1928.[15]

Later in 1928, the Scout and Scout 45 were replaced by the Model 101 Scout. Another Franklin design, the 101 Scout had a longer wheelbase and lower seat height than the original. The 101 Scout was well-known for its handling.[15][16][17][18]

The 101 Scout was replaced by the Standard Scout for 1932. The Standard Scout shared its frame with the Chief and the Four; as a result, the Standard Scout was heavier and less nimble than the 101.[17][18]

A second line of Scouts was introduced for 1933. Based on the frame of the discontinued Indian Prince single-cylinder motorcycle, the Motoplane used the 45 cubic inch engine from the Standard Scout while the Pony Scout had a reduced displacement of 30.5 cu in (500 cc). In 1934 the Motoplane was replaced by the Sport Scout with a heavier but stiffer frame better able to withstand the power of the 45 cubic inch engine, while the Pony Scout, later renamed the Junior Scout, was continued with the Prince/Motoplane frame.[19] Between the introduction of the Sport Scout in 1934 and the discontinuation of the Standard Scout in 1937 there were three Scout models (Pony/Junior, Standard, and Sport) with three different frames. The Sport Scout and the Junior Scout were continued until civilian production was interrupted in early 1942.

Indian Four

Indian 1928 401 5

1928 Indian 402

Main article: Indian Four

Indian purchased the ownership of the name, rights, and production facilities of the Ace Motor Corporation in 1927. Production was moved to Springfield and the motorcycle was marketed as the Indian Ace for one year.[20][21]

In 1928, the Indian Ace was replaced by the Indian 401, a development of the Ace designed by Arthur O. Lemon, former Chief Engineer at Ace, who was employed by Indian when they bought Ace.[22] The Ace's leading-link forks and central coil spring were replaced by Indian's trailing-link forks and quarter-elliptic leaf spring.[21][23]

By 1929, the Indian 402 would have a stronger twin-downtube frame based on that of the 101 Scout and a sturdier five-bearing crankshaft than the Ace, which had a three-bearing crankshaft.[22][24]

1939 Indian four motorcycle

1939 Indian 4, in the "World's Fair" color scheme, in commemoration of the 1939 New York World's Fair. On display at Clark's Trading Post, Lincoln, New Hampshire.

Despite the low demand for luxury motorcycles during the Great Depression, Indian not only continued production of the Four, but continued to develop the motorcycle. One of the less popular versions of the Four was the "upside down" engine on the 1936-1937 models. While earlier (and later) Fours had inlet-over-exhaust (IOE) cylinder heads with overhead inlet valves and side exhaust valves, the 1936-1937 Indian Four had a unique EOI cylinder head, with the positions reversed. In theory, this would improve fuel vaporization, and the new engine was more powerful. However, the new system made the cylinder head, and the rider's inseam, very hot. This, along with an exhaust valvetrain that required frequent adjustment, caused sales to drop. The addition of dual carburetors in 1937 did not revive interest. The design was returned to the original configuration in 1938.[22][25][26]

Like the Chief, the Four was given large, skirted fenders and plunger rear suspension in 1940. In 1941, the 18-inch wheels of previous models were replaced with 16-inch wheels with balloon tires.[22]

The Indian Four was discontinued in 1942.[22][27] Recognition of the historical significance of the 1940 four-cylinder model was made with an August 2006 United States Postal Service 39-cent stamp issue, part of a four panel set entitled American Motorcycles.[28] A 1941 model is part of the Smithsonian Motorcycle Collection on display at the National Museum of American History.[29]

World War II

1942 Indian Scout 500cc v twin 2

1942 Indian Scout 500, the 741, used by the US Army.

Chiefs, Scouts, and Junior Scouts were all used in small numbers for various purposes by the United States Army in World War II, and extensively by overseas Commonwealth military forces under the Lend/Lease Program. However, none of these could unseat the Harley-Davidson WLA as the motorcycle mainly used by the US Army. The early version was based on the 750 cc (46 cu in) Scout 640 and compared directly with Harley's offer, the WLA, but was either too expensive or heavy, or a combination of both. Indian's eventual offer, the 500 cc (31 cu in) 741B, was underpowered and was not selected to gain a US Military contract. Indian also offered a version based on the 1,200 cc (73 cu in) Chief, the 344. Approximately 1,000 experimental versions mounting the 750 cc motor sideways and using shaft drive, as on a modern Moto Guzzi, the 841, was also tried.

Indian 841

Main article: Indian 841

During World War II, the US Army requested experimental motorcycle designs suitable for desert fighting.[30] In response to this request, Indian designed and built the 841. Approximately 1,056 models were built.

The Indian 841 was heavily inspired by the BMW R71 motorcycle used by the German Army at the time, as was its competitor, the Harley-Davidson XA.[31] However, unlike the XA, the 841 was not a copy of the R71. Although its tubular frame, plunger rear suspension, and shaft drive were similar to the BMW's, the 841 was different from the BMW in several aspects, most noticeably so with its 90-degree longitudinal-crankshaft V-twin engine and girder fork.[30][31]

The Indian 841 and the Harley-Davidson XA were both tested by the Army, but neither motorcycle was adopted for wider military use. It was determined that the Jeep was more suitable for the roles and missions for which these motorcycles had been intended.[30][32]

Post-war decline and demise

Indian Chief Black Hawk 80 cubic inch 1950

1950 Indian Chief Black Hawk

In 1945, a group headed by Ralph B. Rogers purchased a controlling interest of the company.[33] On November 1, 1945, duPont formally turned the operations of Indian over to Rogers.[12]

Under Rogers' control, Indian discontinued the Scout and began to manufacture lightweight motorcycles such as the 149 Arrow, the Super Scout 249, both introduced in 1949, and the 250 Warrior, introduced in 1950.[34] Production of traditional Indians was extremely limited in 1949, and no 1949 Chiefs are known to exist. Manufacture of all products was halted in 1953.

Corporate successors

Rebadged imported products

Brockhouse Engineering acquired the rights to the Indian name after it went under in 1953. They imported Royal Enfield motorcycles from England, mildly customized them in the US depending on the model, and sold them as Indians from 1955 to 1960.[33] Almost all Royal Enfield models had a corresponding Indian model in the USA. The models were Indian Chief, Trailblazer, Apache (all three were 700 twins), Tomahawk (500 twin), Woodsman (500 single), Westerner (500 single), Hounds Arrow (250 single), Fire Arrow (250 single), Lance (150 2-stroke single) and a 3-wheeled Patrol Car (350 cc single).[35]

In 1960, the Indian name was bought by AMC of England. Royal Enfield being their competition, they abruptly stopped all Enfield-based Indian models except the 700 cc Chief. Their plan was to sell Matchless and AJS motorcycles badged as Indians. However, the venture ended when AMC itself went into liquidation in 1962.

Floyd Clymer imports, 1963-1977

1972 Indian MM-5A

1972 Indian MM-5A minibike

From the 1960s, entrepreneur Floyd Clymer began using the Indian name, apparently without purchasing it from the last known legitimate trademark holder. He attached it to imported motorcycles, commissioned to Italian ex-pilot and engineer Leopoldo Tartarini, owner of Italjet Moto, to manufacture Minarelli-engined 50 cc minibikes under the Indian Papoose name. These were so successful that Clymer also commissioned Tartarini to build full-size Indian motorcycles based on the Italjet Grifon design, but fitted firstly with Royal Enfield Interceptor 750 cc parallel-twin engines, then with Velocette 500 cc single-cylinder Thruxton engines.[citation needed]

After Clymer's death in 1970 his widow sold the alleged Indian trademark to Los Angeles attorney Alan Newman, who continued to import minicycles made by ItalJet, and later manufactured in a wholly owned assembly plant located in Taipei (Taiwan). Several models with engine displacement between 50 cc and 175 cc were produced, mostly fitted with Italian two-stroke engines made either by Italjet or Franco Morini, but the fortunes of this venture didn't last long. By 1975, sales were dwindling, and in January 1977, the company was declared bankrupt.

Other attempts, 1977-1999

The right to the brand name passed through a succession of owners and became a subject of competing claims in the 1980s. By 1992, the Clymer claim to the trademark had been transferred to Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Co. Inc. of Berlin, a corporation headed by Philip S. Zanghi.[36]

In June 1994, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Wayne Baughman, president of Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Incorporated, presented, started, and rode a prototype Indian Century V-Twin Chief. Baughman had made previous statements about building new motorcycles under the Indian brand but this was his first appearance with a working motorcycle.[37]

Neither Zanghi nor Baughman began production of motorcycles.[38] In August 1997, Zanghi was convicted of securites fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering.[39]

In January 1998, Eller Industries was given permission to purchase the Indian copyright from the receivers of the previous owner. Eller Industries hired Roush Industries to design the engine for the motorcyle, and was negotiating with the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians to build a motorcycle factory on their tribal land.[40] Three renderings, one each of a cruiser, a sport cruiser, and a sport bike, on frames specified by suspension designer James Parker, were shown to the motorcycling press in February 1998.[41]

Eller Industries arranged a public unveiling of the cruiser prototype for November 1998, but was prevented from showing the prototype by a restraining order from the receiver, who said that Eller had failed to meet the terms of its obligations.[42] The contract was withdrawn after the company missed its deadline to close the deal and could not agree with the receiver to an extension on the deadline.[43] Other conditions, including payment of administrative costs and presenting a working prototype, were also not met by Eller Industries. Based on this, a Federal bankruptcy court in Denver, Colorado, allowed the sale of the trademark to IMCOA Licencing America Inc. in December 1998.[44]

Indian Motorcycle Company of America (1999–2003)

The Indian Motorcycle Company of America was formed from the merger of nine companies, including manufacturer California Motorcycle Company (CMC) and IMCOA Licensing America Inc., which was awarded the Indian trademark by the Federal District Court of Colorado in 1998.[45] The new company began manufacturing motorcycles in 1999 at the former CMC's facilities in Gilroy, California. The first "Gilroy Indian" model was a new design called the Chief. Scout and Spirit models were also manufactured from 2001. These bikes were initially made with off-the-shelf S&S engines, but used the 100-cubic-inch (1,600 cc) Powerplus engine design from 2002 to 2003. The Indian Motorcycle Corporation went into bankruptcy and ceased all production operations in Gilroy on September 19, 2003.[46]

Indian Motorcycle Company (2006-2011)

Indian Motorcycle Company
Type Subsidiary
Headquarters Medina, Minnesota, USA
Key people Stephen Julius
Steve Heese(president)
Products Motorcycle, Accessories, Apparel, and Gifts
Employees 50
Parent Polaris Industries
Indian motorcycle 2

Stellican Indian in characteristic Indian red colour in Brighton (UK)

On July 20, 2006, the newly formed Indian Motorcycle Company, owned largely by Stellican Limited, a London-based private equity firm, announced its new home in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, where it has restarted the Indian motorcycle brand,[47] manufacturing Indian Chief motorcycles in limited numbers, with a focus on exclusivity rather than performance, like a "luxury" watch. Starting out exactly where the defunct Gilroy IMC operation left off in 2003, the "Kings Mountain" models were continuation models based on the new series of motorcycles developed in 1999. The 2009 Indian Chief incorporated a redesigned 105-cubic-inch (1,720 cc) Powerplus V-twin powertrain with electronic closed-loop sequential-port fuel injection,[48] and a charging system providing increased capacity for the electronic fuel injection.

Indian motorcycle 3

Stellican Indian at the Ace Cafe, London (UK)

Polaris Acquisition (since 2011)

In April 2011, Polaris Industries, the off-road and leisure vehicle maker and parent-company of Victory Motorcycles, announced its intention to acquire Indian Motorcycle. Indian's production facilities were moved to Spirit Lake, Iowa, where production began on August 5, 2011.[49] In March 2013, Indian unveiled their new 111-cubic-inch "Thunder Stroke" engine,[50] and began to sell their newly designed motorcycles based on it in August 2013.

Current production

On August 3, 2013, Polaris announced three all-new Indian-branded motorcycles based on the traditional styling of the marque and the Thunder Stroke 111 motor. The motor has a triple-cam design with a chain-driven center cam turning front and rear cams via gears, permitting parallel placement of the pushrods to give a similar appearance to older Indian designs. It is air cooled, with large traditional fins and an airbox in the cast aluminum frame.[51] All Indians share this aluminum frame design, though the wheelbase and front end rake vary depending on model. The integrated transmission is also gear-driven.

Indian Chief Classic

The base model Chief has the valanced fenders and the lighted "war bonnet" on the front fender that have been iconic throughout Indian's history. Cruise control, antilock braking system, keyless starting, and electronic fuel injection are standard on this and all other models. It has a six-speed transmission and manually-adjustable single-shock swingarm.

Indian Chief Vintage

The Indian Chief Vintage shares the chassis, drivetrain, and styling of the Chief Classic, and adds tan leather quick-release saddlebags, matching tan leather two-up seat, additional chrome trim, quick-release windshield, and a six-speed transmission.

Indian Chief Vintage

Indian Chief Vintage (2014)

Indian Chieftain

The Indian Indian Chieftain touring motorcycle is the first Indian model with front fairing and hard saddlebags. It has a stereo with speakers in the fairing, Bluetooth media players, tire pressure sensors, air-adjustable rear shock, and motorized windshield adjustment. Initial reports from the press were favorable for styling, performance, and handling.[52] The Chieftain was named 2013 Motorcycle of the Year by RoadRunner Motorcycle Touring & Travel magazine.[53]

Land speed records

Between 1962 and 1967, Burt Munro from New Zealand used a modified 1920s Indian Scout to set a number of land speed records, as dramatised in the 2005 film The World's Fastest Indian.

Indian had a custom streamliner built, Spirit of Munro, with similar dimensions to Munro's machine and using the new 111 cubic-inch engine, to challenge speed records in 2014.[54][55]


Both Hendee and Hedstrom had built bicycles before they met, and Hendee had marketed his under the Silver King and Silver Queen names. They continued to manufacture bicycles after their motorcycles became successful and even made bicycles designed to resemble their motorcycles.[56]


Very few examples survive in the UK mainly in Museums and with a few private collectors. Template:PML Indian motorcycles


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  3. 1906 & 1907 Hendee Mfg. Co. sales brochures
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  14. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Wilson, Hugo (1995). "The A-Z of Motorcycles", The Encyclopedia of the Motorcycle. London: Dorling Kindersley, 104–105. ISBN 0-7513-0206-6. “When Excelsior created the 45cu. in. class with the introduction of its Super X model in 1925 (see p.59), Indian responded with a bored and stroked 45cu. in. version of the Scout, introduced alongside the original model in 1927.” 
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  52. "Online Museum for Indian Bicycles". Retrieved on 2011-06-05.

Further reading

External links

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