Early History of Indian Motorcycle Company

Although the Indian Motorcycle Company was founded and started two years before the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company, it has not been able to stay on track nearly as long as this legendary company. However, its history is rich and exciting, and even though the motorcycles are no longer being manufactured in the original aspect, Indian continues to bring forth admirers and collectors of these amazing bikes.

The Indian Motorcycle Co. was founded in 1901 by George M. Hendee and Carl Oscar Hedstrom in Springfield, Massachusetts. In the early days, the company was known as the Hendee Mar Company, and started its beginning with America’s very first motorcycle. The company was technologically advanced in a number of ways, including the introduction of the very first V-twin bike in the year 1907. This was far more advanced than the single motorcycles being produced by Harley-Davidson even in 1910.

In 1916, before World War I, Indian Motorcycles was one of approximately 20 American motorcycle companies that were trying to make it in the volatile market. Indian Motorcycle Co. accounted for 40 percent of the market share in 1916, making it one of the most popular in its time. The Powerplus line of bikes was sold to the US government in the years 1917 and 1918 for use in the military. As World War II arose, both Indian and Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company manufactured their motorcycles for military use, specifically the United States Army. The Army even requested a specialized motorcycle design that would allow fighting in deserts, and the Indian Motorcycle Company stepped up to the plate and produced a specific motorcycle for the military’s needs. The 841 was born and a thousand were manufactured for the government.


In 1945, the company was bought out by Ralph B. Rogers, and many changes were made that may have caused the demise of the Indian Motorcycle Co. The more popular bikes, such as the Scout, were discontinued, and more lightweight designs were manufactured and introduced by 1949. However, the quality of these bikes were sub par, and loyal owners began to lose interest and hope in the future of the company. The company filed for bankruptcy and stopped producing motorcycles in 1953.

Indian Motorcycle Company has an exciting history that includes military support and many years as one of the top motorcycle companies in America, outselling and outperforming Harley-Davidson motorcycles in the early years. As many other companies have continued to try and build off the Indian Motorcycle Company name, the original designs and manufactured bikes are highly sought after by motorcycle enthusiasts and collectors.

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2 thoughts on “Early History of Indian Motorcycle Company

  • Bikers Den

    Thanks Kevin for your input. We intentionally called this article the “Early History of Indian Motorcycle Co.” because we planned on releasing a second part focusing on the company’s comeback under the ownership of Polaris.

  • Kevin

    Not sure how you can list the “history” of Indian without mentioning that they are back in production and now owned by a very stable company, Polaris. Seems like another attempt to try and perpetuate a divide between “real” Indians (pre-1953) and what some call “pretIndians” (post-1999). The efforts of Gilroy, Stellican, and Polaris are and have been to keep the brand viable and in production and they should be commended in spite of the problems they’ve encountered.