The Indian motorcycle is said to be the oldest motorcycle made in the United States.
In 1897, George M. Hendee founded the Hendee Manufacturing Company and Oscar Hedstrom joined him in 1900. Both were successful bicycle manufacturers and former bicycle racers. The name "American Indian" was shortened to "Indian" by Hendee in 1898. Their first motorcycle was sold in 1903. In 1904, the company introduced the deep red color which became Indian's trademark.
The Indian Motocycle Company was the first to market the V-Twin engine, the two speed transmission, the first adjustable front suspension as well as electric lights, starter and other innovations. By 1910, the Indian Motorcycle Company was the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world.
The decline in the company came when the US entered World War I and Indian sold a good portion of their Powerplus line to the government. This caused availability of the motorcycle to drastically fall and they lost domestic dealers. These previously loyal dealers went elsewhere and so there wasn't a demand for Indians after the war. In 1953, the company went bankrupt. Several companies tried to keep the Indian's popularity going but with little success.
There were many legendary riders of the Indian motorcycle. Such riders as Ernie Beckman, Bobby Hill and Bill Tuman were a part of what was called the "Indian Wrecking Crew" throughout the 40's and 50's. There was also Mad Max Bubeck, Ed Kretz and Burt Munro who came along a bit later and who were among the best motorcycle racers of that time.
In 1950, Charles Alder, Sr. bartered for an Indian motorbike when he saw it hanging on the wall of a dentist's office. He paid $50 for it at the time. This 1903 "Alder Indian" motorcycle is said to be the oldest unrestored one in existence today. It is merely a 1.75 horse powered motorized bicycle. Experts today say that the "Alder Indian" could be worth anywhere between $65,000 and $500,000.
In 1967, Ed Munro, riding a modified 1926 600cc Indian Scout, set a world record on the Bonneville Salt Flats that still stands today. That record of 183.586 mph was corrected in 2014 by the AMA to 184.087 mph.
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