Indian Motorcycles

In the spring of 1901, the Indian motorcycle company was born. Carl Oscar Hedstrom, designer and engineer, and his partner, George Hendee, bicycle manufacturer, produced the ­first production motorized bicycle known then as a "motocycle".

With Hendee's history as a champion bicycle racer, their venture turned to racing. The Indian dominated motorcycle racing in the US and overseas well into the 1940’s. By 1904, Indian had won virtually every event and thus the demand for Indians soared. By 1908, motorcycle racing in America had become a growing sport, especially in the professional circuit, racing on large wooden velo-dromes known as board track racing. Finally in 1909 the “bicycle” frame era ended with the introduction of the full loop frame that incorporated the fuel tank in front of the rider.

Over the next 50 years, Indian became one of the most famous motorcycles in the world. But by the end of the Great Depression, Indian and Harley Davidson were the only two American manufacturers left that still produced motorcycles. Following a series of inept company heads and ill-conceived adventures into the ­field of outboard motors, aircraft parts, and even refrigerators, Indian was in trouble. Military contracts helped Indian survive during WWII, but after the war the company remained shaky. 1941 was the last year of manufacture for the Sport Scout and the legendary Indian Four. The Chief was the only bike being produced, but with its antiquated design, the Chief was unable to compete with Harley Davidson’s overhead valve models.

With a new president, Indian gambled everything on a new design: a prototype they hoped would compete with the popular lightweight British twins. But these Indian “Verticals” were rushed into production before they were ready and were not a success. The original company closed their doors in 1953.

In 1999, a new company with facilities in Gilroy, California began manufacturing under the Indian name. These bikes are often referred to as “Gilroy Indians”. But after a major investor backed out in 2003, the company declared bankruptcy.

On July 20, 2006, a newly formed Indian Motorcycle Company announced its new home in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. The anticipated arrival of the 2009 Indian Chief will be hitting the road in the fall of 2008.

En la primavera de 1901, nació la compañía de la motocicleta Indian. Carl Oscar Hedstrom, diseñador e ingeniero, y su socio, George Hendee, fabricante de la moto, produjeron la primera bicicleta motorizada entonces conocida como “motocycle”. Con la historia de Hendees como campeón corredor bicicleta, su empresa se enfoco en los vehículos de competencia. La motocicleta India compitió en Estados Unidos y Europa y domino esta categoría hasta los años 40. Para 1904, el Indian había ganado virtualmente cada competencia y la demanda para obtener una moto Indian se elevó. Para 1908, la competencia de motos se había convertido en Estados Unidos en un deporte cada vez mayor aceptación especialmente en el circuito profesional, compitiendo en los velódromos de madera, conocido también como competir en la pista del tablero. Finalmente en 1909 la era de la “bicicleta” terminó con la introducción del bastidor completo que incorporó el depósito de gasolina delante del jinete.

Durante los siguientes cincuenta años, el Indian fue una de las motocicletas más famosas del mundo. Pero para el ­nal de la gran depresión, el Indian y Harley Davidson eran los únicos dos fabricantes americanos que todavía produjeron motocicletas. Después de una serie de decisiones ineptas para la compañía y de aventuras mal concebidas en el campo de motores, de piezas del avión e incluso de refrigeradores, la compañía estaba en apuros. Los contratos militares ayudaron al Indian a sobrevivir durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial, pero después de guerra la compañía seguía siendo inestable. 1941 fue el año donde se termino la fabricación del “Scout” deportivo y de la legendaria Indian de cuatro. El “jefe” era la única moto que era producida, pero con su diseño anticuado, el jefe no podía competir con los modelos de válvula de culata de Harley Davidson.

Con un nuevo presidente, la compañía se jugó todo en un diseño nuevo, un prototipo que esperaban compitiera con populares gemelos británicos ligeros. Pero estas motos “verticales indias” fueron acometidas en la producción antes de que fueran listas, y no fueron un éxito. La compañía original cerró sus puertas en 1953.

En 1999, una nueva compañía con instalaciones en Gilroy, California comenzó la fabricación bajo el nombre Indian. Estas motos se re­eren a menudo como “Indians de Gilroy”. Pero después de que un inversionista importante se retirara en 2003, la compañía se declaró en bancarrota.

El 20 de julio de 2006, una nueva compañía Indian Motorcycle Company anunció su nuevo hogar en Kings Mountain, Carolina del Norte. Con la llegada anticipada del 2009 “Jefe Indian” en los ­nales de 2008.

George Hendee

George M. Hendee was the cofounder and president of the Indian Motocycle Company. He was a successful bicycle racer who went on to excel in business and build the world's largest motorcycle company.

Born October 19, 1866, in Watertown, Conn., Hendee took up bicycle racing at age 16 and won an astonishing 302 of the 309 races in which he competed. Hendee remained involved in bicycling even after he retired from racing, first as a representative for bicycle manufacturers, and later by building his own bicycles in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Due in no small part to his racing fame, his line of bicycles sold well. He also sponsored a number of bicycle racers and events throughout New England. Among the racers he sponsored was Jacob De Rosier, a French-Jewish immigrant who would go on to become one of the earliest stars of motorcycle racing.

Through his involvement in bicycle racing, Hendee witnessed first-hand the excellent performance of the motorized pacing bicycle built by Oscar Hedstrom. Most pacing bikes of the era were crude and unreliable. Hedstrom's engineering ability helped him develop one of the best machines of its type and Hendee quickly recognized Hedstrom's talent.

Hendee told Hedstrom of his dream to mass-produce a motorized bicycle and asked Hedstrom to build a prototype. Interest in the prototype from the press and potential customers encouraged the two men to form the Hendee Manufacturing Company, a partnership with Hendee as president and general manager and Hedstrom as chief engineer and designer.

Hedstrom supervised the manufacturing of "motor bicycles" while Hendee traveled extensively to set up dealerships and arrange financing for the company, which grew at an astounding rate under Hendee's management. By 1912, the Indian Motocycle Company, as it was by then called, was the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer and had moved into a vast, five-story plant in Springfield called the Wigwam.

In 1913, the company's production peaked at 32,000 units. But after Ford's Model T was introduced, a car was within the financial reach of many Americans. Motorcycles, once the most economical form of personal transportation, were destined to be marketed as sporting or leisure vehicles, and sales began to fall.

In 1916, at the age of 49, Hendee retired from Indian. Toward the end of his career, he was reported to be at odds with investors and the board of directors over the direction of Indian. He had brought to fruition his dream of building a mass-production motorized bicycle, he was wealthy and happily married, and he decided to leave behind the burdens of running a large company for the life of a country gentleman on his farm in Suffield, Connecticut. In his retirement, he bred Guernsey cattle and volunteered his expertise to the YMCA and the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children.

Hendee died in 1943 at the age of 76. He will be remembered as one of the fathers of motorcycling.

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