Indian Motorbike History

Indian is (or was) a famous American motorcycle maker from 1901 to 1953. Since then the name has been revived by various outfits, but has never matched its glorious past. The company was formed in 1901 by George Hendee and C.O. Hedstrom as the Hendee Manufacturing Company, but was renamed in 1928 to Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company. During the 1910’s it was the largest motorbike manufacturer in the world.

The most popular models have been the Scout (1920 - 1946) and the Chief (1922 - 1953). Indian bikes were well-known for their signature dark red colour. The company also enjoyed success in racing, winning the top 3 places in the 1911 Isle of Man TT. One of its famous riders was Erwin “Cannonball” Baker, who set numerous long-distance on the Powerplus, a V-twin introduced in 1916 that was highly successful in both racing and commercial sales.

Indian made a critical mistake during World War I. The company sold off most of its production, especially the Powerplus model, to the U.S. government in 1917. This caused an acute supply shortage for its dealers, and after the war other manufacturers stepped in to fill the void - presumably with the promise not to abandon the pre-Indian dealers. The motorcycle boom of the 1920’s helped Indian, but it nevertheless lost a massive chunk of its market to competitors, especially Harley-Davidson.

It was also during the 20’s that Indian introduced its most famous models, the Chief and the Scout. Like many other things Indian, they used Native American symbolism, like the head-dress logo and the naming of their main facility as “the Wigwam”. In 2006 the company was once again reborn, this time owned by Stellican Ltd, a private firm. The products have a focus on exclusivity rather than volume and performance, and feature a Powerplus V-twin engine with a 1.7 litre engine.

Looking at buying an Indian motorbike? Check the history of any Indian bike by entering its number plate in the field above.