The Indian was the quintessential American motorcycle. Founded by the Hendee Manufacturing Company in 1901, Indian was up and running a full two years before the formation of Harley-Davidson. The Springfield, Massachusetts, company was an early innovator, introducing electric starters and lights in 1914 and the Powerplus engine in 1916, which was later to become the basis of Indian’s first famous model, the Scout.

The earliest Indian was basically a motorized bicycle. Known as a Camelback for the way in which the combination fuel-and-oil tank followed the contour of the rear fender, the bike had a single concentric carburetor and could achieve a top speed of 25 miles per hour (it’s estimated that the Camelback got about 70 miles per gallon). A cylinder filled with batteries was mounted to the frame’s front downtube. The bike had pedals and a chain, and beneath the frame was a small muffler. Sales in 1902 topped 140 units.

By 1905, spring forks were added to Indian bikes, and the throttle and ignition controls were moved from the engine area to the handlebars. The company offered its growing number of customers a V-twin engine in 1908, and in 1909, the basic Indian was completely redesigned around a loop frame with a torpedo-shaped gas tank mounted between the handlebars and the seat.

Now Indians were beginning to look like what we think of as motorcycles. Rear suspension was added in 1913, and the fire-engine-red Powerplus appeared in 1916—its three-speed transmission produced a top speed of more than 60 miles per hour. Indian also made lightweight motorcycles in the 1910s, including the Model O twin and Model K, an even smaller two-stroke single.

The successful Chief, Big Chief, Scout, and Prince models dominated the company’s output during the 1920s. The Chief, which retailed for $435 in 1922, was marketed as a bike that could pull a sidecar. And it certainly could, thanks to a powerful 1000cc engine.

In 1923, Hendee reorganized and renamed itself Indian Motocycles (that’s right, with no "r"). One of the first bikes from the newly named company was the lightweight Model L Indian Prince, which was manufactured until 1928.

That was also the year the 101 Scout was introduced. Widely considered to be Indian's finest motorcycle, the 101 Scout had a more graceful shape that the Scout that preceded it, ...

The other Indian milestone of the 1920s was the purchase in 1926 of a 4-cyclinder-motorcycle-maker called Ace. The very next year, Indian literally gave the existing Ace line a new coat of paint, lettering the words Indian and Ace on the sides of their gas tanks. That dual branding was probably the reason why many people referred to these bikes as Indian Aces, even though the bikes were sold as Indian Fours.

The handsome Sport Scout followed in the 1930s, which, despite the Great Depression, was a productive decade for Indian. Among the bikes produced in the 1930s were a three-wheel cargo bike called the Dispatch-tow and several models of four-cylinder bikes (the 436 and 438 were two of the best). Indian also branched out from its traditional red paint jobs, incorporating the profile of a Native American chief in full feathered headdress on the sides of its gas tanks—a speedometer and other instruments were bolted to the top. By the 1940s, Indian Fours were favorites of state troopers, but when police contracts ran out in 1942, production of the expensive machines ceased.

During World War II, Indian made a lot of motorcycles for the military—the Indian 841, designed for desert warfare, is among the most collectible Indians around. The 1940s also saw the launch of several bikes for the general public. Chiefs from the 1940s, both pre- and postwar, had gorgeous cowl-like fenders that gave the bikes a streamlined look (decorative fringe below the seats was optional).

Arrows and Scouts brought the company into the 1950s, which was also the decade when the 500cc TT Indian Warrior and its smaller cousin, the Brave, were introduced. But Indian had perhaps put too much of its wartime attention into military contracts, so its profile with the general motorcycling public was low by the end of 1945. In 1953, after several years of changes in ownership and management, the original Indian ran out of gas. Today, since 2006, an entirely new company produces motorcycles bearing the Indian name.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Classic Motorcycle Archive

Classic Motorcycle Archive

This simple website contains photos and descriptions of over a thousand classic antique motorcycles and motorized b… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Indian : 741 Military 1940 Indian Motorcycle 741 MilitaryIndian 2003 Indian Scout Motorcycle No ReserveVery Rare Indian Motorcycle Scout Leather JacketIndian Power Plus Kick Start Arm Antique Motorcycle Hedstrom Hendee Original 1946 Unused Nos Indian Motorcycle Right Gas Tank Metal Indian Curved EmblemGenuine Indian Motorcycle Ignition Switch For Late 1920's?/early 1930's? W/logoIndian Motorcycle Foot BoardsIndian Power Plus Clutch Lever Antique Motorcycle Hedstrom Hendee Original Part1916-23 Rare Early Indian Motorcycle Cigar Cutter Hendee Power Plus Motor-sign Vtg 30s Kit Karson Indian Scout Calfskin Half Belt Motorcycle Sports Jacket LrgOld Vintage Antique Indian Motorcycle Glass Sign Advertisement 1920's? Genuine Indian Motorcycle Tool Kit Monkey Wrench W/indian Logo 1930's-40's1901-53 Indian Scout Chief Ace Four Crocker Motorcycle History Book Harry SucherIndian Motorcycle Headlight Junction Block And Junction Block Retainer NosIndian Power Plus Kick Start Part Antique Motorcycle Hedstrom Hendee Original Indian Motorcycle Antique Battery CaseIndian Motorcycle Wrench Genuine Motocycle Hendee Mfg Co. Vintage Antique NiceAntique Indian Motorcycle Dash Lights, Antique Automotive Lights, Rare!Vintage Diecast Indian Motorcycle With Side Car Tekno Denmark Nice Piece!Vintage Indian Motorcycle Yale Lock For Tool Box Motocycle Old AntiqueGood Useable Indian Motorcycle GearsIndian Motorcycle Oil 11" Porcelain Metal Sign No Reserve Gas Station ServiceHendee Manufacturing Co. Indian Scout 1920 1/6 Scale Metal Die-cast MotorcycleIndian Motorcycle 1943-45 Chief, Front Brake Drum And Back Plate Complete!!!Vintage Indian Motorcycle Motocycle Hendee Chief Air Cleaner Backing Plate Indian Motorcycle Shift Knob - Robbins# C11 On 1928 Air Mail Rate Change 1st Day Indian Motorcycle Adverting * NiceIndian Motorcycle Leather Jacket- Size Large Made In Canda Indian Motorcycle Nos Scout Fork SpringVintage Box Of Wood Matches Advertising Indian Motorcycle Oil Near MintVintage Indian Motorcycle Gas CapIndian Motorcycle Cheif 1954-58 Gas Tank Emblem NosOriginal 1900s Indian Motocycle Photograph Photo Motorcycle W Driver Store FrontOriginal 1916 Indian Motorcycle Brochure Model L M Scout Powerplus SplitdorfIndian Motorcycle Rare Red Solo Leather Seat Kings Mountain And 2002 2003Indian Motorcycle Pedal Peg Pads Vintage Antique Early Ten (10) Vintage Badges Motorcycle Biker Badges Ariel Jawa Indian Royal Enfield Original Scrimshaw Bone Handle Folding Knife Indian Motorcycle 1901-gold Nugget Metal Texaco Motor Oil Gas Can With Spout Gas Station Garage Tools Hot Rat RodIndian Motorcycle Chief 4 Cylinder 18" Wheel 37-45Indian Motorcycle Genuine Chief 2003 Lot AccsesoriesIndian Motorcycle Parts-service & Cycle Accessories. Vintage Metal SignIndian Motorcycle 02-04 Chiefs Leather Dash Cover Indian Scout Chief Ace Four Motorcycle Photographic History Book Jerry HatfieldIndian Motorcycle Warbonnet Headress Cam Cover Kings Mountain Oem N90100004Indian Motorcycle PartsIndian Motorcycle Leftover Restoration Parts 1912 Vintage Antique Early Indian Motorcycle Gas Tank DecalsIndian Motorcycle Light Lenz 1947-1953 VintageIndian Motorcycle Restoration Guide 1932 - 53 -jerry HatfieldIndian Motorcycle Misc. HardwareHenderson Motorcycle Gauge & Co Ny Antiqe Motorcycle Indian MotorcycleIndian Motorcycle Chief 4 Scout Petcocks Pair Original NickelIndian Motorcycle Pathfinder Led Headlight Roadmaster ChieftainIndian Motorcycle 101 Cable Bracket1929 Feb 4 First Flight Fam 5 Miami Canal Zone Lindbergh Indian MotorcycleGenuine Leather Xl Motorcycle Jacket / Indian Motorcycle PatchesHenderson Mototcycle Gauge & Co Ny Antiqe Motorcycle Indian MotorcycleIndian Motorcycle Rear Highway Tip Over Bars 2879582-156 ChromeIndian Motorcycle Company, Waterproof, Petrol Lighter