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 : Chief 1951 Indian Chief "un-restored Original"Indian : Chief 1948 Indian Chief "un-restored Original"Indian : 437 Sport Indian 437 1937 SportIndian : Tomahawk 1958 Indian EnfieldIndian : Cheif 1948 Indian Cheif - Restored - Investment Grade - 1200 Cc- Numbers Matching-lqqkIndian : Chief 1953 Indian Chief Eighty Roadmaster Sunshine Yellow Buddy Seat Cs66721932 Indian Cheif Gas Tanks Rare Pair For Chief Motorcycle Antique Vintage Indian Motorcycle Chief Scout Military 741 Engine & Power PlantIndian Motorcycle FrameIndian Motorcycle Chief 1940 Frame (damaged)Antique Hubley Cast Iron Motorcycle Cop With Side Car Red Indian ModelOld Indian Motorcycle Glass Antique Advertising Paperweight With Original BoxAntique Indian Motorcycle Premium Motor Oil One 1 Quart Metal Tin Can CancoIndian Motorcycle Restoration Manual Book Scout Chief Four Jerry Hatfield1934 - 45 Indian Motorcycle Service Manual Restoration Book Scout Army SportIndian Motorcycle Dash Panel Switch Hoyt Ammeter Amperes Amp GaugeIndian Motorcycle Oil Rusty Porcelain Petrol Pump Sign Metal Texaco Motor Oil Gas Can With Spout Gas Station Garage Tools Hot Rat RodIndian Motorcycle WheelFranklin Mint Indian 442 Model MotorcycleOriginal 1940s Indian Scout Motorcycle Parts List Restore Manual Catalog BookLarge 24" Indian Motorcycle Embossed Die-cut Metal Sign Vintage Look !!!!!!!!!!1946-47 Indian Motorcycle Speedometer Kit With No Inner CableIndian Motorcycle WheelIndian Motorcycle Standard Scout Cam CoverJuly 25 1912 Motorcycle Illustrated~ad For Indian Motorcycle On Cover~f.a.m.meetVintage Orgional Indian Motorcycle Spanner Wrench 1930-1940s.Indian Motorcycle 741 Battery Support Aassembly Part Number 76085Indian Cam #3 Early Chief Scout 101 Used Vintage Motorcycle RacingIndian Cam #1 Early Chief Scout 101 Used Vintage Motorcycle Racing1942 Indian 442 Motorcycle 1:10 Scale Die-cast Franklin MintFranklin Mint Indian 442 Motorcycle Collectors Pocket Knife 2 Vintage Indian Motorcycle Co Post Cards Vintage Collectible Original Indian Motorcycle Scout Warrior Arrow Front ForksIndian Motorcycle Seat Metal Texaco Motor Oil Gas Can With Spout Gas Station Garage Tools Hot Rat RodIndian Motorcycle Shirt Size XlRare €Original Vintage 1944 Indian Motorcycle News Magazine Chief ScoutIndian Motorcycle Ama Belt Buckle 100th Anniversary 1901-2001 Limited EditionRare Indian Motorcycle Company Red Line Selvedge Denim Jeans Sample Pair - Sz 32 Metal Texaco Motor Oil Gas Can With Spout Gas Station Garage Tools Hot Rat Rod2 Large Indian Motorcycle Vinyl DecalsIndian Motorcycle The History Of A Classic American Motorcycle By Tod RaffertySet Of Two (2) Vintage Indian Motorcycle Winged PatchesIndian Motorcycle License Plate Topper 1942 Franklin Mint Precision Indian Die Cast MotorcycleIndian Motorcycle Belt Buckle 1991 Rope & Feather Biker Style Metal Texaco Motor Oil Gas Can With Spout Gas Station Garage Tools Hot Rat RodIndian Motorcycle Shirt Lucky BrandIndian Motorcycle's Chief Mid Height Windshield Classic/vintage Oem 2879575Original Indian Motorcycle Sport Scout 741 Ride Control DiscCollection Of Indian Motorcycle Patches Set Of 16 Metal Texaco Motor Oil Gas Can With Spout Gas Station Garage Tools Hot Rat Rod2879578-04 Indian Motorcycle Studded Reduced Reach Heated Leather Seat Original Indian Motorcycle Scout Front Fork Ride Control-lower Shackle AnchorRare Vintage Pontiac Indian Ratrod Hotrod Motorcycle, Fender/hood Ornament2 - 3" X 9.5" Indian Motorcycle Gas Tank Decals (sold As A Pair Left/right)Indian Motorcycle Tin Sign Vintage Style Scout Chief Brave 1901 American Made Metal Texaco Motor Oil Gas Can With Spout Gas Station Garage Tools Hot Rat Rod