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 : Sport Scout 1941 Indian Sport Scout Matching NumbersIndian : Blackhawk Chief 80 1951 Indian Chief Blackhawk 80 Matching Sidecar1918 Indian Model O Opposed Twin Motorcycle EngineIndian : 741b 1942 Indian 741 B Matching Engine And Frame Numbers Flat Head ScoutIndian : Cz Indian Motorcycle, 1948 Cz, 125cc, Indian Dealers Sold These In,1948.barn Fresh!Antique Indian Hedstrom 42° Splitdorf Magneto 1914 1915 Motorcycle1940s Indian Motorcycle Fender Mount Antique RareOriginal 1913 Indian Motorcycle Catalog Brochure- Canada1930s-50s Indian Motorcycle Riders Book Manual Scout Four Chief 80 74 30.50 Tow1947 Indian Motorcycle Girder Forks With Handle BarsIndian Motorcycle Vertical Scout Amal 276/001r Carburetors Parts PileIndian Motorcycle MagnetoIndian Motorcycle 1946 1947 1948 Chief Front End Girder Fork Leg PiecesSplitdorf Indian Motorcycle Watch Fob Vintage Gypsy Tour1:10 Franklin Mint Motorcycle - 1942 Indian Motorcycle Model 442 W/ Display CaseIndian Accessories Horn Chief Four Original MotorcycleEarly Indian Hendee Motorcycle Spanner Scout Chief Powerplus 1920's Indian~motorcycle~co. Vintage Oil Can Metal Sign L@@k Super Rare!!!!! Indian Leather Motorcycle Jacket MediumVintage Indian Motorcycle Watch Fob Circa 1912Original 1936 – 1941 Indian Motorcycle Tail Lamp Assembly Lux Vintage Indian Motorcycle Belt Buckle Chief Head Dress1940 To 53 Indian Motorcycle Sidecar Front MountIndian Sport Scout 741. Head Excellent. .. MotorcycleIndian Motorcycle Cable Clamp *set Of 2* NosIndian Motorcycle Biker Figural Bottle Opener Chief 1946 To 53 Indian Motorcycle Sidecar Front MountIndian Motorcycle Rear Stand Catch Nos Original 1948 Indian Motorcycle News Magazine Scout Four Chief Arrow Cz125Indian Motorcycle Restore Manual History Book Chief Scout Four Jerry HatfieldIndian Motorcycle Grease Cup *set Of 2* Original Nickel Plating Oem NosLate 1939 And 1940 Indian Motorcycle Speedometer CorbinIndian Motorcycle Co Can Color Brite Wax Polish Cleaner Shine Spring Mass Empty Indian Motorcycle 4 Four Cylinder Oil Dip Stick Parts And ClipIndian Motorcycle Oem Nos Points (3 Piece Set)1901-53 Indian Motorcycle Restore Manual Book Chief Scout Four Jerry HatfieldGenuine Indian Motorcycle Bearing Race (p/n:40872) .003 Oem Nos1932 To 39 Indian Motorcycle Sidecar Front MountFranklin Mint 1942 Indian 442 Motorcycle B11yb35 1:10 MintIndian Motorcycle Leather Key Fob ~ Heavy Duty...snap Closure ~ Nice Item!Franklin Mint "the 1942 Indian 442" Motorcycle 1:10 ScaleIndian Motorcycle Side Car Mount NosAntique Plunger Bicycle Motorcycle Horn Pre War Klaxon? Indian Excelsior Thor EaVintage Indian Motorcycle Leather Jacket Xxxl An Original Made In Usa ClassicIndian Motorcycle Kick Start Rubber Pedal Oem NosIndian Motorcycle's Womens Full Zip Light Casual Jacket MediumIndian Motorcycle Generator Drive PulleyIndian Motorcycle Service Manual For 2014 Chief Pn 99253521940 To 53 Indian Motorcycle Sidecar Front ClevisIndian Motorcycle Tail Light1940 T0 1953 Indian Motorcycle Sidecar Leaf Spring U-bolts1940 To 53 Indian Motorcycle Sidecar HardwareLucky Brand Indian Motorcycle 2-sided Men's Xl Slub T-shirt Nwot Extra LargeRare Vintage Indian Motorcycle Top Lube Oil Can Chief Straight Nice One!Rppc Indian Motorcycle With Sidecar Oelwein Iowa C. 1915Indian Motorcycle Tools *set Of 2* NosGuiloy Gigante Indian Cheif 1948 1/10 Diecast Motorcycle #17227 BikeIndian Motorcycle Cam Bushings Nos *set Of 2*Indian Motorcycle Gas Tank Set - Gilroy EraIndian Motorcycle Leather 2015 Scout Bib/panel/strap/trim/dress-up