History of Indian Motorcycles and Their North Carolina Connection

Over the past few years you may have noticed Indian Motorcycle dealerships popping up in North Carolina in Greensboro, Fayetteville, Concord, Waynesville and Lowell/Charlotte.  The history of the Indian Motorcycle is fascinating, and North Carolina is a part of that history.

1897 – 1953

The beginnings of Indian Motorcycle can be traced to 1897 and a bicycle manufacturing company founded by George Hendee.  One of the bicycles carried the brand name of “Indian.”  In 1901 Mr. Hendee hired an engineer, Oscar Hedstrom, to build gasoline engine-powered bicycles, and in that same year the company built a factory in Springfield, Massachusetts.  In 1902, the first Indian motorcycle was sold to a retail customer.  That motorcycle had a single-cylinder engine and a chain drive.  In 1903, Mr. Hedstrom rode one of their motorcycles to a new world speed record of 56 miles per hour and also won an endurance race from New York City to Springfield and back.

Indian Motorcycles were manufactured in Springfield, Massachusetts from 1902 until 1953.  During the 51 years that Indian motorcycles were manufactured in Springfield, the Scout and Chief were the most popular models, and the Chief and Scout are part of the current Indian Motorcycle lineup.  In 1904 the company introduced a deep red color called Vermillion, which became better known as “Indian Red.” The Indian’s famous head-dress logo on the gas tank was first featured in 1934.

The years that the Indian Motorcycle was manufactured in Springfield, Massachusetts, however, were marked by a number of changes in company ownership that ultimately led to discontinuing production of all models in 1953.  Hendee Manufacturing Company was the company name until 1923.  Oscar Hedstrom left the company in 1913 and George Hendee resigned in 1916, which lead a change in the company name to The Indian MotoCycle (no “r”) Company in 1923.  In 1930, Indian merged with Du Pont Motors which controlled Indian Motorcycle until 1945.  New owners kept the company going for a few years until 1953 when the company went under and manufacturing came to a halt.

1953 – 2006

For over 50 years from 1953 to 2006, the Indian Motorcycle brand company experienced several attempts to bring back the Indian Motorcycle brand but with no success. In 2003 the Indian Motorcycle Company of America went bankrupt and ended production.

Indian Motorcycle Finds a New Home in Kings Mountain, North Carolina 2006

Stellican Ltd., a London-based private equity firm, purchased the Indian Motorcycle assets and established an Indian Motorcycle Company manufacturing facility in Kings Mountain, North Carolina in 2006.  Indian began reproducing the Chief motorcycle in limited quantities. The Chief was produced from 2008 – 2011.  Unfortunately, the Kings Mountain years of production coincided with a struggling economy.  The new owners of Indian Motorcycle did not save the brand, but can be credited with recognizing the value of helping make the company relevant again.  In fact, these owners did enough to make Indian Motorcycles attractive enough to where Polaris purchased the company in 2011.

2011 to the Present

Most people equate Polaris with off-road vehicles.  Polaris also owns Victory Motorcycles and as of 2011 own Indian Motorcycles.  Unfortunately for North Carolina, Polaris moved the production of Indian Motorcycles in 2011 to Spirit Lake, Iowa.

Currently, Indian motorcycles have 2 midsize Scout models, 2 Chief models of cruisers, 2 bagger models (Chief Vintage and Chieftain) and a touring Roadmaster model.  You can still find the Indian head-dress logo on gas tanks for the Indian Chief Dark Horse and Chief Classic.  In 2014, Indian Motorcycles also introduced the new Indian Motorcycles Riders Group (IMRG) to provide Indian Motorcycles owners and their friends with special benefits, and the ability to form I.M.R.G. Chapters in conjunction with Indian motorcycle dealerships.

Steve McQueen

Over his lifetime, Steve McQueen acquired a collection of over 100 motorcycles, and it has been said that his favorites were Vintage Indians.  At one point in time, Steve McQueen owned 7 of the top 100 highest priced motorcycles ever sold at auction and 4 of those were Indians.

Indian Motorcycles are Often Referred to as “America’s First Motorcycle”

Indian manufactured its first motorcycle in 1902, a year ahead of the first Harley-Davidson motorcycle.  For that reason Indian Motorcycles are often referred to as “America’s First Motorcycle.”  Here is a really great article on the history of Indian Motorcycles with great vintage photography.

I hope you never have to call me about being involved in a motorcycle accident, but I am here if you need me.

Gary Poole – North Carolina Motorcycle Accident Attorney “On the Side of Those Who Ride”

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