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A Sportster, A Bonneville and An Indian Chief | Harley Davidson …

A Sportster, A Bonneville and an Indian Chief

the history of the motorcycle didn’t begin in America, but its most loved motorcycle, the Harley-Davidson did. the now defunct but still loved Indian motorcycle was the first American bike to attract an audience. the prototype of the Indian was created in 1901, streamlined in 1902 and by the year 1903, the co-founder of the company, Oscar Hedstrom set the world’s record for speed, hitting the outrageously high speed of 56mph. he and George Hendee were the top “chiefs” at the company.
By the year 1904, the Indian single with an engine built in Aurora, Illinois and body built in Springfield, Massachusetts at the “wigwam”, the company’s name for the headquarters, developed it’s trademark color of deep red. it sold over 500 bikes that year, a huge number considering that the Harley Davidson Company sold only three. by the year 1913, the motorcycle had taken Americans by storm and the number of sales grew to over 32,000. the Indian bike broke many racing records and produced the famous rider, Erwin “Cannonball” Baker who set and broke many long-distance records. Perhaps his most famous run was in 1914 when he rode his Indian across the country from the West coast to the east coast in the record time of 11 days, 12 hours and 10 minutes. A new York newspaper made the comparison between him and the Cannonball Express. he developed his moniker “Cannonball” and Indian motorcycles developed a greater reputation.
During the same period, the Harley-Davidson Company was off to a rocky start. by 1907 when compared to the success of the Indian. in that year, Indian had a V-twin engine while Harley-Davidson still used the singles with five horsepower or less even in 1910 models.
When both Hedstrom and Hendee passed, their heirs to the power seat almost ran the company dry. many were involved in other business and diverted money into those, only to almost bankrupt Indian when the market was at its best, during the 20′s. Two stockholders that were highly invested decided to merge their car manufacturing company and focus on motorcycles while they ceased making cars, partly to salvage their investment of $300,000 but mostly because they loved motorcycles. they were Francis and E. Paul DuPont, from one of the wealthiest families in America.
The DuPont brothers eliminated all non-motorcycle companies and brought in two extraordinary men to work for them. These men were Loren Hosley and Briggs Weaver. Hosley, the production manager, helped bring the company back to an efficiently run company and bring record-breaking profit. Weaver was a designer and created the classic look for the Indian. the streamlined and timeless style that remains loved today is over 60 years old.
The Harley-Davidson Company had humble beginnings. in 1901, 21-year-old Bill Harley drew plans for a motorized bike. he convinced his lifelong friend, Arthur Davidson to help him build it. so, in a 10X15 foot shack they scratched the name Harley-Davidson Company above the door and began working on the motorcycle. the motorcycle of the day was the Indian and they had a long road to catch up with its success.
The Harley-Davidson Company may have lagged behind the Indian at first but soon caught up and eventually passed the company in popularity. the logo used today, the bar and shield was an addition in 1910 and remains the same. the company went through many trials and tribulations, but found the military to be its primary customer one reason may have been the addition of the sidecar in 1914. this made the motorcycle perfect as a military transport.
The Harley-Davidson Company also grew with fever during the First World War when the military used motorcycles extensively. by the year 1918, over half the motorcycles produced by Harley-Davidson were in the war effort. an estimated 20,000 motorcycles, mostly Harleys served their country in WWI. the first American in Germany after the signing of the Armistice, rode in on a Harley.
In the 1920′s, many innovations came to the bike, like the teardrop gas tank, a symbol of the Harley quality. the motorcycle found use as police departments and postal workers used them in their daily tasks. During the great Depression, only Harley-Davidson and the Indian Motorcycle managed to survive. Harley went to war again in 1941 when WWII broke out.
Times were not always easy for the Harley-Davidson, but their innovations and commitment to excellence kept them alive. Hydra-Glide models came with new hydraulic brakes in 1949. During the 1950′s, over forty percent of the motorcycles were the British bike, the Triumph, Bonneville. Harley-Davidson knew they had to come up with a high quality bike with style and character to match and recapture the market. the Harley Sportster was born to do just that. in that same era, the Indian Motorcycle closed its doors, leaving Harley-Davidson as the sole company in America.
Innovations to maintain the market share abounded. Hollywood both helped make and break the popularity of the motorcycle. Most movies portrayed the riders as tough, rude and violent people. this of course, slowed the purchase of bikes by law loving citizens. the movie’ “Easy Rider”, however proved the savior of the motorcycle market in America. Baby boomers across the country loved the concept of the freedom found on the back of a Harley. later those same boomers would create the ever growing market of well to do, professionals that ride and a resurgence in the interest in motorcycles.
Harley almost closed its doors but managed to reorganize and make significant changes in their financing, marketing, manufacturing and innovations. they kept the quality that was always the signature of the Harley. Unlike the Indian Company that slapped its name on cheap imported models after the company was sold to Ralph B Rodgers in 1945, the Harley Davidson Company rejuvenated the company through excellence.
Products have grown yearly around the resurgence of interest in Motorcycles. some of them as silly as “Old Fart Spray” for aching joints of senior rider and other more expensive items, like pop up trailers for those long bike trips. there are new motorcycle products springing up every day. one of the newest American made product is one of the oldest, for those that loved the Indian, on July 20 a newly formed Indian Motorcycle Company announced its plans to start production of the “Chief” in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. it also appears that Triumph and Norton are on the comeback trail but that’s another story.

A Sportster, A Bonneville and An Indian Chief | Harley Davidson …