Indian Motorcycle


More than 280 motorcycle manufacturers have been recorded in the United States, but only two have had lasting significance or sold in large numbers. One, Harley Davidson, began production in 1903 and is still going strong today. The other is Indian, which began in 1901 and ceased manufacturing motorcycles for the public in 1953.

By far the most individual and distinctive Indian models were produced in the 1940s; they are characterized by flared, skirted mudguards that convey a strong sense of speed even while standing still. So powerful is this style element that in 1999 Kawasaki copied it for its Drifter cruiser model. This 1941 stock Indian example sits squarely in this streamlined category.

Recreational motorcycle riding became increasingly popular during the Depression and early years of World War II. The number of local clubs chartered by the American Motorcyclist Association grew from about 400 in 1936 to 498 in 1938 and 645 in 1940. Indian motorcycle production grew from about 5,000 per year to 10,000 per year during the same period. Police departments also found motorcycles useful for patrol duty, and and small retail businesses used them for delivery purposes. The years 1940-1941 proved to be a high point for civilian sales and usage. The leading manufacturers, Harley-Davidson and Indian, began producing motorcycles for the British and French armies, and by 1942 they were concentrating on military production for the United States Army. During World War II, many motorcycle enthusiasts entered the armed forces, depleting clubs and reducing pleasure travel. Motorcycle tires, like automobile tires, were rationed. The AMA cancelled its National Gypsy Tour and other club events but automatically renewed memberships for those in the service.

William J. McDaniels of Ohio was the first owner of this motorcycle. Soon after purchasing it, he moved to San Bernardino, California, riding the motorcycle the entire distance. He worked at Norton Air Force Base near San Bernardino in the late 1940s.

The Indian brand name continues to resonate in the motorcycling industry. In the 1990s, three different companies were formed to purchase the rights to the name and begin manufacturing cruisers. But after a brief period (1999-2003), production ceased again.

Reference photograph courtesy of donors Katie and Taylor Smith.

Date Made: 1941

Maker: Indian Motorcycle Company

See more items in: Work and Industry: Transportation, Road, Bicycling, Sports & Leisure, America on the Move, Transportation, Road Transportation

Exhibition: America On The Move

Exhibition Location: National Museum of American History

Credit Line: Gift of Katie and Taylor Smith

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 2000.0070.01Accession Number: 2000.0070Catalog Number: 2000.0070.01

Object Name: motorcycle

Measurements: overall: 42 in x 40 in x 94 in; 106.68 cm x 101.6 cm x 238.76 cm


Record Id: nmah_1287650

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