1901: A First-of-a-Kind Motorcycle is Introduced on a Steep Hill

May 10, 1901

George M. Hendee and Carl Oscar Hedström introduced what became the first commercially successful, gasoline-powered motorcycle in the United States. The debut and demonstration of their prototype motorcycle took place on a steep hill on Cross Street in Springfield, Massachusetts. 

The two men had officially entered into a business partnership only about four months earlier, with Hendee serving as president and general manager and Hedström carrying out the duties of chief engineer and designer. The origins of their partnership could be traced to the previous year. It all began when Massachusetts native Hendee, a national bicycling champion who had retired from those races to focus instead on the production and sales of bicycles, made his way to New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

While watching bicycle races there, Hendee found himself impressed with the fast and effective performance of a motorized bicycle being used in the competitions. He learned that the creator of the vehicle was Swedish immigrant Hedström, a Connecticut resident who designed and cast his own engines, and both men soon agreed to join forces to mass-produce those motorcycles. The business was incorporated as Hendee Manufacturing Company. 

One of the more innovative features of the prototype that they introduced in Springfield was its streamlined frame and a motor with an all-chain driver, something unique at a time when most motorcycles had belt drives. In the wake of the successful demonstration of this prototype, the public demand for Hendee Manufacturing Company’s motorcycles proved to be nothing less than meteoric. By 1912, the company had become the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer and would retain that status for a few years. The business, which was renamed Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company in 1923, remained in operation until 1953.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

For more information on the innovative motorcycle introduced by George M. Hendee and Carl Oscar Hedström in 1901, please check out https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_843056 and  https://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/glory-days-indian-motocycle/

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