How many American motorcycle companies can you name? Everyone knows Harley Davidson and most know Indian. The more knowledgeable will list Crocker and then Excelsior and Henderson, but after those, the names usually come more slowly.
Although this may hold true in other countries as well, many enthusiasts here in the U.S. are able to cite British or Italian companies back to the early 1900s yet after the American companies named above, they’re at a loss to come up with any more. I find that odd.
Before the Internet and standard 20 and 40 foot shipping containers, building any product meant manufacturing or sourcing everything within your own country, often within a very limited region and start to finish, the product was “American” or “British” or whatever country you happened to be in. There were a great many companies over the last 100 years producing motorcycles, smaller companies and the numbers produced were often low, but there were quite a few. Unfortunately, most are long forgotten.
There are actually more motorcycle companies in the U.S. today, than you might think, with varying degrees of ties to overseas suppliers and producers. How many of these companies will remain in 10 years and what companies will spring up to take the place of those that don’t make it? How many of those will be remembered?
There were far more motorcycle companies in the U.S. over the last century than most would ever believe, maybe 100 or more. The names may ring a bell as soon as they’re mentioned, but they don’t pop up quickly on demand. Some, you may never have heard of at all.
I think we need to focus on these U.S. based companies, both current and past, to heighten awareness of the motorcycle industry, right here in the U.S. Talking about British bikes or Italian bikes is common and accepted but if someone focuses on American motorcycles you may hear some joke about engineering (usually in the guise of a sideways shot at Harley Davidson) or you might be accused of ignoring the wonders of European bikes or bikes from some other continent. Why is that?
All of the early companies, whether from here or anywhere else, deserve our respect for the simple reason they decided to build something and did. Often at great odds or motivated by a dream the founders started building motorcycles and lived their dream. It would be foolish to ignore their contributions and the bikes they built. I don’t want any of those companies to disappear from our memories and further, many of those bikes were really interesting in both design and technology which makes looking at them again enjoyable, at least if you’re a motorhead like me.
Over the coming weeks and months I’ll be covering some of the less well known names, (we certainly don’t need any more history of Harley). I’m looking forward to it and I hope you get a kick out of it, too.
Related: What Are American Motorcycles?