Indian Nation: Indian Motorcycles and America
Opening Reception Sunday, April 12, 2 pm–4 pm
Gallery Talk at 3pm
On view through August 23, 2015
The story of the Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company closely mirrors the history and attitudes of 20th century America. Indian was founded in 1901 by George Hendee, an American bicycle racer and builder, and Carl Oscar Hedstrom, a Swedish immigrant and machinist. The exhibition features rare Indian Motorcycles from 1903 – 1953. Visitors will discover Hedstrom’s role in the creation of motorcycling as we know it today and explore the company’s response to the Great Depression, World Wars I and II, and post-war American culture.
Did you know that a Swedish-American engineered the first American motorcycle? It happened in 1901 when a smart and dashing young man named Carl Oscar Hedstrom (1871-1960), a Swedish immigrant and machinist, and George Hendee (1866-1943), an American bicycle racer and builder, founded Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company. The two first met in 1899, when Hendee took notice of a motorized bicycle that Hedstrom had modified. They developed a plan to form a company and produce their own “moto-cycle.” They chose “Indian” as the company name, signifying an entirely American product and as a reminder of America’s pioneer tradition.
Carl Oscar Hedstrom (he went by Oscar) was born in the parish of Lönneberga, Kalmar County, Småland, Sweden. In 1880, when Hedstrom was nine years old, he and his family emigrated to the United States and settled in Brooklyn, New York. Soon after the move, his father gave him his first bike, which Hedstrom treasured. He spent hours each day exploring his new city by bicycle and took special interest in the mechanics of his new ride. At sixteen, Hedstrom took a job at a watch factory, and soon rose to the status of toolmaker. This mechanical talent also expressed itself in his hobby, building and racing bicycles.
It was when Hedstrom debuted his motor-driven pacer, known as “The Hedstrom Creation” or the “infernal machine,” at a bicycle race at Madison Square Garden, that the established manufacturer, George Hendee, took notice of his talents. Hedstrom produced their first prototype machine in 1901 and built about six motorcycles in total that year. Hendee Manufacturing Company, which initially produced Indian motorcycles, sold two of them. Two years later, Indian was a recognized leader in motorcycle design and a brand that was absolutely dominating board track races. Hedstrom’s inventions, especially his superior carburetor, pushed the Indian from a bicycle with a motor on it to a smooth-moving, efficient device for endurance traveling—and fast traveling! By 1913, Hendee Manufacturing was the world's top producer of motorcycles and the iconic Indian was firmly established as America’s first motorcycle.
Oscar Hedstrom left Indian in 1913. One of his friends died in a racing crash and there was friction in the company over whether to strive for progress or profit. Hedstrom favored progress; the investors wanted only profit. Having made a personal fortune, Hedstrom, then 43 years old, retired to a beautiful home on the Connecticut River, which he spent years meticulously renovating. His retirement consisted of hunting, fishing, and building champion racing boats that he also personally piloted. In his later years, Oscar became an avid hunter, hand carving his own gunstocks to fit his grip.
Oscar Hedstrom helped put the world on two wheels. His engines inspired competitors to innovate and improve the mechanics of motorcycling. His legacy lives on in the traditional styling of the Indian line (recently revived by Polaris Industries), which is still known for its classic look, utility, and versatility.
Indian Nation: Indian Motorcycles and America features rare Indian motorcycles from many eras, including a restored 1903 single engine Indian, a 1911 experimental prototype that Hedstrom and his friend, Ben “The Terrible Swede” Swenson, personally worked on a 1916 power plus with sidecar, a 1947 Indian Chief, plus engines, historic photos, racing memorabilia, and much, much more!
This exhibition is supported jointly by grants from the ASHM Auxiliary, the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation, George C. and Esther Ann McFarland Foundation, Midsommarklubben, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, SWEA Philadelphia, and an anonymous foundation. Support provided in part by the Philadelphia Cultural Fund.
Fact and Fiction: Getting to Know Sweden's Authors
In a small exhibition located in the Kalm-Seaborg Gallery on the second floor, ASHM examines Swedish authors whose works have leaped across culture lines to impact the American literary landscape. From Carl Linnaeus’s writings about scientific taxonomy in the 1700s to the socio-political themes explored by crime novelist Stieg Larsson in the 21st century, this “mini” exhibit features objects and images that illuminate the life and times of some of Sweden’s best-known authors.
A Common Thread: Tradition and Trend in Swedish Textiles
Whether they are created for function or fashion, Swedish textiles are well-crafted, colorful, and full of detail. A Common Thread uses the museum’s collection to explore the themes of technique, style and material employed to create Swedish clothes, weavings, embroidery, and other handiwork. The exhibition looks at the ways in which Swedish textiles communicate class, gender, cultural identity and social trends. Highlights from the collection include examples of Saami outerwear, Swedish provincial costumes, household linens, decorative wall hangings, tools and modern examples of Swedish style. A hands-on table with wool, linen, silk, leather and fur, is available for visitors to handle and explore textile materials on their own.
Sven Birger Sandzen
Sven Birger Sandzén is the featured artists on the balcony level. Sandzén was born in Blidsberg, Sweden, in 1871 and studied art in Skara, Stockholm. He moved to the United States as a young man and enjoyed a long, distinguished career as an art professor at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas. On view is a selection of Sandzén’s wood block prints, drypoints, oil paintings, watercolors, and hand-made greeting cards from the ASHM collection.