special exhibitoons












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.
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Upcoming Exhibitions

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Past Exhibitions

To view more information about past exhibitions at ASHM click here>>

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