The first known steam-cycle to be built in the United States appeared in 1869. It was built by American inventor Sylvester Howard Roper of Roxbury, Massachusetts, and Roper's invention may have the distinction of being the first American motorcycle.
Waltham Manufacturing, maker of Orient Bicycles, began marketing their heavy-weight bicycle with a French-made DeDion engine installed in 1898.
Carl Oscar Hedstrom redesigned and improved upon the DeDion engine in 1899 and partnered with bicycle-maker George Hendee. They also replaced the drive-belt with a drive-chain. In 1901, Hedstrom and Hendee formed the Indian Motorcycle Company.
In 1903, William Harley, 21 years old, and Arthur Davidson, 20 years old, built the first production Harley-Davidson Motorcycle - a single-cylinder racer displacing 27 cubic inches (450 cubic centimeters). In 2013, Harley-Davidson held the largest part of the US motorcycle market-share at 48 percent.
Aviator Glenn Curtis started building motorcycles in 1902 and built the very first American V-Twin Motorcycle in 1903. In 1907, Curtis built a 4400cc V8 motorcycle and set a land-speed record of over 136 mph. Curtis built and supplied the first war-service airplanes to both the US and England during World War One.
Indian introduced their first motorcycle with the V-Twin engine 1906. Indian offered their Improved V-Twin in 1908. Harley-Davidson introduced their first motorcycle with the iconic V-Twin engine in 1909.
The very first motor sports racing events at the new Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana consisted of seven motorcycle races, sanctioned by the Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM), on August 14, 1909. This was originally planned as a two-day, 15-race program, but ended before the first day was completed due to concerns over suitability of the brick surface for motorcycle use. With no motorcycle racing at Indy for 99 years, MotoGP returned to The Brickyard in 2008.
In 1914 there were 30 motorcycle manufacturers in the United States. Indian was exported world-wide and was the largest maker in the US. Other pre-depression American motorcycle makers included: Excelsior (owned by Schwinn Bicycles), Henderson, Ace, Yale, Cleveland, Pierce (same as the auto-maker Pierce-Arrow), Flying Merkel, Cyclone, Iver Johnson, Thomas, Orient, Curtiss, and Royal. Indian and Harley-Davidson were the only motorcycle manufacturers to survive the great depression.
Fascinating Fact: From the beginning of the 20th century through the 1950s, Harley-Davidson Motorcycles were promoted as affordable, basic motorcycles for the common man and were generally available in black and with no chrome. Indian Motorcycles were promoted as luxurious, expensive, high performance motorcycles and popularly available in red.Part Two: Early European and British Motorcycles
Part Three: The First American Motorcycles
Part Six: The Later 20th Century: The Baby Boomers Become Young Adults
Part Seven: The Super Seventies
Part Eight: The American & Italian Connection