Link Marker  Henderson Motorcycles Contents Page    Link Marker  History 1918 ~ 1931


Henderson Factory, Detroit



Henderson Motorcycle Co

History 1911 ~ 1917



In October 1911 the Henderson Motorcycle Co, 268 Jefferson Ave., Detroit, Michigan (pictured above) announced a new 4-cylinder, 56 cubic inches, 7 H.P. motorcycle.  25 were to be ready for sale at $325 from January 1, 1912 with the expectation of producing 1,000 machines for the year.  The brainchild of William G. Henderson (in partnership with his brother Tom W. Henderson) was the third 4-cylinder motorcycle to be manufactured in America.  One of its most innovative features was the inclusion of a folding hand crank for easy starting.  The new Henderson proved to be a very desirable machine.


1913 saw several improvements in the design to the Model B, most notable being to the forks, a lower saddle position and a better brake.  In the October 1, 1913 issue of World Motorcycle Review it was reported that Carl Stearns Clancy of New York had circled the globe on his 1912 Henderson, complete with an impressive set of photographs.


The 1914 Model C was the first to have gears: a two-speed gearbox incorporated in the rear hub.


In 1915 with the Model E the wheelbase was reduced from 65” to 58” resulting in far superior handling.  This was achieved by removing the large footboard in front of the engine and replacing it with two smaller ones attached to the outside of the frame.  This was sold alongside the longer wheelbase and slightly earlier Model D.


The 1916 Model F took on the shorter wheelbase of the Model E.  Improvements included a “mechanical oiler” driven from the cam gears and a kick-starter.


Significant advancements were made with the 1917 Model G.  The oil was now held in the crankcase, as in a car, replacing the much inferior splash system.  A three-speed gearbox was attached as part of the rear engine and operated with a heavy-duty clutch.  This new Henderson was an elegant machine that matched (and with some exceeded) the performance of the big twins. Both sales and Henderson dealerships, like the bike, rocketed.


On June 13, 1917, Alan Bedell smashed the coveted transcontinental long distance record held by “Canonball” Baker on an Indian Twin, since 1915, when he rode his stock 1917 Henderson from Los Angeles to New York City (3,296 miles) in just seven days, sixteen and a quarter hours.  In 1917, surfaced roads went as far as the city limits, the rest were punishing even for today’s off-road vehicles.  Alan Bedell had already set a new 24-hour record at Ascot Park, California averaging 48 m.p.h. for a distance of 1154 miles.  July, 1917 saw Roy Artley take the Three-Flag record, travelling from Blaine, Canada to Tijuana, Mexico (1,667 miles) in just three days and twenty five minutes.


In spite of these successes the company was experiencing severe financial difficulties caused by spiralling material and labour costs combined with poor and irregular supplies due to the First World War.  The result was that on November 17, 1917, Ignaz Schwinn bought Henderson.  Schwinn had made his fortune manufacturing bicycles.  The earlier acquisition of the Excelsior Motor and Manufacturing Company in 1911 had been a perfect way of expanding and diversifying his business.  The Henderson Four was in his sights as a perfect stable mate for the Super-X and the opportunity was just not to be missed.  Before the end of the year Henderson motorcycle manufacture had moved lock, stock and barrel to 3700 Cortland Street, Chicago, Illinois.


Henderson Model BBrochure Cover

1913 Henderson - Model B


Link Marker  Henderson Motorcycles Contents Page    Link Marker  History 1918 ~ 1931