1917 Henderson Inline Four Model G
This superb motorcycle belonged to my friend Alain. He decided to sell a few from his personal collection in 2009. We displayed this among our machines at the VMCC Banbury Run Autojumble in that year.
The Model G was the last of the true Hendersons. The bike was restored some time ago, but Alain has never started it up. He’ll send some photos next week.
I saw an Excelsior-made Henderson at the Real Classic show at Ardingley a few weeks ago. It was the star of the show, but didn’t look as good as this one.
Henderson Motorcycle Co
268 Jefferson Ave, Detroit, Michigan, USA
Henderson Motorcycle Co produced 4 cylinder motorcycles from 1912 until 1931. They were the largest and fastest motorcycles of their time. The Henderson in-line engine was a favorite of light plane builders for its smooth, quiet, vibrationless power. It also appealed to sport riders and police departments. Police favored them for traffic patrol because they were faster than anything on the roads. The company began during the golden age of motorcycling, and ended during the Great Depression.
In 1911 the American was formed by William G. Henderson in partnership with his brother Tom W. Henderson. Bill had the ideas and enthusiasm for motorcycling, and Tom had the better financial acumen. The Henderson brothers constructed a single prototype motorcycle during 1911. The prototype had the belt drive typical of the times, but this was changed to chain drive for production models.
Henderson Motorcycle Co promptly announced a new 57 cubic inch (934 cc) IOE four cylinder 7 hp motorcycle, with the engine mounted inline with the frame and chain drive. Production began in 1911, using the in-line four cylinder engine and long wheelbase that would become Henderson trademarks, and it was available to the public in January 1912. Advertisements boasted 7 H.P. and a price of $325. It was the third, four cylinder, production motorcycle built in the USA., and featured a folding hand-crank starter handle.
Improvements included a better brake (singular), lower seating position, and improved girder forks. It was in this year that Carl Stearns Clancy of New York returned from circling the globe on a 1912 Henderson, armed with many photographs to prove it.
The 1914 Model C had a two-speed gearbox incorporated in the rear hub. (The first Henderson to have gears.
Shortly after the Model D was announced, it was followed by a Model E, with the wheelbase reduced from 65” to 58”, through a change in the footboards, and this improved handling.
The shorter wheelbase became the standard, and the engine now incorporated a cam gear driven “mechanical oiler”, and a kick-start.
The old splash lubrication was superseded by wet sump lubrication. A three-speed gearbox was now attached to the engine and incorporated a heavy-duty clutch. Sales soared and new dealerships were established.
Alan Bedell averaged 48 mph for 1154 miles at Ascot Park in California setting a new 24 hour record, and then, on June 13, 1917, broke the transcontinental long distance record of 1915 (set by “Cannonball” Baker on an Indian Twin,) when he rode his 1917 Henderson from Los Angeles to the city of New York (3,296 miles) in seven days, sixteen hours, and fifteen minutes. The roads outside of towns were primitive by today’s standards, and the ride would have been more like an off road ride than the highway tour of today. The Cannonball Sea-to-Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash was named in Baker’s honor.
The Model G was the last of the ‘real’ Hendersons. Because, 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.
Hendersons were marketed extensively overseas as well as in the United States during the Schwinn years. Today, there are almost as many extant Hendersons in Europe and Australia/New Zealand as in the U.S. The Excelsior name had already been used in Germany and Britain, so export models were marketed as the “American-X” (as in my photo, above).
When production resumed for the new Model H, the engine serial numbers began with a Z, instead of the older H.
Below is a 1931 Police Henderson. This was the last year for Hendersons.
THE END: The summer of 1931 saw Schwinn call his department heads together for a meeting at Excelsior. He bluntly told them, with no prior indication, “Gentlemen, today we stop”. Schwinn felt that the Depression could easily continue for eight years, and even worsen. Despite of the full order book, he had chosen to pare back his business commitments to the core business, bicycle manufacture. By September 1931 it was all over.
In 1994, a new Excelsior-Henderson Motorcycle Companywas founded by Dan Hanlon and Dave Hanlon (brothers) who secured the rights to the defunct Excelsior-Henderson trademark and brand. After securing funding from a number of investors, the two brothers built a state-of-the-art factory in Belle Plaine, Minnesota. The original business plan scheduled motorcycle production to begin in December 1998 with a projected annual sales of 20,000 units.
Excelsior-Henderson finally began production in the spring of 1999 and sold fewer than 2000 motorcycles over the following summer and fall. The initial lack of sales resulted in Excelsior-Henderson laying off a large portion of its workforce. On 21st December, 1999, Excelsior-Henderson filed for bankruptcy. Despite attempts to save the manufacturer, no investors could be found and the assets were eventually liquidated.