When Detroit Was Great – The End of American Henderson Motorcycles

In 1911 a pair of audacious brothers formed the American Henderson Motorcycle Co, 268 Jefferson Ave., Detroit, Michigan.

William G. Henderson and his brother, Tom W. Henderson, began a partnership which would lead the pair to create a series of elegant and powerful machines. With William acting as the designer and motorcycle aficionado and brother Tom acting as the firm’s financial head, the pair began making the motorcycles which would one day lead to their induction into to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.

Henderson produced 4-cylinder motorcycles from 1912 until 1931, and those now legendary bikes were, by a large margin, the fastest and most comfortable motorcycles of their time. Their appeal was wide-ranging and the bikes found their way into the hands of racers and police departments.

Photo by Todd Halterman, Motofotostudio.com

Photo by Todd Halterman, Motofotostudio.com

Things began to unravel for the family on a fateful day in early December 1922, when the soul of the marque, William Henderson, was killed in a motor accident while testing the new Ace model.

In 1917, the Hendersons sold the firm to Ignaz Schwinn, owner of Schwinn bicycle manufacturing magnate as well as Excelsior Motors. At that point, the production of motorcycles was moved to Schwinn’s Excelsior Motor Mfg. & Supply Co. in Chicago, Illinois.

So what made a Henderson such a wonderfully popular machine? Power. Hendersons were a worldwide success and there are almost as many surviving Hendersons in Europe, Australia and New Zealand as exist in the U.S. Some export models were marketed in Great Britain and Germany as the “American-X.”

The end came for the company with a whimper and not a bang, and during the summer of 1931, Ignaz Schwinn uttered the words which ended the production of the now priceless machines.

“Gentlemen, today we stop”.

Schwinn looked ahead at the onrushing Great Depression and decided to concentrate his efforts on manufacturing bicycles, and that was all she wrote for an American legend on two wheels.

You may also like...