Site of First Indian Motorcycle Found by Middletown Man | Connecticut Public Radio

Site of First Indian Motorcycle Found by Middletown Man

Aug 14, 2015

Oscar Hedstrom with the first Indian Motorcycle, built in 1901.
Credit Gede / Creative Commons

From 1901 to 1953, Indian motorcycles were manufactured in Springfield Massachusetts. But the first Indian motorcycle, the first prototypes, were actually built in Middletown, Connecticut.

Bicycle racer Oscar Hedstrom rented space in a factory in January of 1901 in Middletown to make the prototypes.

The location of that factory has been a matter of speculation for years. But last winter, Middletown resident Chris Hinze found and verified the true location of the factory where the first Indian motorcycle was built.

“May 25 is when he finished the bike. He threw it back in the crate, went up on the train, probably up to Springfield, and then [business owner George] Hendee -- the mastermind of sales, and promotion, and business that he was. There was a big event where they demonstrated the bike, and they called all the press in,” said Hinze. “At 12 noon -- he picked 12 noon, which is a great time -- the whistle blew, and everyone came out, and they just wowed everyone with a demonstration of this bicycle.”

Hedstrom went back down to Middletown and made two more prototypes. So in total, there were three prototypes made in Middletown at the Worcester Cycle Manufacturing company at 24 Hamlin Street.

That number -- 24 -- is the critical piece.

“People knew stuff about Middletown, even some knew about Hamlin street. Hamlin Street now runs for one block. There’s an old building on there from, like, 1880 so everyone assumes that is the building,” said Hinze. “I found out that Hamlin street went for 2 blocks all the way to Church Street. But the second block wasn't there anymore. so then I looked back at the old maps and the old numbers -- because numbers change -- and I found that 24 is on the block that isn't there anymore.”

A view of Middletown in 1915 by Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler.
Credit UConn Library

The spot where the factory used to be is now on the property of Wesleyan University.

"All of a sudden he goes, you know that spot where you thought it was? You hit it right on, dead center."
Chris Hinze

“It took a while, a few months, to hook me up with a gentleman in the special archives. So I went in there, I laid everything out on a table and he said, ‘you're absolutely right, that’s where the building would have been,’” said Hinze. “All of a sudden he goes, you know that spot where you thought it was? You hit it right on, dead center.”

A commemorative plaque -- though not yet engraved -- is already up on the site of the old factory. A dedication ceremony will take place at some point in the fall, and both Wesleyan and Middletown officials will attend.

“I’m just happy that everyone gets to know about it, and the missing piece of the puzzle has been found,” said Hinze.