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1931 Henderson Motorcycle

1931 Henderson Motorcycle

This 1931 Henderson Motorcycle would have been amongst the last to be manufactured.
Schwinn who had earlier bought Henderson suddenly announced ‘today we stop’ in spite of having full order books and strong sales.
His reasoning being that the great depression at that time was going to last many more years and he wanted out, going back to the core business of making cycles.
Shame really as Henderson was renowned as the bike to have and was one of the Big 3 motorcycle manufacturers in America, had a strong dealership, good export numbers and popular with the Police as they were fast with a top speed of 110mph and very reliable.

Henderson’s rivals were Indian and Harley Davidson.  I call them rivals not competitors as the Henderson in America was really in a class of its own.

The history of the Henderson is interesting, and here is a brief list of main events.

  • Founded in 1911 by William and Tom Henderson they built a prototype.  William was the ideas man, his brother Tom was good with money management.
  • 1912 they made their inline 4 cylinder 57 cubic inch [934  cc] single speed motorcycle.  In 1914 they fitted a 2 speed gearbox into the wheel hub.
    The engine was adapted also for aircraft and used during WWI years.
  • 1915 the original wheelbase was a long 65 inches and was now shortened to 58 inches, which then became standard.
  • 1917 the motor went from splash feed lubrication to wet sump, and later that year the brothers sold out to Igray Schwinn, a cycle manufacturer who also made the Excelsior motorcycle.
  • 1918 motor capacity increased to 67 cubic inch.
  • 1918 motor increased to 70 cubic inches and rated at 14.2 hp
  • 1920 William left Schwinn and developed his own motorcycle again, the ACE.
    Both William and Tom worked with Schwinn after the sale, Tom having already left Schwinn earlier.
  • 1920 the motor capacity was again increased to 79.4 cubic inch this time, upgraded to full pressure lubrication and top speed of 80 mph.
    This made the bike very reliable, it set many long distance records and became a popular bike with the Police.
  • 1922 horsepower increased to 28 at 3,400rpm, and top speed now 100mph.  Thats more power tan the Model T had.
    The Henderson set a new endurance record of 1562 miles at an average speed of 65.1mph, this remained unbroken until 1933.
  • 1922 December 11,  William Henderson was killed while testing his ACE motorcycle.
  • 1927 Indian bought ACE, hence came the Indian 4 cylinder motorcycle.
  • 1929 -1930 years saw the inlet valve over the exhaust valve introduced. This increased power to 45 hp @ 4,500 rpm and top speed to 110 mph.
  • 1931 Schwinn shocked his team by announcing without warning ‘today we stop’  and by September that year Henderson motorcycles were history.

During 1993 the rights to the trademarks of Excelsior-Henderson trademarks were secured by Dan Hanlon who founded the Excelsior-Henderson Motorcycle Company becoming an Original Equipment Manufacturer. They did make some V twin motorcycles in the late 1990’s but didnt survive the financial pressures of the time.

Riding a bike of this vintage can be quite complicated, as Jay will show you.


Thank you to Jay Leno for the review, and Wikipedia for information.
Photos are screen takes from the video.