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American History: the 10 Oldest Motor Companies in the US

There is an entire culture built around motorcycles. Some are considered national symbols; Harley-Davidson is to the USA what Ducati is to Italy. There are groups of riders with adequate attire, there are races, and there are motor routes across countries. In this article, we'll cover the 10 oldest motorcycles in the USA. Can you guess which are the only two companies from this list still operating today?

Simplex - 1935

Founded in 1935, Simplex is the youngest motorcycle company on our list. Their vehicles would be more aptly described as motorbikes, a lighter and smaller version of the motorcycle. Their top speed was 40 miles per hour, allowing for a breezy ride to run errands or cruise leisurely along the street. Their decline in sales was due to a growth in the imported scooter market in the 1950s, which led to a full stop of motorbike production a decade later and a final closure of the business in 1972. 

Ace Motor - 1919

This company, founded in 1919 by American engineer William G. Henderson, operated smoothly until 1924. They specialized in large luxury four-cylinder motorcycles. Here's a fun fact: in 1923, American actor Red Wolverton rode an Ace Motorbike and reached a record speed of 129 mph. The company offered an official trophy, as well as a cash prize to anyone who could break the record, but no one did. 

Flying Merkel - 1911

Joseph Merkel started designing, engineering, and manufacturing his brand of single-cylinder motorcycles in 1902. These were known to be of remarkable engineering and were used to compete in races. In 1910, he started offering 2-cylinder engine motors, but a year later, his company switched hands. This was the first time the trademark Flying Merkel was printed on the bikes painted bright orange. The color of the bikes became known as "Merkel orange." The company remained under family ownership and is in the revival stages today. 

Excelsior - 1907

Excelsior was founded in Chicago. An Excelsior motorcycle was the first motorcycle to be officially recorded reaching speeds of 100 mph. Since it was founded, the company enjoyed near-constant prosperity, and in 1928, it took third place in sales success in the USA after Indian and Harley-Davidson. But the Great Depression came as a mighty blow to the business, and manufacturing stopped in 1931. 

Harley Davidson - 1903

Harley Davidson is the first company on this list that still operates today. It was officially founded as a company in 1907, with Walter Davidson as president of the company. Harley Davidson is an American symbol, and their designs made great advancements in shaping any type of chopper motorcycle - their specialty.

Indian Motorcycles - 1901

This company presents itself proudly as America's first motorcycle company. While this is not technically true (as there are older companies out of business), it is the oldest operating motorcycle company in the USA. It survived times of war and economic decline thanks to its contribution to the war forces: Indian Motorcycles provided essential vehicles to both the American and French troops. 

Thor - 1901

Thor motorcycles also specialized in motor parts, and engines, in particular. It manufactured motorcycle engines for Indian motors, as well as other companies. And for a brief period, the company sold competitive motorcycles under its own brand name. After the company stopped selling race bikes, it continued selling home appliances until it finally closed in 1916. 

Pope - 1876

Albert Augustus Pope founded his Pope Manufacturing Company in Boston. His company manufactured not only motorcycles but also bicycles and automobiles. Motorcycle production lasted between 1902 and 1918- before that, Pope sold mostly bicycles, and before that- penny farthings! Yes, that strange old-timey bike with a huge front wheel and a minuscule back wheel. 

Iver Johnson - 1871

The Iver Johnson company, much like Pope, was better known for its other product line - not for its motorcycles. Iver Johnson sold mainly bicycles and firearms, the latter they still do today. The company closed its production lines in 1993 but reopened as Iver Johnson Arms in 2006. Today, their motorcycles are considered the finest examples of motorcycle engineering of that era, thanks to some mechanical features that, at the time, were nothing short of trailblazing. 

Pierce-Arrow - 1865

The Pierce-Arrow company, much like Iver Johnson, dabbled in other products, as well as motorcycles. They manufactured prestigious automobiles, bicycles, and trucks too. In 1907, they established the Pierce Cycle Company to separate production lines. They introduced their first motor in 1909, a 4-cylinder bike that was considered costly. In 1910, they introduced a single-cylinder model, but they quickly went bankrupt in 1914. 
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