In 1919, at the end of the World War One, a significant set of motorcycle drawings was created. They would be lost for the next 90 years, until discovered in a trash bin. They will be sold at the Mid-America Auction, which will be held at the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas on January 10th 2009. Read the unbelievable story of these extremely rare documents.
During the World War I era, a number of early manufacturers went out of business or were bought up by stronger companies. William Henderson, who is still considered America’s most creative motorcycle designer, sold his company to a German immigrant, Ignatius Schwinn, who started making bicycles in Chicago in 1895.The Henderson had a fine reputation as being America’s most luxurious, elegant, and expensive four-cylinder motorcycle. Schwinn felt he had taken ownership of the “best of the best” and added it to his Excelsior Line. Despite signing a non-compete clause, Henderson was unhappy and soon began plans for a finer and even more elegant replacement, the ACE. Henderson would call it “The Ace Four”, the finest thing on two wheels!” He began drawing the plans for his elegant new ACE and searching for investors to help finance the new factory. As soon as his non-compete expired production began. Money would eventually run out, and while searching for the finances needed to complete his machine, production was moved, and even discontinued a couple of times.
One tragic cold day, Dec. 11th 1922, Henderson was test riding the new Ace and was struck by a car and killed. Within weeks his assistant, Arthur Lemon, completed the final drawings, and then sold the rights to Indian Motorcycle Co., America’s largest manufacturer. Indian produced the bike as the Ace, then Indian Ace, and finally as their own brand, the Indian Four. During the 1930s, it went on to become America’s only luxury motorcycle, akin to a Duesenberg or Cord.
The original drawings, numbering approximately 400 pieces, disappeared from view. Lost in the files of the massive Indian Company, the Henderson Ace drawings were assumed to have been destroyed in 1953, when Indian went out of business. Astonishingly, the new owner, Bill Melvin, found the drawings as they were being placed in a dumpster and headed for a landfill. They had sat under layers of dust in a warehouse for years. Bill Melvin says: “After spending much of my adult life looking for this type of treasure, it was overwhelming to find what represents the finest work of the most renowned designer in American motorcycle history. And to think they were headed for a landfill; when I found them, I had goose bumps for a week.”
The drawings are each signed and dated by William Henderson and Arthur Lemon; they were done on a cloth material and are in beautiful condition. They still rest in the old envelopes from the Indian factory. They have added significance in that many of Henderson’s inventions are still in use in today’s machines. Information for auction: Bill Melvin at 616-450-0640.