AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame | Where Heroes Live On
First Name
Last Name

Thomas Henderson


Co-founder, Henderson Motorcycle Co.

Thomas Henderson was a co-founder of the Henderson Motorcycle Co. along with his younger brother, William. The modest Thomas was quick to give credit to his younger brother as the driving force behind the development of the Henderson, but it was Thomas who brought years of sales experience from the automotive industry to the company and helped quide it to prosperity in the mid-1910s. The Henderson motorcycle was revolutionary, being the first popular bike of a four-cylinder design. The Henderson was the luxury motorcycle of the 1910s and early '20s, renowned for its smoothness, power and quality of construction.

The oldest of ten children, Thomas Winton Henderson was born on July 6, 1872, in Glasgow, Scotland. The Henderson family emigrated to America, first living in New York in 1879 before moving to Cleveland in 1881. Henderson's father became the vice president of the then-popular Winton Motor Car Comapany of Cleveland.

All of the Henderson boys served as apprentices in the mechanical trade, with Thomas learning the trade of pattern maker at the age of 14. After learning a trade, Henderson attended busines college. Like many young men of that time from affluent families, Henderson went to Europe to complete his education. While in Europe, Henderson studied singing under great masters and seriously considered a career in grand opera for a time.

While undoubtedly one of the best educated men in the motorcycling industry, Henderson always downplayed his academic background. When questioned about his education in an interview, Henderson jokingly replied, "I speak French, Italian, German, English and profanity with equal fluency."

Back in America, Henderson became the sales manager of the Winton Motor Car Co. for the state of Michigan. In the meantime, his brother, William, was experimenting with motorcycles. In 1911, William built a prototype that so impressed Thomas, that he decided to leave his secure position with Winton and in 1912 established Henderson Motorcycle Co. in Detroit.

Henderson put his sales experience to good use and was responsible for setting up a dealership network for the company. It did not hurt that the Henderson, with it's unique four-cylinder motor, was praised for its quality and reliability. The reputation of the company was further strengthened when Carl Glancy rode a Henderson around the world late in 1913. It was the first time that feat had been accomplished on a motorcycle. Later, long-distance and cross-country racers such as Roy Artley, "Cannonball" Baker, Alan Bedell and Wells Bennett set numerous records on Hendersons, even though the bike was never designed with racing in mind.

In 1913, Henderson's leadership ability was recognized by the motorcycling industry when it elected him president of the Motorcycle Manufacturers' Association (later to be called the Motorcycle & Allied Trades Association, M&ATA, a predessesor to the AMA).

By 1916, Henderson was so succesful that the company was unable to produce enough motorcycles to keep pace with orders. America's entry into World War I in 1917 brought an end to the prosperity, however. Like many of the motorcycle manufacturers during that time, Henderson was severely weakened by the war. In 1917, Henderson was purchased by Ignaz Schwinn of Excelsior (at that time one of the big three American motorcycle makers, along with Indian and Harley-Davidson). The new company was called Excelsior-Henderson and the Henderson brothers moved to Excelsior's home of Chicago. Thomas became sales manager of Excelsior-Henderson.

During the war, Henderson served in the Council of National Defense as a member of the Automotive Committee. After the war, Henderson moved to Europe to represent Excelsior-Henderson.

Inducted in 1998