Of all the four-cylinder motor cycles ever
manufactured in the United States of America during the earlier part of the 20th
Century, the Henderson Fours were perhaps the most successful. During their
nineteen year production lifespan, they also became the world's most famous
It was in 1911 that the Henderson brothers,
William G. and Thomas, first announced their intention of going into motor cycle
production. A year later they wheeled out the first of their models. The
strikingly impressive machines had four-cylinder, in-line engines, mounted
longitudinally, with mechanically operated inlet and exhaust valves and crude
splash lubrication. The flywheel was enclosed in the crankcase and the ignition
was by means of a Bosch magneto.
The Henderson had a clutch but no gearbox and was
started by the unusual means of a crank handle at the rear side of the engine.
Final drive was by chain. The machine was enormous, as might be expected with a
longitudinal four, the wheelbase measuring no less
than 65 inches, although this did allow room for a pillion in front of the
rider. The asking price when the Henderson was launched was $325.
Before long the Henderson models were being used
for various successful endurance records. Carl Clancy of New York became the
first man to circle the earth on a motor cycle, his Henderson covering a total
of 18,000 miles with no major problems. Consequently the Henderson became very
popular with the motor cycling public.
By 1913 the company had made substantial
improvements to the forks, frame and tank shape and a year later the first
two-speed Hendersons appeared, the two-speed gear being incorporated in the rear
hub and having a hand operated change. In 1915, the machine's wheelbase was
reduced to 59 inches by removing the foot board in front of the engine (the
pillion seat had long since disappeared).
This improved the handling considerably.
The commercial success of the Henderson did not go unnoticed and in 1917, Ignaz
Schwinn, head of the Excelsior company, offered to buy out Henderson while
allowing the Henderson brothers to remain with the company in executive
positions. This offer was too good to refuse so the Hendersons sold out.
Subsequent Henderson models appeared with the Excelsior company's large red
stylized 'X' badge on their tanks.
By 1919, the original Henderson Four models had
been phased out of production and replaced by the new Model K designed by Arthur
Lemon. The model K had a new, larger (1300cc) engine and was the first motor
cycle to use full pressure lubrication. The cylinders were of a new type, with
both inlet and exhaust valves placed side by side, while the drive chain was now
fully enclosed and these various modifications ensured the new Henderson became
even more popular.
By this time, however, the Henderson brothers had
become thoroughly frustrated by their new roles within the Schwinn organization
and they left for other fields. Tom went into the export business while William
G. set about establishing another new motor cycle manufacturing concern. Soon
afterwards he produced his new masterpiece—the Ace Four —which also became a
classic in motor cycle history.
The Excelsior-Henderson company meanwhile
continued production of the Model K until 1922 when it was superseded by the
improved De Luxe model. The De Luxe model was the most refined Henderson model
ever produced up to that date and it ensured that the Henderson name continued
to grow and prosper. Then, in 1928, came an even better Henderson, the Model KJ.
The KJ, designed by Arthur Constantine, was a
handsome beast. The familiar four-cylinder engine now had a five-bearing
crankshaft and the valvegear had been redesigned and improved. Very soon it was
being heralded as the finest four-cylinder motor cycle ever made. The engine,
which produced 40 bhp at 4000 rpm, gave the machine a
top speed of 100mph and the ride was super] smooth. An even more powerful
version, the KL, was also produced but this was intended mainly for police work.
Production of the KJ and KL models continued
until 1931. Then one day Ignaz Schwinn walked into his office following a
business trip to Washington and announced: "Gentleman—today we stop", and
production of all Excelsior and Henderson models stopped. Schwinn had realised
that the worldwide depression of the 1930s would have devasting effects on the
American economy and decided to quit while he was ahead. In one dramatic moment
a company died and a legend was born.
Engine Air-cooled, four-stroke,
four-cylinder. 68-3 mm (2-63in) bore X 89 mm (3-50in) stroke = 1304cc (80cu in).
Maximum power 40 bhp at 4000 rpm. Compression ratio not known. Two valves per
cylinder, overhead inlet, side exhaust,
operated by side camshaft. Single carburettor transmission
Three-speed and reverse gearbox. Chain drive to rear wheel frame
Duplex tubular cradle suspension
Front - trailing-link fork
Rear - solid unsprung brakes Front - Drum Rear - Drum weight
440 lb (200 kg) performance
Maximum speed 100 mph
Source Super by Bikes Loure Caddell