The 1910s | MC 100

A century of motorcycling

By Motorcyclist Staff, Photography by Motorcyclist Archives

In the beginning, there were motorcycles. That was good, but pretty soon people wanted to read about what the rest of the world was doing with them. So in 1912, Motorcyclist magazine was born. It was a time when anything seemed possible and everything was changing. Nabisco introduced the Oreo, the average American’s salary was $750 per year and a gallon of milk cost 32 cents. The Progressive Era was moving fast, and Americans weren’t about to let it get away.


On July 1, 1912, Motorcyclist magazine debuts as Pacific Motocycling, a bi-weekly publication. Cost: 5 cents per issue or 50 cents for a one-year subscription. The mailing address is given as 317 E. 4th St., Los Angeles, California, but the personnel remain anonymous. “For the present, no names. A company has been formed and in due time the titles of the staff will be plainly hung on our handlebar,” reads an editorial.

The second-ever Indianapolis 500 is run on Memorial Day weekend, cementing its status as an annual event. Then called the International 500-mile Sweepstakes Race, more than 80,000 spectators watch 24 drivers compete for a purse of $50,000—making it the richest sporting event in the world.

On April 15, 1912, the deadliest peacetime maritime disaster in history occurs when the RMS Titanic strikes an iceberg en route from Southampton, England, to New York City. More than 1500 passengers perish.

First use of zippers in clothing.

Two riders and four spectators are killed, and 22 spectators injured, during the 5-mile handicap race at Newark, New Jersey’s Motodrome board-track. It is the worst loss of life in U.S. motorcycle racing history.

New Mexico and Arizona admitted as 47th and 48th states.


Pacific Motocycling’s name changes to The Pacific Motorcyclist. Early editors continue to crank the magazine out on a bi-weekly basis, leading them to claim the “Largest Circulation West of Denver, From Canada to Mexico.”


The Panama Canal opens, creating a shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The 48-mile canal is one of the most difficult engineering feats ever undertaken and has a huge impact on global trade.

American daredevil Edwin “Cannonball” Baker sets his first transcontinental motorcycle speed record, riding coast-to-coast on an Indian in 11 days. Over the course of an incredible career—which includes winning the first-ever motorcycle race at Indy in 1909, finishing 11th in the 1922 Indy 500 and serving as the first commissioner of NASCAR—Baker makes 143 cross-country speed runs, totaling more than 550,000 miles.


The famed Flying Merkel is permanently grounded after a 6-year production run. The bike was built in the U.S. and powered by a 980cc V-twin. Some models came with two-speed gearboxes and had electric start.

World War I is raging in Europe, but this ad for a Dayton Model D3 from The Davis Sewing Machine Company advises readers to “Be thankful.” The ad predicts 100,000 motorcycles will be sold in 1916.

A 998cc Excelsior Model 16-SC—certified as the fastest motorcycle in the world after hitting 100 mph—sells for $250.


Albert Einstein introduces his General Theory of Relativity.

A brand-new Militaire costs $365, while a Ford Model T can be had for just $360. The Militaire rolls on wooden wheels and is powered by a 1306cc inline-four. The Ford uses a 2900cc inline-four.


The Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM), precursor to the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), sanctions the first official Gypsy Tour in Laconia, New Hampshire. The biker rally concept catches on quickly and spreads across the country.

On April 6, 1917, America enters WWI. President Woodrow Wilson sends 400,000 personnel overseas.

Motorcycles are adopted for combat use for the first time, supplementing and often replacing horses in the U.S. Cavalry. Harley-Davidson provides approximately 15,000 motorcycles to the war effort; Indian provides another 20,000, or nearly all of its Powerplus production from 1917-18.

Excelsior Motor Manufacturing, a division of Chicago’s Schwinn Bicycles, purchases the Henderson Motorcycle Company. Excelsior manufactures V-twin motorcycles while Henderson makes inline-fours. By the end of the decade, the combined firm ranks third in sales behind Indian and Harley-Davidson.


Spanish Flu outbreak kills more than 30 million people worldwide—nearly twice as many as WWI.


The Treaty of Versailles is signed in Paris.


The Pacific Motorcyclist changes its name to Pacific Motorcyclist and Western Wheelman. The June 1920 issue depicts the escapades of Los Angeles’ first Gypsy Tour.

Next Month: The Roaring ‘20s.

By Motorcyclist Staff
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