A Century of Motorcycling | The 1950s

By Motorcyclist Staff, Photography by Motorcyclist Archives

America rolled into the 20th century’s sixth decade with a determined optimism that escalating tensions between communism and capitalism and open war in Korea couldn’t stop. Chuck Berry, Jerry Lewis and a kid from Tupelo, Mississippi named Elvis Presley started shaking things up with a thing called Rock-‘n’-Roll. As suburbia gave birth to the baby boom, the television set went from novelty to necessity and an entire generation grew up in the comforting glow of Gunsmoke and I Love Lucy.


America enters the Korean War, backing South Korea against the North and its communist Chinese and Russian allies.

U.S. President Harry S. Truman orders construction of the hydrogen bomb in response to nuclear testing by the USSR. The Cold War heats up.

Ducati shows its first motorcycle, a 98-lb. motorized bicycle called the Cucciolo (“puppy”).


Color TV is introduced.

The apartheid government of South Africa passes the Group Areas Act, forcing non-whites out of urban areas.

President Truman signs a peace treaty with Japan, officially ending WWII.

Honda begins producing four-stroke motorcycles, beginning with the 146cc Dream E.

BSA buys Triumph.


Suzuki builds its first motorized bicycle, the 36cc Power Free.

Bill Bagnall begins as Editor-in-Chief of Motorcyclist.

The first seat belts are installed in automobiles.

Princess Elizabeth becomes Queen of England at age 25.


Marlon Brando forges the modern biker archetype in The Wild One.

The original Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company ceases production in Springfield, Massachusetts, ending a 52-year run.

Armistice is reached in Korea.

DNA is discovered.

Playboy magazine debuts.

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reach the summit of Mt. Everest.


Brown vs. Board of Education declares separate-but-equal education to be unconstitutional.

The U.S. Congress votes to condemn Senator Joseph McCarthy for his conduct in holding anti-Communist hearings.

Mercedes-Benz invents fuel-injection.

Suzuki builds its first real motorcycle, the 90cc four-stroke Colleda.

Soichiro Honda attends the Isle of Man TT for the first time.


Johnny Allen sets an AMA land-speed record of 193.7 mph at Bonneville in “The Devil’s Arrow,” a naturally aspirated, 650cc Triumph streamliner.

Rosa Parks incites the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

The Warsaw Pact establishes a mutual defense treaty subscribed to by eight communist states in Eastern Europe (including the USSR).

Disneyland opens in Anaheim, California.

Jonas Salk develops the first effective Polio vaccine.

Yamaha builds its first motorcycle, the 125cc YA-1 Red Dragonfly.


The First aerial H-bomb is tested over Namu island, Bikini Atoll.

Wilhelm Herz’s 499cc NSU streamliner becomes the first motorcycle to exceed 200 mph, going 211 mph at Bonneville.

Johnny Allen returns to Bonneville with his Triumph streamliner, renamed “The Texas Cee-gar,” and goes 214 mph.

The bubble shield is introduced.

Suzuki builds its first twin, a 250.


Harley-Davidson releases the first Sportster, powered by an OHV Ironhead V-Twin. The Sportster remains in production today, the longest-running model in motorcycle history.

Civil Rights Act of 1957 becomes the first civil rights legislation enacted by Congress since Reconstruction.

Soviets launch Sputnik and the Space Race begins.

Shippingport Atomic Power Station, the first commercial nuclear powerplant in the U.S., is activated.

Nine African-American students attend class in Little Rock, Arkansas, marking the beginning of the end for school segregation.


NASA is formed as the U.S. begins ramping up efforts to explore space.

Khrushchev becomes premier of Soviet Union.

General Charles de Gaulle becomes French premier, remaining in power until 1969.

Cooper Motors, an independent distributor, imports the 250cc YD-1 streetbike and the 50cc MF-1 step-through scooter—the first Yamaha motorcycles sold in the USA.


NASA selects its first seven astronauts.

Honda competes at the Isle of Man for the first time, winning the 125cc Manufacturer’s Cup.

The Daytona 500 stock car race is run for the first time, with Lee Petty taking the checkered flag.

Alaska and Hawaii become states.

Fidel Castro takes over Cuba.

Tibet’s Dalai Lama escapes to India.

The Saint Lawrence Seaway opens.

American Honda is established in a small storefront on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Motorcyclist cover price is raised to 50 cents.

By Motorcyclist Staff
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Diesel fuel injection dates back to 1890, and gasoline fuel injection to 1925.
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