Airplanes and airwaves. Ships, suits, and morfar's shotgun.
It feels like the current crop of modern motorcycle OEMs have always existed in their current forms. After all, can you imagine a time when, say, BMW didn't make boxers or Piaggio didn't make Vespas? Most motorcycle companies started out making bicycles, and it's pretty easy to see how the companies made the jump from pedals to pistons. They didn't all start out that way, and some of our most beloved bike makers started out making entirely different products. So different, in fact, that it's hard to see how they got from where they started to where they are now.
In this article, I've collected five OEM origin stories that are decidedly non-motorcycle-related. Among them are shipping company whose first ship sunk, a manufacturer of vacuum tubes and radio components, and even a weapons manufacturer that began in the 17th century (and is not, surprisingly, BSA or Royal Enfield). My criteria for this list was as follows: The OEM must currently be in business (so no Bridgestone or, again, BSA), it must have been founded in the late 19th or early 20th century, and its first products could not be powersports-related (so, you know, no Polaris). So let's hop in the WayBac Machine and see how some of our favorite bike makers got their start.