Just about everyone in the modern world knows who the Hells Angels are. However, it wasn’t always this way. The Hells Angels MC has developed from its roots in California into a worldwide organization that is reviled by some and adored by others.
Let’s take a look at the early years of the Hells Angels.
Origin of the Hells Angels MC
In 1948, the Hells Angels formed in Fontana, California. The original members were comprised of former members of other outlaw motorcycle clubs, including the Pissed Off Bastards of Bloomington. The group was named based on a suggestion by Arvid Olson, an associate of the founders, who was a member of the Flying Tigers “Hells Angels” squadron in China during World War II.
Founders of the Hells Angels
The early history of the Hells Angels MC is a bit spotty. However, below are a few of the early founders:
- Original founder (1948) - Otto Freidli
- San Francisco Chapter (1953) - Rocky Graves
- Oakland Chapter (1957) - Sonny Barger
The Hells Angels remained exclusively in California until 1961. Ironically, the first chapter to form outside of the state was not only outside of the United States, but was not even in the Northern Hemisphere. It was in Auckland, New Zealand.
Throughout the 1960s, the Hells Angels spread into the Eastern and Midwestern US. The end of the decade saw the first European chapter of the Hells Angels form in London in 1969.
Several traditions appear to have stuck since the early days. These include the following:
In order to join the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, an individual must meet the following criteria:
- Be a white male.
- Have a driver’s license.
- Own a working motorcycle.
- Not be a child molester.
- Never have applied to be a police officer or prison guard.
Prospective candidates then begin as a “Hang Around” - a status that permits them to attend some club events. They may then advance to “Associate” status, which indicates that some members are interested in this individual. The next step is “Prospect” status and is a symbol that this candidate is under consideration for full membership.
The final step is to become a “Full-Patch”, meaning that the individual is a full member of the Hells Angels. To achieve this status, the prospect must meet with every full member in his state, province or territory. A vote is then held that requires a least a simple majority and even a single vote against membership can be enough to reject a prospect in some cases. If accepted, the member is given his final patch - the top Hells Angels rocker.
The Hells Angels often go by the nicknames “H.A.”, “Red & White” and “81”. H.A. is a reference to the MC's initials, red and white are their colors and 81 is a reference to their initials, as well, with 8 and 1 being the respective places in the alphabet of the letters H and A.
Early Hells Angels Insignia
Prior to 1953, the Hells Angels used an insignia that was copied from those of the 85th Fighter Squadron and the 552nd Medium Bomber Squadron. The insignia of the 85th Fighter Squadron featured a skull with wings as it flew through the clouds and was used to symbolize winged death and destruction. The insignia of the 552nd Bomber Squadron featured a skull riding a bomb.
Hells Angels Patches
The Hells Angels utilize a system of patches that is similar to the system of medals in the Military. There are 4 patches - the top and bottom Hells Angels rockers, the MC patch and the Death Head logo.