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The Hells Angels: The Story Behind The Controversial & Misunderstood Motorcycle Club

The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club is one of the largest biker clubs in the world. What started off as a way for veterans to connect and create a sense of comradery has developed into a worldwide organization. In recent years the Hell’s Angels have been involved in shooting sprees in Las Vegas, running narcotics throughout the world, and various other criminal enterprises.

From being a crucial part of the 1960s counterculture to club members taking each other out, see how the Hells Angels grew to what it is today.

Wait until you see what it takes to join the notorious biker gang.

The Beginning Of A Legacy

For the most part, it’s commonly accepted that the Hells Angels were officially formed on March 17, 1948 in Fontana, California. The founders included the Bishop family as well as a few other World War II veterans that came together from various post-war motorcycle clubs.

Despite various news and criminal reports, the Hell’s Angels say they got their start because It was started because military surplus made motorcycles affordable, and post-war life had left many young men feeling stagnant and missing their sense of soldier comradery.

The club’s name was even inspired by the US Navy, Army, and Marine’s as you’re about to learn…

The Club Name Was Inspired by a Squadron Nickname

The name Hells Angels were believed to have been suggested by an associate of the founding members named Arvid Olson. Olson had served in the Flying Tigers “Hell’s Angels” squadron in China during World War II.

The nickname “Hell’s Angels” is one of the many nicknames that came about from the tradition of American soldiers giving their squadron fierce and intimidating nicknames in World War I and II.

Hell’s Angels charters started without ever knowing each other…

Charters Grew Across California

In the early years, the club began to spread across California moderately quickly. According to the founder of the Oakland charter Ralph “Sonny” Barger, the earliest charters in California were founded in San Francisco, Oakland, Gardena, Fontana, and a few other lesser-known areas.

At the time, the charters were only concerned with themselves and were unaware of all the other charters that existed. Eventually, during the 1950s, the different groups came together and unified to establish a large-scale organization and implement a system of internal codes and criteria for admission.

Once established the group was the epitome of 1960s counterculture…

The Hells Angels Were a Cornerstone of Counterculture

During the 1960s, the Hells Angels became a large part of the counterculture movement, especially in California. They were very prominent in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco and were frequent attendees of the local music and social events.

Numerous members were also connected to the counterculture’s primary leaders in music and expression, such as Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters, Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, and more.

Believe it or not, the Hell’s Angels don’t want a bad reputation as we’re about to explore.

They Don’t Want a Bad Reputation

The Hells Angels, as well as a select other few motorcycle clubs, call themselves a one-percenter biker club. The phrase is a 50-year-old title that goes off the old saying that 1% of troublemakers give a bad name to 99% of bikers.

The name is supposed to help them separate from all of the negative stereotypes surrounding biker gangs and the Hells Angels in particular. Despite the name, numerous members have been convicted of crimes ranging from murder to selling narcotics.

The club is growing rapidly and not just in the United States…

Growing International

In the beginning, the Hells Angels were strictly based in California but spread internationally in 1961. That year, the first charter outside of California began in Auckland, New Zealand. This opened the floodgates and the motorcycle club began to spread around the world.

In 1969, the first European charter was opened in London. There are now more than 275 charters in Europe alone. From the 1970s to now, there have been charters established in Australia, Brazil, South Africa, Eastern Europe, and more. New areas are currently being prospected.

But what does it really mean to be a Hell’s Angel? Let’s examine their culture.

Hells Angels Attire

The Hells Angels have a fairly obvious way of letting people know who they are. They will almost always be seen wearing a leather or denim “cut” which is slang for a motorcycle vest. On the cut, they have various patches such as Hells Angels written on the back with the name of their charter at the bottom.

If they are a full member, they will also have the red and white-winged “death head” logo, the letters HAMC (Hells Angels Motorcycle Club) and the number 81. 81 stands of the letters H and A with H being the eighth letter of the alphabet and A being the first. Over the course of their time in the club, a member can also earn other patches.

Do you have what it takes to become a Hells Angel? Here’s how to get started.

Photo Credits: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

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