The Schwinn Bicycle Company was founded by German-born mechanical engineer Ignaz Schwinn (1860–1945) in Chicago in 1895. It became the dominant manufacturer of American bicycles through most of the 20th century and today, after declaring bankruptcy in 1992, it is a sub-brand of Pacific Cycle, owned by the multi-national conglomerate, Dorel Industries.
Ignaz Schwinn was born in Hardheim, Baden, Germany in 1860 and worked on two-wheeled ancestors of the modern bicycle that appeared in 19th century Europe. Schwinn emigrated to the United States in 1891, where he found similar difficulties. In 1895, with the financial backing of fellow German American Adolph Frederick William Arnold (a meat packer), he founded Arnold, Schwinn & Company. Schwinn's new company coincided with a sudden bicycle craze in America. Chicago became the center of the American bicycle industry, with thirty factories turning out thousands of bikes every day. Bicycle output in the United States grew to over a million units per year by the turn of the 20th century.
The bicycle boom was short-lived, as automobiles and motorcycles quickly replaced bikes on American streets. By 1905, bicycle annual sales had fallen to only 25% of that reached in 1900. Many smaller companies were absorbed by larger firms or went bankrupt; in Chicago, only twelve bicycle makers remained in business. Competition became intense, both for parts suppliers and for contracts from the major department stores, which retailed the majority of bicycles produced in those days. Realizing he needed to grow the company, Ignaz Schwinn purchased several smaller bicycle firms, building a modern factory on Chicago's west side to mass-produce bicycles at lower cost. He finalized a purchase of Excelsior Motorcycle Company in 1912, and in 1917 added the Henderson Company to form Excelsior-Henderson. In an atmosphere of general decline elsewhere in the industry, Schwinn's new motorcycle division thrived, and by 1928 was in third place behind Indian and Harley-Davidson.
At the close of the 1920s, the stock market crash decimated the American motorcycle industry, taking Excelsior-Henderson with it. Arnold, Schwinn, & Co. (as it remained until 1967) was on the verge of bankruptcy. With no buyers, Excelsior-Henderson motorcycles were discontinued in 1931. Ignaz' son, Frank W. "F.W." Schwinn, took over day-to-day operations at Schwinn. Putting all company efforts towards bicycles, he succeeded in developing a low-cost model that brought Schwinn recognition as an innovative company, as well as a product that would continue to sell during the inevitable downturns in business cycles. After traveling to Europe to get ideas, F.W. Schwinn returned to Chicago and in 1933 introduced the Schwinn B-10E Motorbike, actually a youth's bicycle designed to imitate a motorcycle. The company revised the model the next year and renamed it the Aerocycle. For the Aerocycle, F.W. Schwinn persuaded American Rubber Co. to make 2.125-inch-wide (54.0 mm) balloon tires, while adding streamlined fenders, an imitation "gas tank", a streamlined, chrome-plated headlight, and a push-button bicycle bell. The bicycle would eventually come to be known as a paperboy bike or cruiser, and soon became an industry standard as other makers rushed to produce imitations.
Schwinn was soon sponsoring a bicycle racing team headed by Emil Wastyn, who designed the team bikes, and the company competed in six-day racing across the United States with riders such as Jerry Rodman and Russell Allen. In 1938, Frank W. Schwinn officially introduced the Paramount series. Developed from experiences gained in racing, Schwinn established Paramount as their answer to high-end, professional competitive bicycles. The Paramount used high-strength chrome-molybdenum steel alloy tubing and expensive brass lug-brazed construction. During the next twenty years, most of the Paramount bikes would be built in limited numbers at a small frame shop headed by Wastyn, in spite of Schwinn's continued efforts to bring all frame production into the factory.
On 17 May 1941, Alfred Letourneur was able to beat the motor-paced world speed record on a bicycle, reaching 108.92 miles per hour (175.29 km/h) on a Schwinn Paramount bicycle riding behind a car in Bakersfield, California.
By 1950, Schwinn had decided the time was right to grow the brand. At the time, most bicycle manufacturers in the United States sold in bulk to department stores, which in turn sold them as store brand models. Schwinn decided to try something different. With the exception of B.F. Goodrich bicycles, sold in tire stores, Schwinn eliminated the practice of rebranding in 1950, insisting that the Schwinn brand and guarantee appear on all products. In exchange for ensuring the presence of the Schwinn name, distributors retained the right to distribute Schwinn bikes to any hardware store, toy store, or bicycle shop that ordered them. In 1952, F.W. Schwinn tasked a new team to plan future business strategy, consisting of marketing supervisor Ray Burch, general manager Bill Stoeffhaas, and design supervisor Al Fritz.
In the 1950s, Schwinn began to aggressively cultivate bicycle retailers, persuading them to sell Schwinns as their predominant, if not exclusive brand. During this period, bicycle sales enjoyed relatively slow growth, with the bulk of sales going to youth models. In 1900, during the height of the first bicycle boom, annual U.S. sales by all bicycle manufacturers had briefly topped one million. By 1960, annual sales had reached just 4.4 million. Nevertheless, Schwinn's share of the market was increasing, and would reach in excess of 1 million bicycles per year by the end of the decade.
In 1946, imports of foreign-made bicycles had increased tenfold over the previous year, to 46,840 bicycles; of that total, 95 per cent were from Great Britain. The postwar appearance of imported "English racers" (actually three-speed "sport" roadsters from Great Britain and West Germany) found a ready market among U.S. buyers seeking bicycles for exercise and recreation in the suburbs. Though substantially heavier than later European-style "racer" or sport/touring bikes, Americans found them a revelation, as they were still much lighter than existing models produced by Schwinn and other American bicycle manufacturers. Imports of foreign-made "English racers", sports roadsters, and recreational bicycles steadily increased through the early 1950s. Schwinn first responded to the new challenge by producing its own middleweight version of the "English racer". The middleweight incorporated most of the features of the English racer, but had wider tires and wheels.
The company also joined with other U.S. bicycle manufacturers in a campaign to raise tariffs across the board on all imported bicycles. In August 1955, the Eisenhower administration implemented a 22.5% tariff rate for three out of four categories of bicycles. However, the most popular adult category, lightweight or "racer" bicycles, were only raised to 11.25%. The administration noted that the U.S. industry offered no direct competition in this category, and that lightweight bikes competed only indirectly with balloon-tire or cruiser bicycles. The share of the U.S. market taken by foreign-made bicycles dropped to 28.5% of the market, and remained under 30% through 1964. Despite the increased tariff, the only structural change in foreign imports during this period was a temporary decline in bicycles imported from Great Britain in favor of lower-priced models from Holland and Germany. In 1961, after a successful appeal by bicycle importers, the Eisenhower tariffs were declared invalid by the Court of U.S. Customs Appeals, and President Kennedy imposed new a new tariff rate at 50% on foreign-made bicycles, a rate which remained in place until 1964.
While every large bicycle manufacturer sponsored or participated in bicycle racing competition of some sort to keep up with the newest trends in technology, Schwinn had restricted its racing activities to events inside the United States, where Schwinn bicycles predominated. As a result, Schwinns became increasingly dated in both styling and technology. By 1957, the Paramount series, once a premier racing bicycle, had atrophied from a lack of attention and modernization. Aside from some new frame lug designs, the designs, methods and tooling were the same as had been used in the 1930s. After a crash-course in new frame-building techniques and derailleur technology, Schwinn introduced an updated Paramount with Reynolds 531 double-butted tubing, Nervex lugsets and bottom bracket shells, as well as Campagnolo derailleur dropouts. The Paramount continued as a limited production model, built in small numbers in a small apportioned area of the old Chicago assembly factory. The new frame and component technology incorporated in the Paramount largely failed to reach Schwinn's mass-market bicycle lines. Another change occurred in 1963 following the death of F.W. Schwinn, when grandson Frank Valentine Schwinn took over management of the company.
By the late 1950s, Schwinn's exclusive marketing practices were well entrenched in the United States, practices that had ensured a dominant position in the United States bicycle market. In order to prevent competition among its wholesalers, Schwinn assisted them by dividing up the national market. Schwinn also strengthened its dealer network, shrinking the number of authorized dealers. Since Schwinn could decide who got their bikes and who didn't, the company rewarded the highest volume dealers with location exclusivity, as well as mandating service standards and layouts. In response, the company was sued by the Department of Justice in 1957 for restraint of trade. In a ten-year legal battle, many of Schwinn's practices were upheld by the courts: judges ruled they had the right to have their bicycles sold by retailers equipped to service the bikes as well as sell them. However, in a ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1967, U.S. v. Arnold, Schwinn & Co., Schwinn was found guilty of restraint of trade by preventing distributors shipping bicycles to unapproved dealers. Though the Arnold decision would be essentially overturned in later rulings, the company stopped working solely through independent local distributors and constructed four regional warehouses from which bicycles would — legally — be sent to shops. While this solved the problem of unfair trade practice with the courts, the new warehouses and distribution system cost millions of dollars at a time of rising competition from foreign manufacturers. It also made it more difficult for the company to stay informed of customer complaints regarding manufacturing or assembly problems.
During the 1960s, Schwinn aggressively campaigned to retain and expand its dominance of the child and youth bicycle markets. The company advertised heavily on television, and was an early sponsor (from 1958) of the children's television program, Captain Kangaroo. The Captain himself was enlisted to regularly hawk Schwinn-brand bicycles to the show's audience, typically six years old and under. As these children matured, it was believed they would ask for Schwinn bicycles from their parents. By 1971, U.S. government councils had objected to Schwinn's marketing practices. In response, Schwinn had Captain Kangaroo alter its format. The Captain no longer insisted that viewers buy a Schwinn, but instead made regular on-air consultations of a new character, "Mr. Schwinn Dealer".
In 1963 Schwinn's designer Al Fritz heard about a new youth trend centered in California for retrofitting bicycles with the accoutrements of motorcycles customized in the "bobber" or "chopper" style, including high-rise, "ape hanger" handlebars and low-rider "banana seats". Inspired, he designed a mass-production bike for the youth market known as Project J-38. The result, a wheelie bike, was introduced to the public as the Schwinn Stingray in June 1963. It had ape hanger handlebars, banana seat, and 20-inch tires. Sales were initially slow, as many parents desiring a bicycle for their children did not find the Sting-Ray appealing in the least. However, after a few appeared on America's streets and neighborhoods, many young riders would accept nothing else, and sales took off. By 1965, a host of American and foreign manufacturers were offering their own version of the Sting-Ray.
An increasing number of teens and young adults were purchasing imported European sport racing or sport touring bicycles, many fitted with multiple derailleur-shifted gears. Schwinn decided to meet the challenge by developing two lines of sport or road 'racer' bicycles. One was already in the catalog — the limited production Paramount series. As always, the Paramount spared no expense; the bicycles were given high-quality lightweight lugged steel frames using double-butted tubes of Reynolds 531 and fitted with quality European components including Campagnolo derailleurs, hubs, and gears. The Paramount series had limited production numbers, making vintage examples quite rare today. Starting in 1960, for the rest of the market, Schwinn offered the Schwinn Varsity and Continental, now equipped as multi-geared sport bikes (10-speeds), and designed to imitate the style of the new narrow-tired 'racing' and sport bikes from Europe, though not their performance. The 1960 Varsity was introduced as an 8-speed bike, but in mid-1961 was upgraded to 10 speeds. Other road bikes were introduced by Schwinn in the early and mid 1960s, such as the Superior, Sierra, and Super Continental, but these were only produced for a few years. The Varsity and Continental sold in large numbers through the 1960s and early 1970s. By the mid-1970s Schwinn's heavy Varsity and Continental lines were falling out of public favor, although they would still be produced in large numbers into the 1980s.
The Sting-Ray sales boom of the 1960s accelerated in 1970, with U.S. bicycle sales doubling over a period of two years. However, there were clear warning signs on the horizon.
Despite a huge increase in popularity of lightweight European sport or road racing bicycles in the United States, Schwinn adhered to its existing strategy in the lightweight adult road bike market. For those unable to afford the Paramount, this meant a Schwinn 'sports' bike with a heavy steel electro-forged frame along with steel components such as wheels, stems, cranks, and handlebars from the company's established U.S. suppliers. Though weighing slightly less, the mid-priced Schwinn Superior or Sports Tourer was almost indistinguishable from Schwinn's other heavy, mass-produced models, such as the Varsity and Continental. While competitive in the 1960s, by 1972 these bicycles were much heavier and less responsive in comparison to the new sport and racing bicycles arriving from England, France, Italy, and increasingly, Japan.
Another problem was Schwinn's failure to design and market its bicycles to specific, identifiable buyers, especially the growing number of cyclists interested in road racing or touring. Instead, most Schwinn derailleur bikes were marketed to the general leisure market, equipped with heavy "old timer" accessories such as kickstands that cycling aficionados had long since abandoned. More and more cyclists, especially younger buyers, began to insist on stronger steel alloys (which allowed for lighter frames), responsive frame geometry, aluminum components, advanced derailleur shifting, and multiple gears. When they failed to find what they wanted at Schwinn, they went elsewhere. While the Paramount still sold in limited numbers to this market, the model's customer base began to age, changing from primarily bike racers to older, wealthier riders looking for the ultimate bicycle. Schwinn sold an impressive 1.5 million bicycles in 1974, but would pay the price for failing to keep up with new developments in bicycle technology and buying trends.
With their aging product line, Schwinn failed to dominate the huge sport bike boom of 1971-1975, which saw millions of 10-speed bicycles sold to new cyclists. Schwinn did allow some dealers to sell imported road racing bikes, and by 1973 was using the Schwinn name on the Le Tour, a Japanese-made low-cost sport/touring 10-speed bicycle. Schwinn developed strong trading relationships with two Japanese bicycle manufacturers in particular, Bridgestone and National/Panasonic. Though these met initial dealer resistance as "imports" and were not included in the Schwinn consumer catalog, it was soon realized that the Panasonic and Bridgestone 'Schwinn' bicycles were fully the equal of the American-made versions in quality and performance. Schwinn soon had a range of low, mid- and upper-level bicycles all imported from Japan. Schwinn's standard road bike model from Panasonic was the World Traveler, which had a high-quality lugged steel frame and Shimano components. Schwinn also marketed a top-shelf touring model from Panasonic, the World Voyager, lugged with butted Tange chrome-molybdenum alloy tubing, Shimano derailleurs, and SunTour bar-end shifters, a serious challenge to the Paramount series at half the price.
By 1975, bicycle customers interested in medium-priced road and touring bicycles had largely gravitated towards Japanese or European brands. Unlike Schwinn, many of these brands were perennial participants in professional bicycle racing, and their production road bicycles at least possessed the cachet and visual lineage of their racing heritage, if not always their componentry. One example was Peugeot, which won several Tour de France victories using race bikes with frames occasionally constructed by small race-oriented framebuilders such as Masi, suitably repainted in Team Peugeot colors. In reality, mass-market French manufacturers such as Peugeot were not infrequently criticized for material and assembly quality — as well as stagnant technology — in their low- and mid-level product lines. Nevertheless, Peugeot proudly advertised its victorious racing heritage at every opportunity. While not as prominent at the winner's podium, Japanese brands such as Fuji and Panasonic offered consistently high quality, reasonable prices, and state-of-the-art-derailleur, crankset, and gearing design. Unlike Schwinn, most Japanese bicycle manufacturers were quick to adopt the latest European road racing geometries, new steel alloys, and modern manufacturing techniques. As a result, their moderately-priced bicycles, equipped with the same Japanese-made components, usually weighed less and performed better than competitive models made by Schwinn. Schwinn brand loyalty began to suffer as huge numbers of buyers came to retailers asking for the latest sport and racing road bikes from European or Japanese manufacturers. By 1979, even the Paramount had been passed, technologically speaking, by a new generation of American as well as foreign custom bicycle manufacturers.
Schwinn also largely failed to capitalize on a new trend in Southern California: BMX racing.][ After first claiming it to be a dangerous sport,][ management changed their tune — too late — when they introduced the Scrambler in 1975, which evolved into a BMX design in the late 1970s, but it was heavier than designs from other manufacturers.][ The Stingray based Scrambler spawned the light weight, fully competition capable, chrome-molybdenum-tubed Competition Scrambler in 1977, Scrambler 36/36, the Mag Scrambler in 1981, and the Sting][ with full Reynolds, double butted chrome-molybdenum frame that was made in the same assembly area as the Paramount road racing frames.][
Schwinn followed the Scrambler line with the Predator in 1982, their first competitive step into the modern BMX market.][ A latecomer, the Predator took just eight percent of the BMX market.][ Schwinn also had a very successful BMX racing team made up of some of the best riders in the day.][ They were even used for an episode of the TV show CHiPs.
By the late 1970s, a new bicycle sport begun by enthusiasts in Northern California had grown into a new type of all-terrain bicycle, the mountain bike. Originally based on Schwinn balloon-tired cruiser bicycles fitted with derailleur gears, called "Klunkers", a few participants had begun designing and building small numbers of mountain bikes with frames made out of modern butted chrome-molybdenum alloy steel. When the sport's original inventors demonstrated their new frame design, Schwinn marketing personnel initially discounted the growing popularity of the mountain bike, concluding that it would become a short-lived fad. The company briefly (1978–1979) produced a bicycle styled after the California mountain bikes, the Klunker 5. Using the standard electro-forged cantilever frame, and fitted with five-speed derailleur gears and knobby tires, the Klunker 5 was never heavily marketed, and was not even listed in the Schwinn product catalog. Unlike its progenitors, the Klunker proved incapable of withstanding hard off-road use, and after an unsuccessful attempt to reintroduce the model as the Spitfire 5, it was dropped from production.
The company's next answer to requests for a Schwinn mountain bike was the King Sting and the Sidewinder, inexpensive BMX-derived bicycles fabricated from existing electro-forged frame designs, and using off-the-shelf BMX parts. This proved to be a major miscalculation, as several new U.S. startup companies began producing high-quality frames designed from the ground up, and sourced from new, modern plants in Japan and Taiwan using new mass-production technologies such as TIG welding. Schwinn's new competitors such as Specialized and Fisher MountainBikes were soon selling hundreds of thousands of mountain bikes at competitive prices to eager customers, setting sales records in a market niche that soon grew to enormous proportions.
By this time, Schwinn's bicycle factory was completely outmoded in comparison to modern bicycle manufacturing centers in Japan and Taiwan, who had continually invested in new and up-to-date manufacturing techniques and materials, including new joinery techniques and the latest lightweight chrome-molybdenum alloy steel, and later, aluminum. The company considered relocating to a single facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but financing the project would have required outside investors, perhaps even foreign ones. Schwinn's board of directors rejected the new plant in 1978.
In October 1979 Edward R. Schwinn, Jr. took over the presidency of Schwinn from his uncle Frank, ensuring continuity of Schwinn family in the operations of the company. However, worker dissatisfaction, seldom a problem in the early years, grew with steep increases in inflation. In late 1980, the Schwinn Chicago factory workers voted to affiliate with the United Auto Workers. Plant assembly workers began a strike for higher pay in September 1980, and 1,400 assembly workers walked off the job for thirteen weeks. Although the strike ended in February 1981, only about 65% of the prior workforce was recalled to work. By this time, increasingly stiff competition from lower-cost competition in Asia resulted in declining market share. These problems were exacerbated by the inefficiency of producing modern bicycles in the 80-year-old Chicago factory equipped with outdated equipment and ancient inventory and information systems. After numerous meetings, the board of directors voted to source most Schwinn bicycle production from their established bicycle supplier in Japan, Panasonic Bicycle. As Schwinn's first outsourced bicycles, Panasonic had been the only vendor to meet Schwinn's production requirements. Later, Schwinn would sign a production supply agreement with Giant Bicycles of Taiwan. As time passed, Schwinn would import more and more Asian-made bicycles to carry the Schwinn brand, eventually becoming more a marketer than a maker of bikes.
In an attempt to preserve remaining market share and avoid a unionized workforce, Schwinn later moved remaining U.S. bicycle production to a new plant in Greenville, Mississippi, where bicycles could be assembled at lower cost using parts sourced from Asia. The Greenville plant was not a success, as the Greenville plant was remote from both the corporate headquarters as well as the West coast ports where the material components arrived from Taiwan and Japan. Additionally, Asian manufacturers could still produce and assemble high-quality bicycles at a far lower per-unit cost than Schwinn at its plant in Mississippi, which had to import parts, then assemble them using higher-priced U.S. labor. The Greenville manufacturing facility, which had lost money each year of its operation, finally closed in 1991, laying off 250 workers in the process.
After a series of production cuts and labor force reductions, Schwinn was able to restructure its operations. The company renegotiated loans by putting up the company and the name as collateral, and increased production of the Airdyne exercise bicycle, a moneymaker even in bad times. The company took advantage of the continued demand for mountain bikes, redesigning its product line with Schwinn-designed chrome-molybdenum alloy steel frames. Supplied by manufacturers in Asia, the new arrangement enabled Schwinn to reduce costs and stay competitive with Asian bicycle companies. In Taiwan, Schwinn was able to conclude a new production agreement with Giant Bicycles, transferring Schwinn's frame design and manufacturing expertise to Giant in the process. With this partnership, Schwinn increased their bicycle sales to 500,000 per year by 1985. Schwinn annual sales soon neared the million mark, and the company turned a profit in the late 1980s. However, after unsuccessfully attempting to purchase a minority share in Giant Bicycles, Edward Schwinn Jr. negotiated a separate deal with the China Bicycle Co. (CBC) to produce bicycles to be sold under the Schwinn brand. In retaliation, Giant introduced its own line of Giant-branded bikes for sale to retailers carrying Schwinn bikes. Both Giant and CBC used the dies, plans, and technological expertise from Schwinn to greatly expand the market share of bicycles made under their own proprietary brands, first in Europe, and later in the United States.
By 1990, other U.S. bicycle companies with reputations for excellence in design such as Trek, Specialized, and Cannondale had cut further into Schwinn's market. Unable to produce bicycles in the U.S. at a competitive cost, by the end of 1991 Schwinn was sourcing its bicycles from overseas manufacturers. Seeking to increase its brand recognition, Schwinn established additional company-operated shops, a move that alienated existing independent bike retailers in cities where the company stores had opened. This in turn led to further inroads by domestic and foreign competitors. Faced with a downward sales spiral, Schwinn went into bankruptcy in 1992. The company and name were bought by the Zell/Chilmark Fund, an investment group, in 1993. Zell moved Schwinn's corporate headquarters to Boulder, Colorado.
In 1993 Richard Schwinn, great-grandson of Ignaz Schwinn, with business partner Marc Muller, purchased the Schwinn Paramount plant in Waterford, Wisconsin, where Paramounts were built since 1980. They founded Waterford Precision Cycles, which is still in operation. In 2003 they employed 18 workers building lightweight bicycles.
In late 1997, Questor Partners Fund, led by Jay Alix and Dan Lufkin, purchased Schwinn Bicycles. Questor/Schwinn later purchased GT Bicycles in 1998 for $8 a share in cash, roughly $80 million. The new company produced a series of well-regarded mountain bikes bearing the Schwinn name, called the Homegrown series. In 2001 Schwinn/GT declared bankruptcy.
In September 2001, the Schwinn Company, its assets, and the rights to the brand, together with that of the GT Bicycle, was purchased at a bankruptcy auction by Pacific Cycle, a company previously known for mass-market brands owned by Wind Point Partners. In 2004, Pacific Cycle was in turn acquired by Dorel Industries. Once America's preeminent bicycle manufacturer, the Schwinn brand was now used to market bikes designed by a large conglomerate. In 2010, Dorel launched a major advertising campaign to revive and contemporize the Schwinn brand by associating it with consumer childhood memories of the iconic company.
Direct Focus, Inc., a marketing company for fitness and healthy lifestyle products, acquired the assets of Schwinn/GT's fitness equipment division. Direct Focus, Inc. subsequently became Nautilus, Inc.
Schwinn sells essentially two lines of bicycles. One is a line of discount bikes offered through mass-merchandisers like Wal-Mart, Sears and Kmart. The other line, featured on the website, are higher-end models sold through specialty shops. Schwinn produces the following types of bicycles:
Starting in 2005, Schwinn also marketed Motorscooters under the Schwinn Motorsports brand. Production ceased in 2011(approx).
Schwinn also produces the following gear: Helmets & Pads, Pumps, Saddles, Lights, Storage, Extras, Repair, Bike trailers, and Jogging strollers.
American Machine and Foundry (doing business as AMF) was founded in 1900 and was once one of the largest recreational equipment companies in the United States.
The company was founded by Rufus L. Patterson, inventor of the first automated cigarette manufacturing machine. Originally incorporated in New Jersey but operating in Brooklyn, the company began by manufacturing cigarette, baking, and stitching machines. In 1943, Patterson's son, Morehead Patterson, took over AMF. After WWII ended, Patterson determined that the company had to 'grow or die'. Searching for new products, he encountered a prototype of an automatic bowling-pin setter. To get the cash to develop the invention, Patterson swapped AMF stock to acquire eight small companies with fast-selling products. After incorporating key features developed by Leslie L. LeVeque, the AMF Pinspotter, perfected and put on the market in 1951, helped to turn bowling into the most popular US participative, competitive sport.
In 1950, after purchasing the Roadmaster line of children's and youth bicycles from the Cleveland Welding Company, AMF entered the bicycle manufacturing business with its newly-formed AMF Wheel Goods Division. In 1953, after a prolonged labor strike, AMF moved bicycle manufacturing from a UAW-organized plant in Cleveland, Ohio to a new facility in Little Rock, Arkansas. The new plant was heavily automated and featured more than a mile of part conveyor belts in six separate systems, including an electrostatic induction painting operation.
Taking advantage of the increase in its target markets in the aftermath of the baby boom, AMF was able to diversify its product line, adding exercise equipment under the brand name Vitamaster in 1950. As demand for bicycles continued to expand, the company needed a new manufacturing facility to keep up with demand. In 1962, the company moved its operations to Olney, Illinois, where it built a new factory on a 122-acre (0.49 km2) site that would remain the company's principal bicycle manufacturing location into the 1990s.
After two decades of consistent growth, the AMF Wheel Goods Division stalled under the long-distance management of a parent company bogged down in layers of corporate management and marginally profitable product lines. Manufacturing quality as well as the technical standard of the Roadmaster bicycle line - once the pride of the company - had fallen to an all-time low. Bicycles made at the Olney plant were manufactured so poorly that some Midwestern bike shops refused to repair them, claiming that the bikes would not stay fixed no matter how much labor and effort was put into them. The division's problems with quality and outside competition were neatly summed up in a 1979 American film, Breaking Away, in which identical secondhand AMF Roadmaster track bicycles were used by competitors in the Little 500 bicycle race. Despite this product placement, the film's protagonist expressed a decided preference for his lightweight Italian Masi road racing bike, deriding the elderly Roadmaster as a 'piece of junk'.
In 1997, the Roadmaster bicycle division was sold to the Brunswick Corporation. However, it had already become evident that production of low-cost, mass-market bicycles in the US was not viable in the face of foreign competition, and in 1999, all U.S. production of Roadmaster bicycles ceased. Brunswick sold its bicycle division and the Roadmaster brand to Pacific Cycle, which began distributing a new Roadmaster line of bicycles imported from Taiwan and the People's Republic of China. Pacific Cycle still uses the Olney facility for corporate offices and as a product inventory and distribution center.
In 1949 the American Machine & Foundry Co., of New York City, developed the pretzel bender a new automatic crispy styled baked pretzel-twisting machine that rolled and tied them at the rate of 50 a minute more than twice as fast as skilled hand twisters could make them and conveyed them through the baking and salting process To expand its line of recreational equipment, AMF bought W. J. Voit Rubber Corp. (tread rubber, scuba gear), Ben Hogan Co. (golfing equipment), and Wen-Mac Corp. (engine-powered toy airplanes).
By 1961, AMF controlled and operated 42 plants and 19 research facilities scattered across 17 countries, producing everything from remote-controlled toy airplanes to ICBM launching systems. AMF was the builder of the launching silos for the Titan and Atlas ICBMs, and also developed the rail-car launching system for the solid-fueled Minuteman ICBM.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s the company ran neck-and-neck with General Dynamics in the construction of nuclear power reactors. AMF sold Pakistan and Iran their first nuclear reactors. Peter Karter was among the young engineers working on the reactors AMF built in Pakistan and Iran under the Atoms for Peace program.
In 1960 the company moved its headquarters from 249 Madison Avenue, Manhattan, to suburban Westbury, New York.
In the early 1960s, American Machine and Foundry partnered with the French company SAFEGE to design, construct and market a monorail for American cities. The AMF Monorail was exhibited at the 1964 New York World's Fair where it traversed a continuous elevated loop around the Amusement section of the Fair. It was displayed as a practical form of future transportation.
In 1971, American Machine and Foundry was renamed AMF. For many years, the company continued to produce a wide variety of sport and leisure equipment, including Roadmaster bicycles, Harley-Davidson motorcycles (1969–81), Head snow skis and tennis racquets (1969–85), snowmobiles, lawn and garden equipment, Ben Hogan golf clubs (1960–85), Voit inflatable balls, exercise equipment (including exercycles), motorized bicycles, mopeds, SlickCraft powerboats (1969–80), Alcort sailboats (including the Sunfish and the Hilu), Hatteras Yachts, and SCUBA gear.
In the late 1970s, in a reference to its numerous leisure product lines, the company began a TV advertising campaign centered on the slogan "AMF, we make weekends". For a short time, the company owned Dewalt Tools (1949–60), and manufactured gymnastics equipment under the AMF brand. The gymnastics division was later spun off to form American Athletic (AAI) which used the same logo as AMF but with different text. New and improved exercycles, such as the Computrim line, the first to incorporate an electronic heart monitor, were introduced. AMF also acquired a recreational motor home division in the form of Atlas Recreational Vehicles of Mason City, Iowa, which was disbanded after heavy losses following the fuel crisis of the early 1970s.
By the late 1970s, the company encountered difficulties. The absence of stable management (the company had seven presidents between 1972 and 1982), aging production facilities, rising labor costs, and the inability of AMF to operate efficiently and control its many corporate product divisions from its headquarters in White Plains, New York, contributed to a steady decline in sales and profits. Unlike large Japanese corporations such as Matsushita Electric Industrial, which had a standing corporate policy of discontinuing any product line or division in which they were not able to stay in first or second place in total market sales, AMF had continued a practice of purchasing new companies in unfamiliar markets, while simultaneously failing to reorganize and modernize its core operations. As a result, during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the company lost an average of US$8 million per year. Some subsidiaries were sold, including Harley-Davidson in 1981.
For a time, the Italian scuba diving equipment manufacturer Mares was part of AMF, and was able to secure the rights to the MR-12 regulator, previously made by Voit, and to continue manufacture of the regulator. Mares would revert to being an independent manufacturer after AMF was sold. It eventually became part of a worldwide consortium of sports equipment companies, ironically including another former AMF division, Head.
In 1985, AMF was acquired through hostile takeover by Minstar Inc., a Minneapolis-based holding company controlled by investor Irwin L. Jacobs. Minstar, Inc. sold its AMF Bowling Division to private investors in August 1986. The division, which became AMF Bowling Company, Incorporated, manufactured bowling pins and lanes at its plant in Lowville, New York, and related equipment at its plant in Shelby, Ohio. After taking over AMF in November 1986, the new owners sought to reverse $7 million in losses suffered in 1986 at the two plants and to make the company competitive. They cut expenses by $10 million and laid off 172 salaried non-bargaining unit employees. A few months before selling the Bowling Division of AMF, Minstar had successfully negotiated a 24% wage cut and 14% benefit cut for the employees at the Shelby plant. In 1988 however, AMF closed the Shelby, Ohio facility that had operated since the 1950's. The company continued supplying equipment to the bowling industry as AMF, located in Richmond, Virginia.
In 2005, AMF's Bowling Products division and Italian Qubica Worldwide formed a 50/50 joint venture, QubicaAMF. The partnership takes advantage of Qubica's expertise in automatic scoring technology and AMF's technology in lane equipment and pinsetters.
AMF's sole remaining focus is their bowling center operations division, also known as AMF Bowling Centers, Inc.. This division was founded in 1936 and is headquartered in Mechanicsville, Virginia.
In 2007, a new company, 900 Global, purchased the rights to sell bowling balls with the AMF logo.
The company went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time in 12 years in November 2012.
AMF Bowling of the United Kingdom has 33 bowling centers. Once a foreign subsidiary of the parent U.S. company, it is now a separately-owned entity. AMF Worldwide sold the UK division in 2004 to certain shareholders of the British leisure conglomerate, Bourne Leisure. While not owned by Bourne, there are strong ties between the two entities.
Most of the AMF Bowling/UK centers have been renovated, with only a handful awaiting refurbishment or relocation. The roll out began after the shareholder acquisition.
Bourne Leisure, owners of AMF Bowling (UK) bought the chain of Hollywood Bowl and run under the umbrella name of The Original Bowling Company (TOBC). There are 45 family entertainment centres in the entire United Kingdom stretching from Torquay all the way up to Stirling. TOBC is the largest bowling operator in the UK.
Due to the growing popularity of ten-pin bowling in Australia, AMF began a joint venture to manufacture pinspotters there in 1959. By 1964 1,600 lanes existed in Australia, but the popularity of the sport had begun to decline. AMF bought two major Australian bowling chains which revived interest in bowling. AMF expanded from 16 centres to 30 by 1987, and to over 40 by 2004.
Code Hennessy (which purchased AMF Worldwide in 2004) sold the Australian division of AMF Worldwide to Macquarie Leisure Trust in February 2005.
A cruiser bicycle, also known as a beach cruiser, is a bicycle which combines balloon tires, an upright seating posture, a single-speed drivetrain, and straightforward steel construction with expressive styling. Cruisers are popular amongst casual bicyclists and vacationers because they are very stable and easy to ride, but their heavy weight and fat tires tend to make them rather slow. They are associated with the larger category of hybrid bicycles.
The bikes, noted for their durability and heavy weight, were the most popular bicycle in the United States from the early 1930s through the 1950s, and have enjoyed renewed popularity since the late 1990s.
Schwinn developed the cruiser at a time when U.S. bicycle sales had declined sharply due to the Great Depression; adults purchased few bicycles, which were seen as luxury products intended largely for sport or recreation. In response, Schwinn conceived a sturdier, affordable bicycle designed for the more resilient youth market—originally marketing the Schwinn B-10E Motorbike—which resembled a motorcycle but carried no motor—in 1933. Schwinn adapted features from the Henderson and Excelsior motorcycles his company had built during the 1920s, including a heavy "cantilevered" frame with two top tubes and 2.125-inch-wide (54.0 mm) "balloon" tires from Germany. The resulting bicycle could endure abuse that could damage other bicycles. Within two years, other bicycle manufacturers in the USA introduced competing balloon-tire bikes.
In 1934, Schwinn successfully re-styled the B-10E, renaming it the Aero Cycle. While the Aero Cycle featured no technical improvements over the original B-10E, its streamlined frame, faux gas tank, and battery-powered headlight came to define the cruiser 'look'. Modern cruiser bicycles retain these design elements.
Cruisers were popular throughout the 1930s and 40s and gained greater postwar success. Their combination of substantial weight (some models weighing over 50 pounds), single speed mechanicals, and wide tires made the bicycles primarily suited to flat terrain. They were popular with paperboys and bicycle couriers.
Competing firms including Roadmaster, Columbia, Shelby, Monark, and Huffy used styling features and distinctive models to attract buyers—including a Donald Duck bike with quacking horn, "cowboy" models named after Gene Autry or Hopalong Cassidy, and details such as fringed saddlebags, capgun holsters, springer fork suspensions, motorcycle-style horn tanks, and extensive chrome plating. The Huffy Radio Bicycle featured an AM radio built into the oversized top tube.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, bicycles imported from Great Britain and Continental Europe became popular, especially lighter and more nimble sports roadster models or "English racer". These models featured three-speed gearing, taller wheels, narrower tires and lighter weight (35–40 pounds) and greater hill-climbing ability. By the late 1950s, U.S. manufacturers such as Schwinn began producing their own version of the English racer.
The cruiser also ceded market share to muscle and lowrider bikes featuring banana seats, oversized shift levers, and ape-hanger bars inspired by West coast motorcycle customizers—which in turn gave birth to the modern BMX bike, while the cruiser went into a steep sales decline.
By 1972, a new wave of lightweight derailleur-equipped bicycles led a wave of new consumer interest in recreational bicycling, resulting in the bike boom. Derailleur-equipped sport bikes or ten speeds inspired by European racing bicycles soon dominated the adult market.
While largely obsolete by the late 1960s, the cruiser remained popular for utility and recreational use at the beach, where they soon earned the title of "beach cruisers". The term "beach cruiser" started in 1976 at Recycled Cycles in Newport Beach when Larry McNeely coined the phrase and used it as their Trade Mark for the production of the modern Beach Cruiser. Secondhand cruisers found new life on America's coastlines as practical transportation for beach bums and surfers.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, cruiser frames formed the basis of the newly-developed mountain bike. Cruisers' comfort, style, and affordability (compared to mountain and racing bikes) have led to renewed popularity in recent years.
During the mid Seventies, a group of enthusiasts in Marin County, California began racing bikes down the fireroads of local Mount Tamalpais, in a race they called "Repack" because the ride was so grueling that riders had to repack their coaster brakes with grease after each run. The offroad terrain was rocky and the steep mountainside helped riders attain high speeds as they bounced and slammed over rocks and mud. Such harsh treatment caused regular road bikes to crumble, so the racers searched for a more durable and affordable alternative. They soon discovered that old balloon-tired "clunkers" (as they called them) could be had for $5.00 at a garage sale and would endure tremendous punishment. Soon, riders were snapping up these old cruisers, stripping off the heavy fenders and trim, and souping them up with motorcycle brakes and other gadgets to improve downhill performance. One rider, Gary Fisher, added gears to his old Schwinn Excelsior bike, enabling him to ride up the mountain, as well as down. About the same time, another rider named Joe Breeze began tinkering with his own Schwinn Excelsior, making it more suited to the "Repack" course. Soon, both of them began to build and sell custom mountain bikes to fellow enthusiasts, launching a worldwide cycling phenomenon.
The late 1970s and early 1980s saw the emergence of interest in collecting old bicycles, and prices for balloon-tired classics climbed. A bicycle collecting community has developed, with newsletters and specialty shops focused on bicycle collectors.
The release of the film Pee-wee's Big Adventure highlighted the main character's cross-country search for his lost cruiser bicycle.
Cruisers' comfort, style, and affordability (compared to mountain and racing bikes) have led to renewed popularity in recent years In the mid-1990s, a series of reproductions of classic cruiser bikes hit the market. Schwinn started the resurgence in 1995, when it reissued the Black Phantom to celebrate the company's 100th birthday. Soon, similar offerings appeared from Columbia and Roadmaster. Harley-Davidson even licensed a cruiser bike with their logo and trademark styling These helped stir up interest in cruisers, which brought them to the attention of aging Baby Boomers, who remembered the originals from their youth and now were reaching an age where a comfortable bike was more exciting than a fast bike, and who also had the money to buy whatever they wanted. The classic "retro" looks, reliable mechanical performance, comfortable ride, and relatively low price of cruisers (compared to mountain bikes or road racers) also appealed to young Gen Xers. Nearly every major bike manufacturer now offers at least one cruiser model, if not an entire line. Some notable contemporary manufactures include Electra Bicycle Company and Felt Bicycles. Cruiser sales have continued to rise over the past decade and today many towns have clubs sponsoring regular cruiser rides as a way to promote the low-tech, high fun aspect of cycling.
Three other contemporary bike trends are related to cruisers. For decades, Latino car enthusiasts have been lowering the suspension on older American cars to build "lowriders". Their younger siblings have begun building their own custom "lowrider bikes". Lowrider bicycles are usually built on old Schwinn Stingray or other "muscle bike" frames, but the entire lowrider look of "old school" accessories such as springer forks and bullet headlights is in the cruiser tradition. Lowrider bike magazines and catalogs also feature cruisers and are a great source of accessories for cruiser owners. A similar trend is the sudden appearance of "chopper" bicycles over the past couple of years, in response to the surge of interest in custom motorcycles. Several manufacturers offer "chopper" style bikes in their cruiser range. These bikes usually feature a lower center of gravity, suspension forks, hot rod paint jobs, and large rear tires. Finally, manufacturers have also introduced the "comfort bike" category, to combine the soft ride and upright posture of cruisers with a more conventionally styled bike. Comfort bikes have such features as fenders, suspension seatposts and forks, and large padded saddles with giant springs. All of these features are copied from cruisers, but redesigned to look more like regular road or hybrid bikes.