1950 B.F. Goodrich Girl's Bicycle
edited by David Barth, 6 June 2011.
Courtesy The Forney Museum of Transportation at 4303 Brighton Blvd., Denver,
Colorado 80216. Photos were taken in June 2011.
Also, thanks to Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
B.F. Goodrich bicycles, such as this example, were manufactured by Schwinn. They were sold in B.F. Goodrich tire stores.
The Schwinn Story
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 at the time of this writing, was a sub-brand of Pacific Cycle, owned by the multi-national conglomerate,
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. In 1895, with the financial backing of fellow German-American Adolph
Arnold (a meat packer), he started the 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 percent 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 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 6-day races 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 steel chromoly
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 175 km/h (109 mph) on a Schwinn bicycle riding
behind a car on the Los Angeles freeway.
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 percent 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 US 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 US, 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 bike, 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.
Marketing and anti-trust issues
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 US 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
US Supreme Court 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 decison 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.
Children and youth markets
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'.
21st century Stingray
In 1962, 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 the first
such mass-production bike for the youth market as Project J-38. The result, a wheelie bike, was introduced to the public as the Schwinn Stingray in 1963. For
a mass-production bike, the new model was a revelation, with its requisite high-rise handlebars, banana seat, and 20-inch tires. Sales were initially slow, as many
parents desiring a bicycle for their children did not find the Stingray appealing in the least. However, after a few appeared on America's streets and
neighborhoods, many youth 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 Stingray.
The Ten Speed
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 and were fitted with quality European components including 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.
Schwinn's Japanese competitors
Brands such as Fuji, Miyata, Panasonic/National, Bridgestone, Centurion, Univega, and Nishiki had enjoyed tremendous success
during the United States' 1970's bike boom, only to suffer during in the late 1980s. Because of the steep decline in the Yen's value, Nishiki and Univega were
ultimately absorbed by Derby International, and manufacture of Nishiki bicycles was moved from Japan in 1989 to Giant Bicycles in Taiwan. Derby discontinued the
Nishiki brand in the United States in 2001.
Example of a foreign bicycle that competed with Schwinn during the 1970's:
1977 Nishiki International
Manufacturer: Kawamura Cycles, Kobe, Japan
U.S. Importer: West Coast Cycle
Frame construction: Lugged
Frame material: plain gauge Cromoly (3 tubes)
Fork: high-tensile steel
Rear Derailler: Suntour Cyclone
Front Derailler: Suntour Cyclone
Stem Shifters: Suntour
Brakes: Diacomp, single pivot side-pull
Rims: Araya 27 x 1.25, 36 count spokes
Crank: Sugino Super Maxy
Seat stem: LaPrade
Non-standard equipment included special handlebars, saddle, chrome cable guides, and a rear rack.
The Stingray sales boom of the 1960's 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 1960's, 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 chromoly 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. 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
Schwinn also largely failed to capitalize on a new trend: BMX racing. After first claiming it to be a dangerous sport, management changed
their tune too late when they introduced the Predator, their first competitive step into the modern BMX market. A latecomer, the Predator took just eight
percent of the BMX market. While their Scrambler evolved into a BMX design in the late 1970s, it was heavier than BMX designs from other manufacturers.
By the late 1970s, a new bicycle sport begun by enthusiasts in 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 chromoly 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 (1978–79) 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 Mountain Bikes 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.
Factory and retooling issues
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 chromoly steel (later, aluminum) alloys. 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.
Labor troubles, bankruptcy and demise
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 percent 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.
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 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 source component parts from Asia, 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
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 chromoly steel frames. Sourced from 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 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,
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 at the time of this writing. In 2003 they employed
18 workers building lightweight bicycles.
A Schwinn Voyageur GS hybrid bicycle sold after the company was bought by Pacific Cycle. 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 2000 Andrew Schwinn, great-great-grandson of Ignaz Schwinn, was brought
in as a business consultant to bring new ideas to the company. However, it was not enough, and in 2001 Schwinn/GT declared bankruptcy.
Sale to Pacific
The Current Schwinn Headbadge
On September 11, 2001, 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.
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. At the time of this writing, Schwinn produced the following types
Urban (includes folding bicycles)
The exhibit number is unknown.