Friday, April 30, 2021

A Short History of Vintage Schwinn Bicycle Catalogs

1980s Bicycle with Rider
Schwinn Lightweight Bicycles, 1983
(Photo: Schwinn Bicycle Company 1983)

My interest in Schwinn bicycles started in childhood. As a child, I never owned a Schwinn bike but I learned about them from others in my neighborhood. These bicycles had a reputation of being very rugged. Families not only passed them on from one son or daughter to another but sometimes they survived and were used by subsequent generations. I also worked in a Schwinn bicycle shop in the 1970s and I became very familiar with the Schwinn brand of bicycles. 

My 1983 Schwinn Le Tour rebuild article has been quite popular. When researching the article,  I used several sites that have quite a bit of information on Schwinn bicycles.  The sites with the most information on Schwinn catalogs were BikeHistory and Waterford Precision Cycles.  Waterford credits Tom Findley for the catalog scans. In what must have been a labor of love, Tom Findley scanned each individual page including the front and back of the Schwinn bicycle catalogs. Each individual page is presented by year on the Waterford site. The Catalog PDFs in this post have been drawn mainly from the Waterford website because they are the original page scans from the Schwinn Catalogs. I also have some selected files from the VeloPages website on Schwinn that are not covered in either the BikeHistory or the Waterford sites.  

The Waterford site has the individual pages in historical order but they are not compiled in any way. The BikeHistory site takes a different approach. The site has all the original images taken from the catalogs dating from as early as 1899. They have transcribed all the text from the catalogs to accompany the pictures. Both of these sites have been very helpful for me in researching the history of some of the Schwinn bicycles. 

I find being able to view a PDF of a whole catalog rather than individual pages is easier for me. Also, I really like primary sources for doing my research. As a consequence, for bikes of interest, I began merging the individual pages available on other websites into one complete PDF catalog. This gets as close as possible to the original source without actually having the paper copy. Since I have some of the complete catalog PDFs on my computer, I decided to put them on my website. 

This will not be a comprehensive list of the catalogs. Instead, the catalogs will be those in which I am interested. For the comprehensive list of the Schwinn catalogs and individual page images, it is best to go to the Waterford or the BikeHistory websites. Also, if you have trouble reading the text in the PDFs, BikeHistory has entered all the text from the catalogs into a more readable format. t

I will be updating this article as I add new catalogs. I also will add some details of Schwinn's history to put the catalogs in a historical context.  This will be a work in progress completed over a period of time.

Schwinn Bicycles after 1992 Bankruptcy

Although the Schwinn name lives on today, Schwinn as a family-owned bicycle company ceased to exist after it filed for bankruptcy in 1992. The last catalog produced by the Schwinn family company also was in 1992. Bicycles coming after that date have the Schwinn nameplate but have no other relationship to the original family company. Thus, the short history of Schwinn presented in this article is from the company's founding in 1895 to its demise as a family company. 

In an interesting twist of its bankruptcy history, the Schwinn name was owned by a separate family trust and was not the property of the bicycle company. This was an impediment to selling the company because no investor in their right mind would buy a company mired in debt and then have members of the Schwinn family start making bicycles again in a new business under their own name.   

With the dire financial position of the company, the Schwinn family did not expect to get anything from the sale of the company in bankruptcy court. In an effort to get the family behind a sale, a venture capitalist offered to buy the Schwinn name from the family trust in a separate transaction from the purchase of the company and its debt. The money for purchasing the Schwinn name would go directly to family members. The amount of $2.5 million was offered and it was grudgingly accepted by the family. So after 100 years of sweat, tears, and bicycle innovations, the family received a paltry sum to keep the Schwinn name alive. 

In 1993, Richard Schwinn, the great-grandson of the company founder Ignaz, along with his partner Marc Muller was able to purchase the Schwinn Paramount design group and production facility in Waterford, Wisconsin. Focusing on broader markets, the new managers had no use for the Waterford plant which specialized in high-end bicycles.  Richard Schwinn could not use his last name to brand the new bikes produced in the iconic Paramount facility because of the bankruptcy agreement. Today, his company still makes top-of-the-line bicycles in the same factory under the name of  Waterford Precision Cycles.  

The venture capital group that purchased Schwinn out of bankruptcy in 1993 was Zinn-Chillmark. The financial company bought both the highly indebted Schwinn company and its historic name.  Venture capitalists often are not good at running companies and the Schwinn case was no exception. In the ensuing years, the Schwinn name was sold by a series of companies until finally it was purchased by the Canadian company Dorel Industries. Besides Schwinn, today Dorel markets many familiar brands of bicycles including Cannondale, GT, and Mongoose.

Schwinn Bicycle Catalogs 1895-1992

The Schwinn bicycle catalogs provide a history of the company and also chronicled the development of the bicycle industry in the USA. The catalogs are a cultural tour of bicycle trends and models in the USA from the late 1800s through the 1990s. The catalogs document the rise of the safety bicycle in the 1890s and the popularity of the autocycle in the 1930s. This was followed by the development of the Schwinn Paramount for racing, the Sting Ray and BMX bicycles for stunt-loving kids, and mountain bicycles for adventurous adults. 

One unheralded achievement of Schwinn was that the company was instrumental in giving Giant Bicycles its start. In the 1970s, due to the diversification of its line of bicycles, Schwinn was undergoing a transition from manufacturing all of its bicycles in the USA to producing some of them in Asia.  Giant was an early benefactor of this trend and was able to scale up its production facilities due to a large order from Schwinn. From the company's modest start as a supplier of bicycles for other brands, Giant is now one of the top three bicycle companies in the world.  

1890s-Schwinn Begins during Bicycle Boom

In 1861, Ignaz Schwinn had a decision to make. He was managing a bicycle factory in Germany that he had helped build with Henrick Kleyer. He had landed the job with Kleyer because of some of his tinkerings with new safety bicycle designs. Things did not go smoothly in his new job and he had a dispute with Kleyer supposedly over a coaster brake design. He realized that in his current job he would never have control over the creative process for building a bicycle. This meant he probably could never advance beyond the position of factory manager. He made the bold decision to immigrate to the United States to pursue his creative passion for building innovative, quality bicycles. He packed up all his worldly possessions and along with his wife, sailed for the USA.

Once he arrived in Chicago he worked for a series of bicycle companies. He still felt that he was being held back. In 1894 he had a chance meeting with a fellow German immigrant named Adolph Frederick William Arnold. Arnold had an inkling that bicycles would have a bright future.  Having first made his money in the meatpacking business and later as a successful investor and banker, Arnold could see the promise of collaborating with an innovative bicycle factory manager like Ignaz Schwinn.  The consequence was the Arnold Schwinn and Company was formed in 1895. With a strong investor and an experienced manager, Arnold Schwinn & Company was off and running. 

vintage 1890s bicycle
Possible Schwinn First Bicycle, 1895
(Photo: Famous Schwinn-Builgt Bicycle Brochure, 1895)

The year of the 1895 publication coincides with the same year Schwinn was founded by Adolph Arnold and Ignaz Schwinn. This publication with the name Famous Schwinn Built-Bicycles very likely was marketing the original bicycles sold by the new bicycle company founded by the two founders. The brochure contains four interesting safety bicycles, including two for racing and two for everyday use.  The racing bicycle is stated to be just 19 pounds. Because of the development of the safety bicycle, women had become avid bicyclists in the 1890s. The Schwinn women's everyday model has a rear fender and webbing seemingly designed to prevent skirts from getting caught in the wheel or the chain.  

The 1890s was the period of time when bicycles began to look like, well, bicycles. This catalog highlights Schwinn's version of safety bicycles that were all the rage in the late 1900s. Safety bicycles were quite popular with women. In many circles, they were even credited for securing women's right to vote. Sure enough, Schwinn has a model called the World Ladies' Standard Model No. 34. The catalog also contains cycles they call doubles, triples, and quadruples.  Yes. Schwinn made a four-seat bicycle in 1899. 

Four seat bicycle 1890s
Schwinn 1899 Four Seat Bicycle
Image: Schwinn 1889 Bicycle Catalog

During the 1890s, the bicycle boom was in full swing. As opposed to the awkward big wheelers, the new safety bikes with chains, adequate brakes, and easy steering were simple to ride. No requiring special skills to operate, the "mechanical horse" was seen as the way of the future. Many of the nation's roads were actually improved during this decade because of the desire to have more friendly places to ride a bicycle.  Manufactures of bicycles, including the Wright Brothers, flourished in an age when the bicycle was considered a liberating invention that would change the world.  At the turn of the century and the advent of more reliable motorcars, the bloom started to come off the bicycle rose. The wild and wooly days of fast-paced innovations and booming sales were about to come to an end. Schwinn would have to adjust to a changing world or join the ranks of struggling bicycle manufacturers.

1930s-Schwinn Gambles on Style and Quality

Frank Schwinn, who was the son of the founder, returned from a research trip to Germany in the early 1930s.  On the trip, he saw sturdy balloon-tired bicycles surviving Germany's rough cobblestone roads. In the US, most bicycles at the time were made from poorly welded low-quality steel and had thin tires that hadn't changed since the early 1900s. They were produced for quick sales by mass retailers who could care less about durability. The trip set off what some may call a bicycle revolution in the US, spurring Schwinn to develop a wide-tired bicycle that looked like a mini-motorcycle.  

After the early 1930s tour of Germany, Frank Schwinn developed a new line of high-quality bicycles for kids and marketed them through retail bicycle shops rather than mass retailers. The new bikes were called autocycles or motorbikes. These new bicycles were a radical departure from others produced during the same period. Just to be clear, these bikes are not motorized. They were distinguished by motorcycle-inspired features such as the front "knee action spring fork" and coaster brakes. Schwinn was so confident about the durability of these bicycles, the company offered an--unheard of for the times--lifetime guarantee. This line of durable, high-quality bicycles became very popular and reinforced the reputation of Schwinn as being a force in the business. Sales increased 20-fold during the 1930s.  

1940s Bicycle Displayed in Museum
Schwinn Autocycle, Circa 1940.
(Photo: Doug Barnes at Bicycle Heaven, Pittsburgh)
As a testimonial to their durability, in the 1970s these long-forgotten 1930s bicycles were rediscovered by the inventors of the mountain bike in Marin County, California. Looking for a sturdy bike to race down a mountainside trail, they modified these old classics to deal with mountain terrain. As a precursor to the mountain bike, the 1930s Schwinns fit the bill. The autocycles and motorbicycles had sturdy frames, front suspension, and internal coaster brakes. The inventors rode and raced these bikes down a dirt mountain fire road that now is known as the famous Repack Course on Pine Mountain. The course got its name because of the necessity to repack the overheated coaster brake grease after each race. 


During the 1970s bike resurgence, this catalog starts out by saying, "The 1973 Schwinn bike book is dedicated to bicycling...and you'll find pictures in many parts of the United States." In a blitz of 1970s schmalzy advertising, this catalog has it all. Bikes are posed with models in front of the Rose Bowl, a horse barn, a swimming pool, a peacock (yes you read that correctly), waterfalls, a golf course, and the Queen Mary (why not). The models include a smiling beauty on an exercycle, a retired couple loading groceries onto a 3 wheeler, and a woman in a short skirt riding of all things a Paramount.  Schwinn may have been in the process of losing its identity by trying to be the bicycle company for everyone. 


The full catalog for 1981 contains a nice biography of the founder of Schwinn Bicycles (also repeated on other catalogs) and a full listing of bikes including their list prices, parts, and accessories. 

This catalog is similar to the 1981 catalog, but it also has a listing of the Schwinn Paramount bicycles. 

This PDF catalog has information on various lightweight models such as Superior, Voyageur, and the Le Tour.  Schwinn was late to the lightweight adult bicycle game but by 1983 they were in full swing.  Moving production from Chicago, they opened a new factory in Greenville Mississippi in 1981 and except for the Paramount model began producing lightweight bicycles in the new factory.  Unfortunately, due to supply chain issues involving getting parts to Mississippi and also quality control problems, the factory was eventually closed in 1991.  


BikeHistory. 2021. "Vintage Schwinn Catalogs." BikeHistory Post. accessed May, 2021. 

Crown, Judith and Glenn Coleman. 1996. No Hands: The Rise and Fall of the Schwinn Bicycle Company, An American Institution. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Schwinn Bicycles. 2021. "A Look Back: Who Was Ignaz Schwinn." Schwinn Bicycle Post, accessed May, 2021.

Waterford Precision Bicycles. 2021. "Schwinn Bicycle Catalogs." Waterford Post, accessed May, 2021.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

My Father's Departure on a Liberty Ship during World War II

Men walking up gangplank World War II
45th Division Departure for WW II, Hampton Roads, Va. 1943
(Photo: US National Archives)

This narrative is a work of historical fiction. The article is based on my father's diary of his military service in World War II. Clayton Barnes (Barney) served from 1942 to 1945 with the 171st Field Artillery Battalion of the 45th Division. His division was in combat continuously without being relieved from duty beginning in Sicily, 1943 until the end of the war in Munich, 1945.


The entire 45th Division had just been deemed fit for combat in Europe. Liberty ships were awaiting the arrival of the 45th Division to take them across the Atlantic and directly into the war. Barney, Higgins, and McNab had been selected to check in all personnel onboard the USS Thurston for transport to Europe.

Heading to Liberty Ships at Newport News

On June 4, 1943, Barney woke up at 2:30 AM in the barracks at Fort Patrick Henry. He had prepared for his work the previous day. He gathered together all his records, his backpack, a duffle bag, and his rifle. At 3:30 AM he set out by jeep to the port at Newport News.

In the jeep bumping down the road toward Newport News, Barney said to Higgins and McNab, “It’s awful early.” It was still dark and he was a bit groggy. His mind was not yet focused on the day ahead.

McNab said, “I’m not looking forward to the trip across the Atlantic. I hope my stomach is going to hold up.”

Higgins chimed in, “Yeah. Me too. We won’t be boarding until we check everyone in so I’m worried that we won’t get a good bunk.”

Barney said, "I’m not sure there’s a good bunk on the whole ship. We’ll all be jammed in together.”

McNab replied, “I’m glad I’m not a sailor. I wouldn’t want to be stuck on a ship all the time. We’ll be sleeping in those bunks at sea for two weeks and that's enough.  Just think what it must be like to be aboard a ship under fire.”

Saturday, June 6, 2020

My Discovery of Non-Alcoholic Craft Beer

Beer cans and bottles on black background
Non-Alchoholic Craft and Traditional Beers
(Photo: Doug Barnes)
I have had a skipping heartbeat since my 20s. The doctors were never concerned, so I always brushed it off. During a recent physical, my doctor called with the results which were all good, except... She blurted out, “Your EKG shows you have Afib.” If your heart is ever going to flutter, it surely is when your doctor confirms your malady.

I have ridden a bicycle for over 60 years, so I never expected to have a problem with my heart. The irregular heartbeat sent me on a round of cardiologist visits. It was discovered that I have what’s called paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (Afib), a condition that is not uncommon among endurance athletes. I am not an endurance athlete, but I have been riding a bike, running, and walking regularly for my whole life.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Recollections on Discovering my Father's World War II Diary

Emblem Patch of 45th Division and C.J. Barnes sitting on jeep.
Thunderbird Patch of the 45th Division and CJ Barnes in France, 1944
(Photo: C. J. Barnes Collection)
After my father’s funeral in 1991, my mind was in a blur. Late that night I found myself rummaging through his belongings that were neatly organized in his attic desk. I found a tall and narrow black notebook that would fit neatly into a breast pocket. I opened the notebook and instantly recognized his back-sloping left-handed writing. I had discovered something he never shared with any of his family. It was his secret World War II diary (Barnes 1945). He had written the diary for my mother. Astounded by my find, I read the diary as if it was a page-turning novel. 

I also have written a fictional account based on history of my father's departure from the US with the 45th division on a Liberty Ship. This event took place at Newport News on June 4, 1943. 

The title of the Diary was Record of Service in the US Army. The 2005 version annotated and edited by Chris Barnes (Barnes 2005) is The World War II Diary of C. J. Barnes: An Account of Service in the 45th Division 171st Field Artillery Battalion March 21, 1942, to September 24, 1945.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Washington DC’s Vision Zero Problem:

The Case of the SuperFresh Site Development near Spring Valley Shopping Center

Walking around the future construction site, the representatives of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) including the new director, Jeff Marootian, got a firsthand view of the alleys in which pedestrians, cars, and trucks would mix together in unsafe numbers. The representatives of DDOT listened and were very friendly, but in the end, they stated that alleys are meant to service buildings and not pedestrians. This, in a nutshell, is the District’s Vision Zero problem. When push comes to shove, vehicles are favored over pedestrians, even in alleyways. Although DDOT has an active pedestrian and bicycle unit, the regular staff still are not incorporating a mobility focus consistently into their more general work.

Friday, November 30, 2018

A Short History of the Birth of Bicycling

Cartoon of Velocipede Cycling Class, NYC 1869
Figure 1. Cartoon of a Velocipede Riding School in New York, 1869
(Source: Harpers Weekly 1869)

The adults in the bicycle riding class wobbled, crashed and generally felt out of control. Due to a new-fangled invention called the velocipede, in the late 1860s a host of new classes sprang up to teach adults how to ride a bicycle (figure 1). Mastering the awkward, heavy riding machines required the novel ability to balance on two wheels. It was a new experience for those who generally walked, rode horses or moved about in carriages.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Thrill of the Mountain: Bicycling Down Chestnut Ridge

Sign along roadside on top of mountain
Truck Warning Sign Atop Chestnut Ridge near Uniontown, Pa
(Photo: Doug Barnes)
In the 1970s my friend Dave and I were both new to road cycling. During one summer, several times a week we “pumped the mountain” on our new bikes. The mountain in question is what locals call "Three-Mile Hill." It’s hardly a hill.

At the top of Chestnut Ridge, Dave and I are sitting on the deck of the Summit Inn and resting from our climb up the mountain. The Summit Inn is an historic “porch” hotel that dates back to 1907. It sits atop the most western edge of the Allegheny Mountains near Uniontown, Pennsylvania. It sometimes is covered in the clouds, but this day the weather is clear. Dave and I have a great view of the foothills below.