Friday, April 30, 2021

A Short History of Vintage Schwinn Bicycles and 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. I recently rebuilt an old 1983 Schwinn Le Tour and the article had been quite popular.   

I will be updating this article as I add new catalogs. I will add the catalogs from the founding of Schwinn in 1895 until the demise of the family business in 1993. I also put the catalogs in a historical context.  This will be a work in progress and it will be completed over a period of time. You can skip to the end to see what happened to the Schwinn family company during bankruptcy in 1992. 

Stay tuned for updates and skip to the end for the catalogs completed so far.  Also, this is a long read despite the title.  I use the term short history because so much "long history" has been written about Schwinn.  

Short History of Schwinn Bicycles, 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.  

Company Founded during the 1890s 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-Built Bicycle Brochure, 1895)

The publication in 1895 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.  Manufacturers 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.

A Turn towards Motorcycles from 1900 to 1930

The bicycle industry entered the doldrums at the turn of the 20th Century. Adult ridership of bicycles plummeted as people’s attention turned to motorized transportation. The Wright Brothers started ignoring their bike shop in favor of flying machines. Henry Ford rode a bicycle to a factory where he manufactured his first motorcar that looked like two bicycles joined together. He and others like him working on the first cars would sound the death knell for the 1890s adult bicycle boom.

At the time, A. G. Spalding and Alexander Pope, both major bicycling manufacturers, realized that adults were quickly moving away from riding bicycles. With the slide in adult sales, Spalding and Pope joined hands with some others from the bicycle business to form the American Bicycle Company, a consolidated trust of manufacturers. In the spirit of industrial capitalism at the turn of the century, the goal was to monopolize the market and to put small independent bicycle companies out of business.  The venture almost worked. In 1899, the bicycle trust claimed to control 75 percent of bicycle sales. Over time, the major players in the trust began to bicker and fight with one another. This combined with declining bicycle sales caused the trust to burn through $80 million in startup capital. The well-financed trust was a spectacular failure and by 1903, it went into bankruptcy.

Ignaz Schwinn wisely stayed away from the ill-fated trust because he wasn’t one to surrender his independence. In the context of declining sales, he knew that to stay in business, his company would have to change its focus. He took advantage of the bicycle slump to purchase troubled manufactures. His partner Adolph Arnold could see that bicycles were no longer a growth industry. In 1908, he agreed to sell all his shares in the company to Ignaz Schwinn. On his part, Schwinn never gave up on the bicycle side of his company but he recognized that to survive his company would have to diversify.  

Ignaz Schwinn knew his company had a problem.  In the first decade of the 1900s, the sales of bicycles to adults had eviscerated. The remaining bicycle sales that remained during the slump were to children. Making matters worse, Schwinn had to sell its bikes through department stores such as Sears and Montgomery Ward. These retailers competed based on price and didn’t care much about quality because there was no appetite for parents to purchase long-lasting bicycles. Bikes did not have to last very long because children quickly outgrew them. Also, young kids are rough on bicycles and they were ready for the scrap heap once they were ready to move on to a larger size.  

Ignaz Schwinn saw the writing on the wall.  He would have to diversify to keep his company alive. He made a bet on a new type of cycle—the motorcycle. Most of Schwinn’s creative energy from 1910 through 1930 went into producing a well-respected brand of motorcycle called the Excelsior. In 1917, Schwinn purchased Henderson Motorcycle Company from its owners.  Their motorcycles were popular and in the late 1920s, Schwinn became the third largest motorcycle company in the country.

Vintage bicycle on grey background
Schwinn Excelsior Bicycle 1917
(Image: 1917 Schwinn Catalog)

A nice side benefit of purchasing Henderson was they also produced a line of bicycles that could be integrated into the Schwinn portfolio. In a sense, entering into the motorcycle business saved Schwinn as a bicycle company by getting through a very rough patch of declining sales. The motorcycle division of Schwinn took up all the creative energies of the company, and the bicycle division limped along barely surviving its plight.  But by purchasing new bicycle companies during industry consolidation, intentional or not, Schwinn was positioning itself for the next phase of its bicycle business.

The good times of the roaring twenties led to the Great Recession. The bubble burst and all companies, including the motorcycle industry, came under great financial strain. Ignaz Schwinn was heavily invested in the stock market and the plunge in the value of stocks left him with few financial resources.  Thus, in 1931, he called together a group of his closest associates. He realized the time of Schwinn competing in the motorcycle business had come to an end.  He could not find a buyer for the motorcycle business, so at the meeting of his senior staff, he said, “Gentlemen, today we stop.” Schwinn abandoned the motorcycle industry and in an unlikely gamble turned its focus to bicycles. 

At the age of over 70 years old, Ignaz Schwinn decided it was time to wind down his active management of the company. He turned over business operations to his son Frank. With the motorcycles in the rearview mirror, Frank Schwinn took on the difficult task of reinventing what remained of the bicycle business. The company would eventually be renamed the Schwinn Bicycle Company. With his background as an innovative motorcycle engineer, he set his eyes on developing futuristic new bicycle products geared towards children. The stage was set for an era of Schwinn creativity and innovation that would catapult the company into a dominant position in the bicycle industry.

Gamble on Promoting Style and Quality in the 1930s

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.  

Schwinn Introduces New Balloon Tire Bicycles, 1933
(Image: Schwinn Catalog 1933)
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. 

Toward the end of the 1930s, Frank W. Schwinn had shaken up the bicycle industry and firmly established his company as a dominant manufacturer.  The trifecta of producing high-quality bikes, designing them to look like motorcycles or airplanes, and selling them through independent dealers rather than department stores had catapulted Schwinn from subservient to large retailers to an independent leader in the bicycle industry. Many of the innovations in the children's line of bicycles originated with the experience of selling motorcycles in the 1920s. With the Schwinn motorcycle business now becoming a distant memory, many of the same Excelsior and Henderson engineers were recruited to design bicycles with an attitude.

Frank W. Schwinn was not satisfied that he had changed the children’s bicycle market.  He wanted to make an even larger mark on the bike industry.  After another trip to Europe in 1935, he was delighted to see adults riding bicycles. He was especially enamored with the sturdy internal 3-speed roadsters he had seen gliding over the streets of England. He decided that Schwinn should enter the adult bicycle market with a unique twist.

Frank Schwinn and his engineers got to work after his trip to Europe. The team began to develop a new line of adult lightweight Schwinn bicycles. Determined to once again reshape the bicycle industry as he had in the early 1930s, Frank W Schwinn hired one of the USA's best-known bicycle race mechanics name Emil Wastyn. With this collaboration in place, he learned that the manufacturing process had to be radically realigned to produce bicycles for adults. Under the supervision of Frank and his new lightweight bicycle engineers, Schwinn began to produce light chrome-moly lugged frames along with finely machine bicycle components that such as sprockets, hubs, cranks, and headsets.

Schwinn Paramount Racer, 1939
(Image: 1939 Schwinn Lightweight Bicycle Catalog)

As chronicled in the 1939 Schwinn catalog, Schwinn made the bold claim that, 

With the production of these super-fine lightweight touring and racing bicycles, the United States of America takes its rightful place among the leaders of the fine bicycle manufacturing nations of the world.

 In 1938, Schwinn christened the top-of-the-line lightweight bicycle the Paramount. The Paramount was destined to be an iconic product but the line was never very profitable. Frank Schwinn understood that the Paramount was a market leader that would set a high standard for all Schwinn adult bikes. To market these bicycles, the company sponsored a successful Schwinn Race team to participate in the popular 6-day races of the day. They also financed an attempt at breaking the world speed record and succeeded.  On a Schwinn Paramount in 1941, Alfred Letourneur rode close behind a specially designed motor vehicle and he set the world speed record at an incredible 108 miles per hour.

Schwinn Paramount World Speed Record, 1941
(Schwinn Catalog, 1949) 

The Paramount was never the most profitable product for the company but it firmly engraved the Schwinn name into the annals of bicycle history. One goal of the Paramount line was to market the Schwinn brand as producing bicycles of the highest quality. This strategy would succeed and the Schwinn Paramount would become part of Schwinn's enduring legacy for quality and innovation until the company’s bankruptcy in 1993. 

The 1930s was a period in which Frank W. Schwinn established himself as a creative force in both his company and the bicycle industry.  The decade started with an emphasis on motorcycles and ended with Schwinn firmly established as the highest quality bicycle maker for both adults and children. The innovations of the 1930s, such as the balloon-tired children's bikes, front suspension, front drum-style brakes, and the Paramount Racer set the direction for  Schwinn to next several decades. 

WWII Pause and Pivot to Marketing in the 1940s

The war years hit Schwinn hard. The company was not under financial duress because new government contracts to support the war replaced bicycle sales. The problem was that at a time when Schwinn was gaining momentum producing new models and its own parts, the company was required to hit the pause button. Most manufactures in the USA were required to shift their focus from consumer goods to assist the war effort and Schwinn was no exception. To erase any doubt about its patriotism, Schwinn as a company founded by a German-born immigrant gladly embraced this role. The company became an early recruit by the US government for the war effort. In 1942 Schwinn pivoted completely from bicycles to war materials. 

Schwinn Manufactures Own Crankset, 1941
(Image: Schwinn 1941 Catalog)
Schwinn did retain some marginal government contracts to produce plain bicycles without Schwinn’s high-quality chrome for use by the military.  Schwinn also produced some prototype bicycle products for the war effort but none ever gained favor among the military brass. A folding bicycle was developed that could be dropped behind enemy lines to provide mobility for paratroopers.  The 30-pound folding bicycles were impractical to parachute into a war zone and they never were deployed. So the Schwinn factory that previously built bicycles was kept busy producing artillery shells, frames for radar, tripods for machine guns, and parts for airplane cockpits. 

In the era of Rosie the Riveter, the composition of Schwinn’s workforce also changed. Male and some female Schwinn employees were reporting for overseas duty in large numbers. Schwinn adopted a policy to encourage the family members of those leaving for military service to fill their vacant jobs.  Many mothers, wives, and sisters began working on the Schwinn’s factory floor as their loved ones headed for the military conflicts in Europe and Japan. During the war years, women became the main workforce for Schwinn.

The end of the war brought with it better times both for Schwinn and the country. The post-war years were an era in which new families were being started. Soldiers returning from the front lines wanted nothing more than to pick up the pieces of the time they had lost while they were in the military. The resulting baby boom was followed by a surge of new spending on houses, radios, refrigerators, washers, and consumer items.

During this fresh start, Schwinn turned its energy towards marketing during this period of growth of consumerism. At Schwinn, the engineering culture established in the 1930s had laid the groundwork for producing a variety of new high-quality bicycles. Now in the latter part of the 1940s, the company with its stable of high-quality products was poised for the coming increase in demand generated by the return of war veterans. The question was how to sell them.  

The seeds for how to market Schwinn products were spread during the 1930s. Frank W. Schwinn was eager to reduce the company’s reliance on large retailers and had begun investing resources in developing direct relationships with small bicycle dealers across the nation. The consequence of this shift was that Schwinn had a pipeline of information about consumer preferences from those on the front line of bicycle sales. By the end of the 1940s, Schwinn had reduced its relations with large retailers and focused on its relationships with bike shops.  In 1939, Schwinn even produced a Hollywood bicycle model, one of the first to be specifically designed for and marketed to women.

Schwinn Woman's Bicycle 1949
Schwinn Hollywood Model Kicks Off Film Star Marketing Campaign in 1939
(Image: Schwinn Illustrated Catalog, 1949)

Selling bicycles through smaller shops meant that that Schwinn had to develop its own marketing strategy. Schwinn boldly stepped out of its engineering comfort zone and recruited many of Hollywood's top stars to promote their innovative bicycle lines. The luminaries featured in the 1946 poster catalog included Dorothy Lamour, Roy Rogers, Ronald Reagan, Jane Wyman, Janis Paige, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, and Bing Crosby. 

1940s movie star with bicycle
Dorothy Lamour Promotes Schwinn, 1941
(Image: Schwinn Catalog 1941)

With a line of quality bicycles and a marketing strategy fine-tuned to consumer demand in place, during the late 1940s Schwinn was off and running. With the Hollywood stars endorsing Schwinn products combined with its reputation for quality, their bicycles began flying out of stores.  Schwinn increased sales to 400,000 bikes by the late 1940s and by 1950 had a 25% market share of bicycles sold in the USA.

With the manufacturing capacities in Europe and Asia decimated, the company became one of the dominant bicycle manufacturers in the USA. Within two decades that included a pause for World War II, Schwinn did not miss a beat. Frank W. Schwinn had changed a failed motorcycle business and a floundering bicycle company into a powerhouse that was on its way to becoming an American cultural icon.

Becoming a Cultural Icon in the 1950s

Frank W. Schwinn was making all the right movies. His vision for the company was either prescient or just plain lucky. Starting in the 1930s, he turned towards building stylish bicycles with flashy chrome and marketing them to kids.  He also introduced a line of state-of-the-art lightweight bicycles for adults that were way ahead of their time. In an era of inexpensive cookie-cutter bicycles sold by large retailers, he gambled that consumers would pay for style and quality. He pivoted Schwinn’s reliance for sales through large retailers towards independent bicycle companies that were more in tune with consumer bicycle needs. Finally, he tweaked Schwinn’s “fair market” policies so that retailers could not compete against one another based on price.

By the beginning of the 1950s, Schwinn was poised for takeoff. The company was not alone. With the post-war baby boom in full swing,  the whole bicycle industry was ready for growth.  In 1946 when soldiers returned from overseas, three and three-quarter million babies were born, one of the highest levels in decades. This number would increase to over four and one-half million by 1955.  All these children were primed and ready to ride bicycles produced by Schwinn and other manufacturers.

For the children of the 1950s, bicycles were more than just a toy. For them, the bicycle was a critical means of transportation and gave them the first taste of freedom from their parents. Children could independently ride around their neighborhoods, to a friend’s house, to pick up baseball games, or to just hang out. With the increasing suburban sprawl creating longer distances but safe low traffic volume streets, bicycles became something of a childhood necessity.

Schwinn in the early 1950s had a 25 percent share of bicycle sales, a level higher than any other brand. During the ensuing years, competitors would begin catching up with Schwinn. But with overall bicycle sales increasing, this was not a problem. Schwinn still increased its sales steadily from around five hundred thousand bicycles in 1950 to over one million by the late 1960s.

Schwinn Advertises Sales Dominance of the 1950s
(Image: 1957 Schwinn Catalog)

Schwinn also was in the process of refining its bicycle marketing strategies. The company hired an innovative marketing specialist named Ray Burch to liven up and better target their advertising. To better understand consumer demand, Schwinn also made it a point to listen to suggestions from its high-volume dealers.

Single-brand, authorized car dealerships were all the rage in the 1950s. Schwinn decided a similar model would work for bicycles. Schwinn began moving towards the idea of “Total Concept Stores” which eventually became “Authorized Schwinn Dealerships.” By happenstance, this had been a position advocated--but not fully adopted--by Frank W. Schwinn in the 1930s. It was not until the 1950s that his desire to break from large retailers would come to fruition.

The idea of moving towards dedicated bicycle dealers was reinforced by a visit of Ray Burch and his marketing team to a bike shop that was selling Schwinn’s like hotcakes. A World War II veteran living in California, he had purchased a shop that sold a wide variety of products including bicycles.  He got tired of selling model airplanes and other nickel and dime items. He decided to spruce up the shop and sell only Schwinn bicycles. The change worked and bicycles began to fly out the door. The visiting Schwinn marketing team liked what they saw and took the idea of dedicated Schwinn dealers back to Chicago to sell to the boss. 

Freezing out other retailers was not an easy decision. They represented a significant share of Schwinn’s sales. For instance, B. F. Goodrich sold many different products including Schwinn bicycles. In one notable conversation with his marketing team, Frank W. Schwinn said, “I guess you’re going to lose me that (B. F. Goodrich) account.” He also was friends with Alfred Sloan of General Motors who had developed a single brand dealership model for selling cars.  He accepted the advice of his younger managers and the “Authorized Schwinn Dealer” was born.

Schwinn also was not idle in developing new bicycle models. They launched the extremely popular Black Phantom in 1949. This was not much different than the earlier autocycle, but they added some fancy styling features that made it popular among consumers. The Black Phantom was advertised as having all the popular options, such as a spring fork, chrome fenders, horn button on tank, built-in fender light, and white wall tires. The model became quite popular during the 1950s and today they are a collector’s item. 

The Black Phantom Was Introduced in 1949 and Was Instantly Popular
(Image: Schwinn Catalog, 1952)

Schwinn was facing increasing competition from Europe starting in the 1950s.  The European bikes were lighter and featured 3-speed internal gears. True or not, they also were perceived as being somewhat fragile.

To meet this European competition, Schwinn developed a line of middleweight bicycles.  The top of the line middleweight was the Corvette, a name mimicking the popular sports car.  The lightweight bicycles were still not selling very well and in 1954 middleweight bikes like the Corvette, Jaguar and Panther filled the void for older children and young adults. 

1955 Schwinn Corvette and Middleweight Bicycles Introduction
(Image: 1955 Schwinn Catalog Front Cover)

These middleweight bikes became an immediate hit and led sales barely one year after their introduction. They were marketed as being just as nimble as their European counterparts but more reliable. Because of their popularity, Schwinn had created a whole line of bikes for those that were not enamored with the stylish, yet heavy, balloon tire bikes.

Schwinn had hit on a winning strategy. To meet the increased market demand of the 1950s, Schwinn increased and more finely tuned its advertising and marketing reach, expanded the availability of a wide range of high-quality bicycle models, and concentrated sales to clean, modern stores. Competition would soon come, but in the 1950s Schwinn became the bicycle of choice for many Americans. The popularity of Schwinn would make it a national icon and carry it through the next several decades. 

The 1960s

More to come...

The 1970s

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 1980s

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. 

Thi 1982 Schwinn lightweight bicycle catalog has information on various 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.  

Bankruptcy and Sale in 1992

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 sale of the family company in 1993. 

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. 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-Chilmark. 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.

The Schwinn Catalogs and Other Materials

When researching the Le Tour 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 began merging the individual pages available on the other websites into one complete catalog. This gets as close as possible to the original source without actually having a paper copy. 

At present, this will not be a comprehensive list of the catalogs. For the comprehensive list of the Schwinn catalog 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 (which can be blurry), BikeHistory has entered all the text from the catalogs into a more readable format. 

The 1890s

The 1900s through the 1920s


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.

Guroff, Margaret. 2016. The Mechanical Horse: How the Bicycle Reshaped American Life. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Herlihy, David. 2004. Bicycle: The History. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Martin Joyce A., Brady E. Hamilton, Michelle J.K. Osterman, Sally C. Curtin, and T.J. Mathews. 2015. Births: Final Data for 2013, National Vital Statistics Reports, Division of Vital Statistic, Washington, DC, Volume 64, Number 1 January 15.

Pridmore, Jay and Jim Hurd. 2001. Schwinn Bicycles. St. Paul, Minnesota: MBI Publishing. 

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

Waterford Precision Bicycles. 2021. "Schwinn Bicycle Catalogs." Waterford Precision Bicycles, 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.