Pedaling Backward: Book Lists Schwinn's Wrong Turns
Mike Miller 1996, Reuters News Service, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
For generations, there were bicycles - and there were Schwinns.
The company that built the bikes in Chicago was proudly independent, run by descendants of its German-born founder, until the fourth generation rode it into bankruptcy.
Two Chicago business journalists have chronicled the firm's fortunes in a new book, "No Hands: The rise and fall of the Schwinn Bicycle Company, an American institution." The book, by Judith Crown and Glenn Coleman, traces the company back to its origins in the 1890s, when America was swept by a sudden bicycling craze. "Just when millions of Americans had the wealth, time and inclination to pursue outdoor leisure activities," the authors write, "suddenly there was a vehicle that anyone could ride, anywhere, anytime." Ignaz Schwinn, the son of a German piano and organ maker, emigrated to America, arriving in the booming manufacturing center of Chicago in 1891. Within a few years he was producing his own bicycles. By 1899, some 10 million cyclists were on the road nationwide. As bicycle manufacturing boomed, other businesses suffered. Piano sales plunged, taverns and theaters emptied out. Barbershop customers stopped coming in for a daily shave - they were out bicycling instead. The Schwinn company prospered for decades, but it all started to come apart in the 1970s and '80s. The company tried to cut costs and expand markets by shifting production to Mississippi, Hungary, Taiwan and mainland China. All the moves produced new headaches. "Schwinn had two overarching problems," co-author Judith Crown said in an interview. "The first was complacency. Schwinn was turning up its nose at anything new and resting on its laurels." Schwinn's other problem, Crown said, was its insistence on keeping ownership and control of the company in the family. "When Schwinn reached the fourth generation of management, it was running on borrowed time," the authors write. …