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Schwinn Home

1880s-1908
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Ignaz Schwinn


1880s-1908
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In the late 1880's Ignaz Schwinn was working in a machine shop making components for high-wheelers (also called Penny Farthings because of their giant front wheel and tiny rear wheel) in Germany. In 1889 he jumped on the diamond frame bandwagon and convinced local manufacturer Kleyer Bicycle Works to begin building Schwinn's own design of diamond frame. The Schwinn design was a success and Ignaz was put in charge of the planning and building of a new factory for the bike. He was 29. Two years later Ignaz Schwinn was on a boat for America.

The restless young Schwinn went to work on Fowler bicycles at Chicago's Hill Cycle Manufacturing Company. Then he spent two years building a bicycle factory for International Manufacturing Company. In 1894, Ignaz Schwinn met Adolph Frederick William Arnold, a German born investor who had made his fortune in the Chicago meat packing industry. Arnold knew a craze when he saw one and Chicago was ripe. By 1897, an estimated 1 in 7 Chicagoans owned a pair of wheels. America had 300 bicycle manufacturers, but as many as 2/3 of the bikes made in this country were being manufactured within 150 miles of Chicago. This was America's first bicycle boom.

Arnold Schwinn & Company was incorporated in the fall of 1895 and located at the northwest corner of Lake and Peoria amidst a sea of competition just west of downtown Chicago. Schwinn wanted to produce the most advanced bikes possible. He wanted racing bikes and he wanted Schwinn teams to win all the most popular races. Arnold, Schwinn & Company made excellent racing bikes. But there was more. Schwinn quickly came out with a bike for every purpose and price range. Ignaz's knowledge of the market served the company well.

By 1898 Mass production and growing competition brought the price of a bicycle down to as little as $20. In 1902 the best racing bikes were priced around $150. At the turn of the century Americans were consuming about a million bikes per year. But it didn't last.

Unfortunately for bike manufacturers, the same innovations that brought the costs of bikes down also made the automobile increasingly accessible to the growing middle class. The first decade of the new century saw the car tear the bicycle industry to shreds. Bicycle sales fell to 250,000 by 1905. Bike makers, buoyed by improvements in manufacturing that continued to bring costs down, turned their attention to the kids' market as their parents bought more and more cars. Children were largely the focus of the bicycle industry for the next several DECADES. It wasn't until the advent of the Schwinn Varsity in 1960 that Schwinn really began to take seriously the adult market once again.

1907 saw Arnold, Schwinn & Company produce an impressive 50,000 bicycles, but the market was in tatters and profits were small. Adolph Arnold bailed in 1908. Ignaz Schwinn bought out his partner and continued to expand the company right through the decline. Schwinn's attention to quality had earned the company a solid reputation. As the number of American bicycle manufacturers reportedly dropped from a peak of 300 to around a dozen, Schwinn thrived.

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