A fine generation-spanning account of the unhappy fate of Schwinn, a family firm that for the better part of a century...


"NO HANDS: The Rise and Fall of the Schwinn Bicycle Company, an American Institution"

A fine generation-spanning account of the unhappy fate of Schwinn, a family firm that for the better part of a century bestrode US bicycle business like a colossus. Although they received no cooperation from surviving members of the founding family, Crown and Coleman (both staffers at Crain's Chicago Business) tapped a wealth of other sources to reconstruct the sad story of a Windy City enterprise that achieved the status of an American household name, only to develop an inbred arrogance that rendered it unable to meet the challenges of an increasingly volatile marketplace. The authors track the activities of Ignaz Schwinn, who set up shop as a manufacturer in 1895, four years after emigrating to the US from Germany. During the patriarch's lengthy tenure, which lasted until his death at 88 in 1948, Schwinn earned a reputation for quality and innovation, becoming the brand of choice among kids, who accounted for 95 percent of the domestic industry's sales. The founder's son and grandson consolidated these gains, and the company produced one million bicycles in 1968. Schwinn's prosperity came to a screeching halt in the mid-1970s. Among other problems, the company (which was unprepared as well as unwilling to meet overnight demand from fitness-minded adults for mountain and racing bikes) lost momentum in the children's market. Imports, a steadfast refusal to go public, labor strife, an unsuccessful move of manufacturing operations from Chicago to Mississippi, resistance to technological advances not developed in-house, and other miscalculations all took a toll. In the fall of 1992, Schwinn filed for bankruptcy. The marque lives on, thanks to vulture capitalists who snapped up corporate assets at distress prices, but control has passed from the founding family's hands. A tellingly detailed, often gossipy, and consistently absorbing case study on the largely self-induced eclipse of a commercial paragon, from journalists who know the territory.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1996


Page Count: 384

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1996