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Huffy History (Dayton, Ohio)

America’s Other Bicycle Company

Huffy Models

Huffy’s history is one of imitation and fast following. Huffy has pioneered a few important innovations over the past century, but for the most part, the genius in America’s other best selling brand has come from its ability to copy the competition without getting sued too badly. Huffy has a reputation for sucking, but the truth is, more Americans learned to ride on Huffys than any other American manufacturer of bicycles. That’s saying something. Huffy has always been the affordable alternative to bike snobbery and in 2006 Huffy sold its 100 millionth bicycle.

Wikipedia has George P. Huffman moving his recently purchased Davis Sewing Machine Company to Dayton, Ohio in 1887.

According to the Huffy website, George P. Huffman’s Davis Sewing Machine Company jumped on the bicycle bandwagon in 1892 (huffybikes.com). In 1894, Huffman made the leap and adapted the factory to produce bicycles (Wikipedia) along side his sewing machines. But this is not the beginning of the Huffy story. It was Huffman’s son Horace that founded the Huffman Manufacturing Company on Gilbert Avenue in 1924 that would eventually become known as the bicycle giant Huffy. (www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/Huffy-Corporation-Company-History.html)

(It should be noted that the Huffy website states that Horace Huffman formed Huffman Manufacturing Company in 1945 with the proceeds from the sale of the Davis Sewing Machine Company at which time Huffman began producing steel bicycle rims (huffybikes.com). I cannot explain this discrepancy.)

Horace Huffman first focused on the auto industry. In 1928, Huffman was incorporated and posted earnings of $3,000. In 1934, Huffman made a major move into bicycles and began producing as many as 12 bicycles per day. By 1936, production was up to 200 bikes per day. Horace “Huff” Huffman, Jr. (George’s grandson) streamlined the manufacturing process and by the late 1930s production increases allowed Huffman to satisfy the demands of customers like Firestone and Western Auto. (fundinguniverse.com)

As Huffman entered the 1940s, sales were approaching $1.5 million. When the U.S. entered the war (that’s WWII), Huffman jumped on the government contract band wagon and sales doubled. In 1943, while Huffman was already producing parts for artillery shells, the government placed a huge order for 4,000 bicycles (fundinguniverse.com) (Schwinn was producing 10,000 government bicycles per year).

In 1945, Huffy suffered two major tragedies. First, Horace Huffman, Sr. suffered a fatal heart attack. Second, the war ended. Huff (Jr.) was elected president of Huffman Manufacturing and immediately faced the loss of Huffman’s biggest customer, the federal government. Huff set about further streamlining the manufacturing process for Huffman and even for his the company’s major suppliers. Huff’s efforts allowed the company to continue producing year round despite a seasonally dependent product line, a phenomenal accomplishment. By the end of the decade, Huffman was closing in on $10 million in sales. Then, recession set in. (fundinguniverse.com)

Lucky for Huffman, 1949 was the year the company invented training wheels. Huffman’s Convertible bicycle was the first bicycle to have rear axel mounted training wheels. Could this be the most important (and understated) milestone in the bicycle industry since the creation of the diamond “safety” frame? Huffy enabled a generation of kids to begin cycling years before their older siblings were able to balance on their own. The Convertible signaled the true birth of the Huffy brand. It was the first bicycle to carry the name “Huffy.” (huffybikes.com)

The Huffy bicycle left Dayton, Ohio shortly thereafter as a result of the lawnmower. In its quest to even out an uneven production year, Huffy created a line of lawnmowers that were perfect for manufacturing during the winter months. This expansion meant that Huffy had outgrown the little factory and it was time to move on. Huffy’s Automotive Service Equipment division went to Delphos, Ohio. The Huffy bicycle (and the lawnmower) were sent to Celina, Ohio. Huffy bicycle production was further expanded in 1959 with a new plant in Azusa, California. Huffy Corporate stayed in Dayton. (fundinguniverse.com)

In 1955, in an attempt to outdo the gimmick layden bicycles of the 1930s and 40s, Huffy put a radio in the tank of their Huffy Radio Bicycle (huffybikes.com). By the 1960s, Huffy had climbed to third largest American bicycle manufacturer. In 1962, Horace “Huff” Huffman was named chairman of the board. Frederick C. Smith was moved from materials to the office of the president. Under Smith, Huffman left Dayton completely when the corporate offices were relocated to Miamisburg. (fundinguniverse.com)

Huffy officially became America’s bicycle in 1968 when Huffman went public. By the 1970s as Huffman approached sales of $50 million and employed some 2500 people, the company shifted focus from the independent bike seller to the larger chain department stores. In 1972 Stuart Northrup was recruited from Singer Sewing Machine to replace Smith as president of Huffman. (fundinguniverse.com)

1973 was the best year in cycling ever. By comparison, 1975 was pretty lame. A lot of companies were hit hard by the rapid decline from peak to valley. Huffman’s diverse product line helped the company weather the storm (from sports equipment to lawnmowers), but the Celina plant was forced to lay off 25% of its workforce. (fundinguniverse.com)

The industry was shifting as well. Imported bicycles had made significant inroads to the U.S. market during the boom of the early 70s and some of these companies were here to stay. Huffman made a major shift in strategy as the industry entered the 80s. BMX was just beginning to take hold and Huffman invested in the reemerging youth market in a big way. Huffman sold off its lawnmower division in 1975 and put the money into bikes. It was exactly the right direction to go. In the early 1980s, bicycle motocross (BMX) accounted for as much as 1/3 of bicycle sales in the U.S. Schwinn feared the liability that BMX might bring with it and largely kept their distance until 1982. Huffy filled the gap and in 1977 became the nation’s top selling bicycle manufacturer with sales of $130 million (fundinguniverse.com). Schwinn never recovered.

Huffman used the extra cash to diversify into other sporting equipment, but bicycles still accounted for 90% of Huffman’s sales. They also decided that America’s top selling bicycle manufacturer should also be America’s top selling bicycle brand. Up until this period, something like half of all of Huffman manufactured bicycles were sold under private labels. In 1977 the company name was changed to Huffy and the kept right on setting sales records (five in a row from 1976 to 1980). (fundinguniverse.com)

In 1982 Huffy hired a new top man, Harry A. Shaw, III. Shaw was the Huff for the new ear. He closed two of Huffy’s plants and focused all bicycle manufacturing in Celina, Ohio. He sold Huffy’s Automotive Products division and put the money into bicycle production equipment. He increased production by 5,000 bicycles per day and lowered costs by 14%. (fundinguniverse.com)

Huffy entered into a licensing, sales, and manufacturing agreement with Raleigh Cycle in 1982 (fundinguniverse.com), and in 1984 and 88, Huffy brought home the heaviest metals in cycling: one bronze, two silvers, and two golds in the summer Olympics (huffybikes.com). But Huffy still struggled to profit in the high-specification bike market. The Raleigh venture was terminated in 1988 and Huffy remained a cheap mass market brand despite the accolades.

In the late 80s and early 90s, Huffy made perhaps its most serious attempt at diversifying away from bicycles. The company made a series of acquisitions, spending upwards of $50 million, into baby car seats and strollers, product assembly, inventory taking, hardware, and garden and lawn tools. Fundinguniverse.com claims that Huffy controlled 30% of the garden and lawn tool market and had successfully diversified sales to the point that bicycles accounted for little more than half of Huffy’s bottom line.

Huffy’s peak at this time showed a picture of a manufacturing powerhouse. Schwinn declared defeat (and bankruptcy) in 1993 after 99 years of vying for the top. Huffy controlled as much as a third of America’s $1.5 billion cycling industry (fundinguniverse.com). But as the 1990s developed, the giant American manufacturer began to suffer from the cheap labor available in Asian markets. Even if Huffy had insulated itself from losses in one of its manufacturing divisions, the company remained, at its core, a manufacturing company. If there’s one thing that the 1990s taught us, it’s that American products are best made overseas (or at least cheapest).

Throughout the 90s Huffy continued to buy and sell companies while trying to fend off attacks from abroad. In 1995 the company lost upwards of $10 million. They pushed for and got a 20% wage cut from the union at the Celina plant. According to the Huffy website, 1997 was the year Huffy brought BMX to the masses (only two decades after BMX was adopted by the masses). Huffy picked up New York’s Royce Union in 1997 (fundinguniverse.com). This new focus on quality BMX rides brought Huffy back to profitability after a dismal 1995, but the road ahead was still rocky.

After three years of pumping out bicycles at reduced wages, the workers at the Celina plant demanded a restoration of their wages and bonuses for workers who had weathered the storm. In July of 1998 Huffy shut the Celina plant down forever and laid off 1,000 workers, 25% of the company. (fundinguniverse.com)

Between 1995 and 1998, bicycle prices in the U.S. dropped 25%. 1997 was a year in which almost two thirds of bicycles sold to Americans were produced in foreign countries (fundinguniverse.com). In 1999, after years of reducing its American manufacturing capacity, Huffy shut down the last of their U.S. factories and moved all production to China. (Wikipedia)

On October 20, 2004, Huffy declared bankruptcy and was purchased by Pacific Cycle (who helped decimate the Schwinn brand after Schwinn’s bankruptcy in 1993). (Wikipedia)

In 2006 Huffy sold its 100 millionth bicycle.


Sources:
http://www.huffybikes.com/history/index.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huffy
http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/Huffy-Corporation-Company-History.html

Models:
Convertible (1949-) – The famous Convertible was the first bicycle to feature rear axel mounted training wheels, thereby making cycling accessible not only to poor people, but also to their kids. It was a huge success. The Convertible was also the first bicycle to carry the Huffy name.
Dayton Cushion Frame Roadster (1913) – The Roadster “provides comfort with unique shock-absorbing construction.”
(http://www.huffybikes.com/history/index.html)
Dragster (1969) – The Huffy website actually claims that the 1969 “Huffy Dragster's new design establishes the 60's trend for children's bicycles. This 20"-wheel bicycle had a "banana" seat and high-rise handlebars.” Apparently, Schwinn’s 1963 release of the Sting-Ray had nothing to do with children.
LaFrance
Racer
Radio Bicycle (1955) – Do you really need an explanation? The radio was in the tank. The battery and antenna were mounted on the rear carrier. I mean, really. It’s the natural progression from “tank” to headlights and horn to taillights and hubcaps to rear view mirrors to radio. Rumor has it, had the radio been a success, the industry would have continued on to bucket seat bikes.
Scout
Sigma
Special Roadster
Streamliner – Not to be confused with the Schwinn Streamliner.
Thunder Trail – Huffy’s successful entry in the BMX realm. The company put a lot of resources into this youth targeted ride. It was the right gamble to make and Huffy won where Schwinn lost. Like other BMX bikes (and the tank bikes of the 30s and 40s) the Thunder Trail was meant to emulate the motorcycle. It helped make Huffy America’s top selling bicycle in 1977.
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