Schwinn History: 1940 to 1949


Schwinn, just like virtually all manufacturers in America in the forties, used their factories for the war effort. Prior to war Schwinn continued to advance the bicycle by introducing new ideas, designs, and technology.

The popular bike accessory, the tank was streamlined into the bicycle frame so that it became part of it, rather than just something hung onto it. The front headlight began to be built into the front rim or mudguard. Bicycle safety got a foot forward when Schwinn introduced the "fore-wheel" brake (or as we know it now, the front brake).

Prior to this there were not front wheel brakes on American bikes. Ignaz Schwinn and his investments into engineering, machinery, and equipment during the 1930s led to great success at the beginning of the 1940s.


The 1940 catalog came out with quite a few improvements to Schwinn models.

1940-schwinn-auto-cycle-deluxe 1940s-schwinn-tank-and-spring-fork

The most obvious were the way accessories were included on the bicycles. Lights and tanks were now part of the bike itself, rather than seeming like an after thought, they were now integrated into the design of the bike.

1940s-schwinn-built-in-fender-lightThe front lights of some models were built into the front fenders creating a very stylish design element to these now classic bikes which became very popular and greatly increased the amount of bicycles Schwinn had to make this year.

Other improvements that were less obvious were technical ones, like the advancement of hubs, and the front brake.

From the 1940 Schwinn catalog...

"the exclusive Schwinn Fore Wheel Brake, available only on Schwinn-built bicycles. This is a regular automobile-type, internal expanding brake. It has light, strong shoes lined with genuine Raybestos brake lining exactly like that used in a modern motor car."

But the popular improvements to the public's eye was the design.

See the full 1940 Schwinn catalog.


The cloud of World War II was on the horizon, yet one million and eight hundred thousand Schwinn bicycles were made in 1941.


The reason for this according to Frank W Schwinn (the son of Schwinn founder Ignaz Schwinn) was explained in his now out of print 1945 book "50 Years of Schwinn-Built Bicycles"...

"At the beginning of World War II, Americans fearful of the rationing of tires and fuel for their motor cars called for bicycles and more bicycles. Arnold, Schwinn & Company, working day and night, achieved the record production of it's history (until then). "

No new models or features were brought out by the company in 1941. The engineering and research departments had other things to do when they were called upon by the US government for the war effort.

See the full 1941 Schwinn catalog.


In 1942 the Schwinn catalog saw most of it's bikes discontinued and the "Defense models" introduced.


These models were Schwinn bicycles stripped of their fancy (and metal) accessories. The company received the Army and Navy "E" Award for the excellence of it's performance in the production of war materials. Commander Singer of the Navy said of the Schwinn company (at the presentation of the "E" award)...

"Not only have you consistently met or anticipated your delivery schedules, but you have kept a high standard of quality that resulted in a need for rejection less than 1% of your production. That makes you practically perfect."


In 1946 Schwinn sent out a special catalog to bicycle dealers that described what was to come.


They also came out with a the star studded 1946 catalog for the public that had the likes of Bob Hope, Humphrey Bogart, and Lauren Bacall on Schwinn built bikes.


This catalog was perhaps the most verbose catalog Schwinn had made and it explained both it's pre-war technology and it's post war offerings and features.

"The factory of Arnold, Schwinn & Company, the largest producer of bicycles in America, has been expanded through the war years. New equipment, tools, and machinery have been installed. As a result not only will the high quality for which Schwinn-built bicycles were famous pre-war, be still better, but nearly twice as many bicycles will be produced daily. Schwinn leadership assures you volume and profit."


In 1949 Schwinn came out with a comic brochure / catalog describing some of the history of bikes, and their current offerings.


Home / Schwinn History / 1940 to 1949