1950s AMF Cleveland Welding Co (CWC) Roadmaster Cycle
In British vintage vehicle circles, Roadmaster is a name more commonly associated with 1950s Buicks.
But this is not a Buick Roadmaster (the car pictured above). Instead, it’s a kind of Roadmaster that ten-year-old kids discovered next to the Xmas tree in those good old Leave-it-to-Beaver days.
The manufacturer was the Cleveland Welding Company (by then, owned by the AMF Corporation).
I found the bicycle in an antique shop in North Carolina when we were over there in 2004 visiting my cousins. As repro ‘beach cruiser’ style cycles had become popular in the States, I was able to replace the wheels, tyres, brakes and front light from a catalogue at a local N.C cycle shop. And they boxed it up for me too so I could bring it home as check-in luggage – it only cost an extra $50.
When we used to rally Big Nellie (our 1932 Ford Tudor), the Roadmaster sat on the back.
At Pre-50 American Car Club rallies, I took advantage of Buicks for background effect.
…to the total indifference of Buick owners. I don’t think they knew anything about American bicycles.
While I drove Big Nellie round the ring, Soraya rode the Roadmaster.
Balloon tyre bicycles like this epitomize the postwar years when America established itself as the world’s leading consumer society …in contrast to just a few years earlier, as you can see in the advert below:
“I’M SORRY SON – This year I just couldn’t giove you that Roadmaster bicycle you had your heart set on. You see son, it’s like this: The people who made Roadmasters are now making war materials for you big brother and the millions of other American soldiers fighting for victory. That’s why they can’t make bicycles. This Christmas your dad’s bought you a victory bond and that’s the best kind of a Christmas present. I know you understand and I hope that by next Christmas or the one following victory will be won and then you’ll get your bicycle.”
AMERICAN MACHINE & FOUNDRY CO
AMF, Brooklyn, New York City.
The company was founded by Rufus L. Patterson, inventor of the first automated cigarette manufacturing machine. Originally incorporated in New Jersey but operating in Brooklyn, the company began by manufacturing cigarette baking and stitching machines. Over several decades the company diversified its product line and by the 1940s it became one of the leading manufacturers of automatic and semi-automatic machinery in the United States. After WW2 the company continued to diversify and developed a complete recreational wheel goods division with the purchases of the Cleveland Welding Company, the Junior Toy Company, and later the Shelby Cycle Company.
Says Phil Marshall: “The AMF line of bicycles marketed as Roadmasters trace their history back to the line of bicycles produced by The Cleveland Welding Company beginning in 1936. The Cleveland Welding Company was founded in 1910 to produce various products formed through proprietary electric welding, rolling and forming techniques. CWC entered the bicycle arena in the mid thirties with the introduction of their line of Roadmaster bicycles in 1936. By the second full year of production the line was expanded to include a full line of models ranging from the deluxe limited production Supreme models to junior 20” wheeled models.
Conceived to keep the factory busy during the tail end of the great depression, the bicycle line proved popular to the point that when the company returned to civilian production after WW2, bicycles had become the company’s single largest product.
Cleveland Welding was purchased by AMF in 1951, both for their Roadmaster bicycle line and for the production facilities and expertise the company had in other manufacturing areas.
After purchasing the Cleveland Welding Company, AMF entered the bicycle manufacturing business with its newly-formed AMF Wheel Goods Division and continued to produce the Roadmaster line of bicycles at the Cleveland plant. The Junior Toy Company, of Hammond, Indiana, another AMF acquisition, became connected with Cleveland Welding at this time when both companies were forcibly joined by AMF. In 1953 AMF added the remains of the Shelby Cycle Company to their holding through a hostile takeover after that firm had already been sold to one of its largest customers, the Gambles Department store chain.
In an effort to avoid the cost of doing business with the labor unions in Cleveland, AMF moved all of their wheel goods production to Little Rock Arkansas in 1956 and attempted to refocus the Cleveland factory and operation on the production of larger industrial products such as jet engine components. The new Little Rock plant was purpose built for bicycle and wheel goods production and was heavily automated and featured more than a mile of part conveyor belts in six separate systems, including an electrostatic induction painting operation…..”
Taking advantage of the increase in its target markets in the aftermath of the baby boom, AMF was able to diversify its product line, adding exercise equipment under the brand name Vitamaster in 1950. As demand for bicycles continued to expand, the company found the need for a new manufacturing facility to keep up with demand. In 1962, the company moved its operations to Olney, Illinois, where it built a new factory on a 122-acre site that would remain the company’s principal bicycle manufacturing location into the 1990s.
AMF bought Harley Davidson in the 1960s and sold it, in 1981, for $81.5 million.
After two decades of consistent growth, the AMF Wheel Goods Division stalled under the long-distance management of a parent company bogged down in layers of corporate management and marginally profitable product lines. Manufacturing quality as well as the technical standard of the Roadmaster bicycle line – once the pride of the company – had fallen to an all-time low. Bicycles made at the Olney plant were manufactured so poorly that some Midwestern bike shops refused to repair them, claiming that the bikes would not stay fixed no matter how much labor and effort was put into them. The division’s problems with quality and outside competition were neatly summed up in a 1979 American film, Breaking Away, in which identical secondhand AMF Roadmaster track bicycles were used by competitors in the Little 500 bicycle race. Despite this product placement, the film’s protagonist expressed a decided preference for his lightweight Italian Masi road racing bike, deriding the elderly Roadmaster as a ‘piece of junk.’
How AMF Killed the Pinboy
Today, AMF’s sole remaining asset is the AMF Bowling Corporation, founded in 1936, and headquartered in Richmond, Virginia. AMF Bowling employs 16,000 people and operates worldwide. The popularity of ten-pin bowling really took off after World War II with the invention of the ‘automated pinspotter.’ This technological milestone marked the beginning of an enormous boom in professional bowling competition, league bowling, and bowling as an entertainment for families and friends.
AMF was the first to appreciate the financial implications of inventor Fred Schmidt’s ingenious new machine, developed in his garage in Pearl River, NY in 1936. Having purchased his patents, AMF hired Schmidt to perfect this first automated bowling pinspotter. After the war, Samuel Auchincloss and a team of engineers helped prepare the pinspotter machinery for national introduction. AMF’s commercial pinspotter debuted in 1946 at the American Bowling Congress National Championship in Buffalo, NY and, by 1952, the AMF automated pinspotter was in full production.
The world’s leisure industry was no doubt eternally grateful to Fred Schmidt and AMF for turning bowling into one of its top recreational activities. But, before automated bowling machinery was introduced, young lads had been employed to re-set the bowls. They were known as ‘pinboys.’ I was a pinboy at age 12 in New Jersey in the fifties. Eight alleys no air conditioning, no breaks, no dental plan. But with tips you made a couple of bucks a night. Enough for a movie, comic books, a coke, and a pack of smokes. Today most folks have to work 8 hours to get all that stuff.*
Though a few manual bowling alleys do still exist in America, after AMF’s machinery had been introduced the vocation of the ‘pinboy’ was consigned to history.
AMF info with thanks to Wilkepedia, and particularly CWC specialist Phil Marshall – http://cleveweld.blogspot.com/
* 1910 Pinboy photo and pinboy quote thanks to – http://www.shorpy.com/node/1686
“Boy, this new deluxe Roadmaster is the bicycle for me. It’s smooth looking – it’s fast – it rides like a dream. And it’s equipped with everything – a new stoplight that’s a honey – an electronically welded frame – and top notch accessories. From every angle it’s the best bicycle I’ve ever seen!” J.F.
“I want my bicycle beautiful, and this new model Roadmaster has beauty to spare. That’s why I chose it. It’s the most glamorous bicycle on the road today. The sparkling colors, like the blue and cream shown here and the chrome trim, catches admiring eyes of everyone who sees it.” – N.V.D.
This Roadmaster bike was my first American bicycle. But, like kids everywhere, as I grew up I subsequently bought new toys and the Roadmaster was put away in the shed. (Actually, I was a 52-year-old kid when I bought it, and my bicycle hobby has expanded a little in the past 5 years, as you can see on this website).
At the time, I couldn’t find any information about this bicycle. But in recent years the internet has brought new life into our hobby, as enthusiasts all over the world have started to add their specialized knowledge to websites. I’ve just discovered Phil Marshall’s website about CWC bicycles, and he suggests that my Roadmaster was produced in the mid-fifties with a year-dated serial number suffix such as 55Cw or 56Cw. So once the good weather returns I’ll bring it out of the shed, dust it off, turn it upside-down, and locate the frame number.
Determining the age of our bicycles has become a communal ritual in the vintage bicycle hobby, allowing some of us newer enthusiasts to meet the elders and let them pass down at least a bit of the information they have stored away in their brains.
I suppose the first ride on a machine we’ve recently brought back to life is the closest thing to a religious experience in our hobby, being the culmination of much hard work, searching for parts, talking to fellow owners and learning about our machine. The move from the work bench to the road – from a ‘project’ to an actual vehicle that ‘lives and breathes’ – can have a transformational effect. Some of us are more addicted to restoring than riding them!
But finding out the make, model or the age of one of our machines is undoubtedly one of the simple pleasures of life. It helps give our machine an identity among the many millions produced, and it never fails to brings joy to an enthusiast 🙂