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Thread: 2016 on loc at 3701 Cortland St. Chicago Excelsior Motor Manufacturing and Supply

  1. #1
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    Default 2016 on loc at 3701 Cortland St. Chicago Excelsior Motor Manufacturing and Supply

    Several years ago we had just a bit of discussion about the site of the old Excelsior headquarters now occupied by a school. One forum member suggested it could be of value to have destinations related to antique motorcycles that were historic sites. So we took the initial step of creating a specific forum for Antique Motorcycle Heritage. Well as it goes a forum is only as good as its content and the frequency of contributions. Next steps I think are to create sub-forums for the specific marque brands and that way we can chunk down our interests.

    Here is a link to a YouTube video of the location of the former Excelsior Motor Manufacturing and Supply at 3701 Cortland St. Chicago IL USA.

    https://youtu.be/n18Rtf_DJUM

    So next we need to set up an Excelsior forum in the Heritage Forum and start filling it with heritage. A map to get there would probably be nice for folks to follow to the destination.

    Any ideas on this subject are appreciated.

    Mike Love
    AMCA Forum
    Moderator

  2. #2
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    My first thought was get that bike off the trailer and ride it around, why take to effort to get it there if your not going to ride it. Yes a map would be nice. And maybe an organized ride of antiques to the site.
    Louie
    FaceBook >>>Modern Antique Cycle
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    Make Plans to Attend the 10th Annual Southern National Meet May, 2019
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  3. #3
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    In my opinion, the best way to experience the Great City of Chicago is by motorcycle, early in the morning on a weekend. The natives are sleeping off the excesses of the previous night and traffic is light. The map below shows Schwinn’s Excelsior and Henderson factory location as the McCormick YMCA, at the west end of the trail:

    https://www.the606.org/visit/maps/map/

    Some of Excelsior and Schwinn buildings are still standing. Excelsior’s last location at Randolf St. and the Chicago river is now an office building. Lake Street Lofts at Lake St. and Peoria St. is one of Schwinn’s bicycle factories. Make sure to visit the Museum of Science and Industry, to see the prototype, belt drive Henderson on display there. It was donated by the Schwinns in 1931 after they ended the motorcycle business.

    In the 80’s the fourth generation Schwinn made some serious business mistakes. Among many other things, was the decision to offshore manufacturing first to Giant, in Taiwan, and then to a company in China. It created a competitor in Giant, which, at time of separation with Schwinn, had many of the best management people from Schwinn, and the experience of building its full line of products. Giant went on to become the biggest bicycle maker in the world.

    As Oscar Wastyn said to me, “The first 2 generations of Schwinn were on the ball, good businessmen. That last generation shoulda been drowned.”

    When Schwinn went bankrupt in 1992, nobody wanted the old factory on Cortand. The neighborhood was too rough for condo or apartment converters, and there was no nearby public transportation for office rehabbers. The tall skinny building, designed for belt-driven machinery and a central power source, was inefficient for modern manufacturing processes. The family tried to sell it to the city but even the city passed because it was difficult to access. Eventually it was donated to the YMCA.

    Ironically, the old rail spur, on which all those magnificent Excelsior and Henderson motorcycles started their journeys to faraway dealers and riders, was converted to a bicycle path, called “the 606”. In recent years, the 606 has stimulated the gentrification of the neighborhood, and a land rush for some of the old nearby industrial buildings. Today, many of the old factories along the trail have been converted to lofts and apartments.
    Last edited by bernhardt; 06-18-2019 at 12:14 PM.
    A. Bernhardt
    AMCA# 9726

  4. #4
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    That is some of the most interesting later Schwinn information I have read Mr. Bernhardt, and thank you for posting your first hand, knowledge, and observations. It was heart breaking to see pictures of the razing of the beautiful Excelsior building on Cortland where Schwinn's motorcycle history really took off. Had that building been able to survive, I'm sure it would have been prized by Chicagoans today.
    Eric Smith
    AMCA #886

  5. #5
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    Frank Jr. didn't help the situation much when he moved production to Alabama to a place with no direct connection to shipping transportation etc. A good read is "No Hands" the fall of the Schwinn empire.
    DrSprocket

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by RichO View Post
    Frank Jr. didn't help the situation much when he moved production to Alabama to a place with no direct connection to shipping transportation etc. A good read is "No Hands" the fall of the Schwinn empire.
    Thank You Dr. Sprocket for mentioning the book on the history of Schwinn. For those that would also be interested I looked on Amazon and unfortunately they are limited to hardback but here is the title and authors. No Hands: The Rise and Fall of the Schwinn Bicycle Company, an American Institution Hardcover – November 1, 1996
    by Judith Crown (Author), Glenn Coleman (Author).

    Thanks also to Dr. Sprocket (who nailed a critical commerce infrastructure need) and A. Bernardt for that great and brief summary of some of the critical social conditions needed for success of business. Some businesses get in time and evolve and some don't and don't survive. I have been an amateur student (not even a real student) of what makes communities and businesses thrive. You both hit the nail on the head with a real big hammer. I am buying that Schwinn book. I am embarrassed to say I bought a Giant all mountain bike at a Schwinn dealer in 1996 and didn't know the link until you all just pointed it out. I traded in a late 1960s Schwinn Ten-Speed for a bike that's been just okay but not high quality. Wish I knew then what I know now. I'll bet Schwinn has said they wish they knew then what they learned later. I question the decision (without knowing the full story) of Schwinn to pull out of the motorcycle market at the depression but nobody has a crystal ball I wasn't there to face the fear of that crisis and its decade long impact.

    Just with this little bit of introductory info we could begin to put together a travel summary. HaHa yes Louie I think the YouTuber made an error picked up by A. Bernhardt immediately by even showing the trailored motorcycle, oops.

    Mike Love
    Last edited by ihrescue; 06-30-2019 at 11:29 AM. Reason: changed a word for better description

  7. #7
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    Mike, I have read that Ignaz Schwinn was well connected to state, and federal politicians, and the financial hierarchy of Illinois. He was warned that the depression was going to get a lot worse before it got better. Also, Ignaz was getting older, and didn't have the enthusiasm for motorcycles that he had when he started. His son, Frank was much more interested in the bicycle end of the business, and proved to be brilliant at promoting, and providing the bicycles that made Schwinn world famous into the 1960s. Too bad the Henderson wasn't saved, but it was rough going for all motorcycle makers until post WW2.
    Eric Smith
    AMCA #886

  8. #8
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    I think Schwinn was a businessman while William S. Harley and Paul Du Pont, the new owner of Indian, were engineers. Cleveland had gone out of business in 1929 leaving just three remaining US motorcycle companies. Harley was a major shareholder and had been Chief Engineer since the first days, probably couldn't work elsewhere, and was in charge of the #1 company by sales. Du Pont bought Indian in 1930 and must have had some kind of longer term development plan which would not be stopped after such a short time. Schwinn had the #3 company by sales, which he had bought into as a diversification in 1912 and 1918. He must have decided to un-diversify back to bicycles as a business decision, believing things were going to get worse, which of course they did. Combined Harley and Indian production for the 1933 model year, the worst one, was about 5,000 bikes, compared with 30,000 from Indian alone in 1913.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by exeric View Post
    Mike, I have read that Ignaz Schwinn was well connected to state, and federal politicians, and the financial hierarchy of Illinois. He was warned that the depression was going to get a lot worse before it got better. Also, Ignaz was getting older, and didn't have the enthusiasm for motorcycles that he had when he started. His son, Frank was much more interested in the bicycle end of the business, and proved to be brilliant at promoting, and providing the bicycles that made Schwinn world famous into the 1960s. Too bad the Henderson wasn't saved, but it was rough going for all motorcycle makers until post WW2.
    Yeah Eric its easy to see something in retrospect. Glad we have any of the old classics that have survived.


    Mike Love

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