A century ago, the West Side of Chicago was the epicenter of the bicycle manufacturing world. From the early 1880s to the early 1980s, Windy City companies mass-produced bikes in all colors, shapes and sizes. In fact, for most of the 20th century, more than two-thirds of all bikes sold in the United States were assembled in Chicago.

One of the first companies in the industry, Loring & Keene (a former manufacturer of water pipes), began producing a new-fangled contraption called a “velocipede” in 1869. By the 1890s, a stretch of Lake Street was known locally as “bicycle row,” because it was home to more than 40 manufacturers. In 1897, 88 Chicago companies were producing 250,000 bikes annually.

Many factories were small operations, but several became large enterprises that pioneered mass-production techniques eventually adopted by the auto industry. The Gormully & Jeffery Manufacturing Co. was one of the largest bicycle producers in America between 1878 and 1900. It was run by R. Philip Gormully and Thomas Jeffery.

Originally, Gormully & Jeffery produced high-wheeled penny-farthings, but they eventually developed a successful line of “safety” bicycles under the Rambler brand name. The company was acquired by the American Bicycle Co. in 1900.

Two year later, Thomas Jeffery became an early pioneer in the U.S. auto industry when he began making Rambler runabouts at a factory 50 miles north of Chicago in Kenosha, WI. Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, Jeffery’s company eventually morphed into American Motors and Chrysler.

Another innovative manufacturer was Western Wheel Works, which at one time operated the world’s largest bicycle factory on the North Side of Chicago. During the 1890s, the company pioneered mass-production techniques, such as sheet metal stamping and electric resistance welding. Western Wheel Works was the first American bike company to assemble its products, including the best-selling Crescent brand, out of stamped metal parts.

For decades, the king of the bike world was Arnold, Schwinn & Co. The company was established in 1895 by a young German bicycle maker named Ignaz Schwinn who immigrated to America in the early 1890s and settled in Chicago.

Schwinn perfected the art of brazing and welding tubular steel to make sturdy, lightweight frames. That attention to quality, combined with eye-catching designs, an unmatched marketing prowess and a vertically integrated supply chain, helped the company dominate the bike industry. By 1950, one in every four bicycles sold in the U.S. was a Schwinn. The company produced 1 million bikes in 1968. However, the last Chicago-built Schwinn was made in 1982.

Other manufacturers that once mass-produced bicycles in Chicago included Adams & Westlake, Arrow, Excelsior, Kenwood, Manton & Smith, Mead Cycle, Monarch, Monark Silver King and Sterling Cycle Works. Today, many of their products are prized by collectors.

To view photos of Schwinn’s assembly line and learn more about other bike factories that made Chicago a production powerhouse, see Made in Chicago: The Windy City’s Manufacturing Heritage.