Wilson News
Wilson History
How To Order
pdf catalog

1920-1968    I    1968-1973    I    1973-Present

Wilson History:  1920 - 1968

Wilson Bicycle Sales began as the Harry Wilson Sales Agency and was originally
located in San Francisco, CA.  Wilson moved to Southern California in the early
1940s and eventually settled in their long-time location at 1136 So. Olive St,
Los Angeles, CA.

Harry Wilson, the man, is a bit of an enigma.  There is no indication he was
related to the famous Wilson family of sporting goods fame.  However, a bit
more is known about his flamboyant son, former Wilson president Bob

Bob Wilson was well known for his yachting off Baja California and his many
Hollywood friends like John Wayne and William Frawley (Fred Mertz of I Love
), and would often introduce them to corporate visitors from Schwinn,
with whom Harry Wilson Sales did the marjority of their business.

Bob Wilson also discovered George Garner and brought him to the attention of
Schwinn executives, thereby helping to establish the "Schwinn concept store."

Mr. Wilson is widely credited for bringing the Schwinn Stingray to market,
promising to order 500 bikes when Schwinn was reluctant to manufacture such
a "crazy" experiment.

Throughout the 1950s, 60s, and early 70s, Wilson had the pleasure of being the
dominant West Coast Schwinn distributor in an industry dominated by Schwinn. 
If you were lucky enough to be in the bicycle business during this time you
would remember the stunning successes:  The Black Phantom of the 50s, the
60s ultra-cool Stingray, and the 70s Varsity and Continental 10-speeds.

Business was so good that Schwinn's close knit relationship with its distributors
had drawn the attention of the Department of Justice and resulted in a massive
antitrust case.  Named in this suit were Schwinn and it's twenty-two
independent distributors, including Harry Wilson Sales.

Remember, in those days bicycles were distributed like most parts and
accessories are today:  the factory would sell to independent distributors who
would then resell to dealers.  Because these distributors owned the bikes in
their warehouses, Schwinn had a difficult time, from a legal standpoint,
dictating pricing policies and to whom the distributors could sell.  The fact that
the distributors were cooperating with Schwinn so closely was considered
tantamount to restraint of trade.

An earlier lower court ruling in Schwinn's favor was then appealed all the way to
the U.S. Supreme Court.  Lawyers sent a 22,000-page record of the case, one of
the thickest the justices ever had to contend with, and the long-awaited decision
was handed down on June 12, 1967.  The High Court found against Schwinn this
time, in essence that a manufacturer couldn't tell its distributors whom to sell to. 
That "once the manufacturer has parted with the title and the risk, he has parted
with dominion over the product."

Schwinn had been prepared for such an outcome.  Within seventy-two hours of
the decision, the company announced plans to open its own regional distribution
centers in Illinois, New Jersey, Georgia, and California.  But this was a daunting
task for the fairly modest manufacturing company, especially after spending an
estimated $1 million in the defense of their lawsuit (in 1973 dollars).  Schwinn
could now look forward to spending millions more building warehouses and filling
them with product.  This was at a time when the company's best selling
10-speeds were starting to face stiff competition from relatively lightweight
Peugots, Raleighs and Motobecanes.

Where did this leave Wilson?  Schwinn's plan called for the gradual phasing in of
their new distribution network, and the new California warehouse wasn't
expected to be built for several years.  Schwinn's solution was to provide the
distributors out West with the opportunity to continue warehousing and doing
business on an agency basis from Chicago.  Wilson was lucky enough to keep
the bike line an additional five years.


Bob Wilson shown with industry leaders, circa 1960.



[Home] [Search]

Copyright 2002-2005 Wilson Bicycle Sales   Last modified: 10/14/05

Hit Counter
Hit Counter