Huffy main document image Huffy main document image Huffy main document image

see also Boys Life 1971 - Huffy ad

see also Boys Life 1971 - Huffy ad

Boys Life 1971 - Huffy advert thumbnail

The story of Huffy starts with the founding of the Davis Sewing Machine Company in Waterton, New York State, by John and Joseph Sheldon. The company manufactured sewing machines to a design by Job Davis - hence the name. In 1887 the company got into financial difficulties and was bought by George Huffman who moved the company to Dayton, Ohio. In 1892 George Huffman introduced the manufacture of bicycles. This was quite a common diversification at the time - the three great mass-produced precision-engineered goods of the time were sewing machines, machine guns and bicycles - and if you could make one of these you could probably make the other two. Sewing machines and bicycles had another synergy in areas with a continental climate - sewing machines sold during the long, cold winters and bicycles sold in sun drenched summers.

In 1924 the Davis Sewing Machine Company again got into financial difficulties and was taken over by The Huffman Manufacturing Company (also owned by George Huffman!). in 1934 the Huffman Manufacturing Company, now owned by Horace Huffman Sr, introduced the infamous ‘Huffy’ brand of bicycles. In 1976 Huffy proudly declared that it was the biggest selling bicycle brand in the US and in 2006 Huffy claimed to have sold over 100 million bicycles in its history. Huffy exists to this day, although I suspect that all its bikes are manufactured in the Far East - and are much the better for that.

Some people regard the Huffy brand as being refreshingly free of the pomposity and hyperbole that surrounds so many brands in the bicycle industry, particularly those from Europe. It was a low cost mass-produced brand and never pretended to be anything else.

Others regard Huffy as being a key exhibit in the case for the prosecution of the American bicycle industry for the capital offense of ‘just not getting it’ when it comes to what makes a good bicycle. This group makes the plausible point that bicycles not only can be made to be light, efficient and elegant, but actually must be made this way to function - because the very nature of using the human being as the power source demands that you do not frivolously waste their energy.

Whatever your view two things are clear. Firstly, Huffy, in its hey-day was a tremendously successful business. Secondly most (possibly all) the classic US manufactured Huffy bikes were singularly heavy, crude, ungainly, ugly and just plain horrible. To the Western European eye the quality of construction of the quintessentially capitalist US Huffy bikes is strikingly similar to the quality of construction of the Kharkov bikes manufactured in the Soviet Empire in a factory named after a prominent Ukrainian Bolshevik - but don’t tell Horace Huffman that.