DISRAELI DOCUMENTS

Murray

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As a young British bicycle mechanic in the 1970s I used to think that Huffy bicycles were the most laughable, backward, crude, ugly and useless machines imaginable... until I came across the strange objects that Murray described as bicycles.

We thought that Raleigh's basic frames were pretty heavy and they were brazed (not welded) together using fairly precise lugs and drawn, seamless, high-carbon steel tubes. How wrong we were. Murray set a new benchmark with thick-walled, mild-steel, seamed tubes hurriedly welded together in frames with absurd geometries and equipped with the heaviest and nastiest of badly chromed equipment. I remember once marvelling at the weight of a single tyre that had been fitted to a Sears bike manufactured by Murray. This was the worst of US motor-car 'technology' innappropriately applied to bicycles - 'technology' that was just about survivable if you can call on the power of a gas-guzzling 6 litre V-8, but pure hell if you are using the power of your own legs.

The Murray Ohio Manufacturing Company was established in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1919 to manufacture parts for the new automobile industry. In the 1930s it took a fateful step and started to make bicycles. From the start Murray's ambition was to be the cheapest, rather than the best, and its products were sold to major retailers to sell-on under their own brands. Sears was a particularly important customer. I believe that Murray only started to use the 'Murray' brand sometime in the 1950s.

The history of the company is a quintessential tale of a particularly American form of the war between Capital and Labour. The workers at the Cleveland plant joined the United Auto Workers (UAW) trades union and the AFL-CIO. So, in 1956, the management closed the Cleveland plant and opened a huge non-union factory in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. By 1991 the workers in this factory had joined the UAW, and so, in 1998 bicycle production was moved to a non-union factory in Mississippi. Thankfully, in 1999, Murray ended bicycle production in the US, and bicycle mechanics all over the nation quietly cheered.

The Murray brand name is currently owned by Dorel Industries of Canada. It is one, inconspicuous, occupant of Dorel's hospice for once-famous brands (Cannondale, Schwinn, GT, Caloi etc.) that are living out their final days in a soft-focus environment dedicated to caring pain management. When the time comes, may it rest in peace.

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